You Can Become a Runner
With the right training, even beginning joggers can get ready to go for the gold
Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD
Admit it: You've admired those healthy specimens you see huffing around the local track, in training for their latest 10K or marathon. You've even laced up your training shoes and started jogging a bit, in hopes of shaping up and improving your health. But you could never aspire to bring home one of those T-shirts commemorating your completion of a race -- much less find yourself No. 1 at the finish line. Or could you?
Here's the good news. Taking part in a race can be a great way to stoke your enthusiasm for running and add competitive spirit to your workout. And whether you're eyeing a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or even a marathon, one thing is for sure -- the right kind of training can help you run your farthest and your fastest.
Nervous? Excited? Don't know where to start? Don't fret, we are here to help. Follow our expert-approved, 10-step plan to train for your next -- or your first -- race.
Step 1. Pick a race, any race.
The first step is to pick the race that you want to enter," says fitness trainer Kathy Kaehler of Hidden Hills, Calif. "This way you have a date in mind, a time frame to train within and a goal," she tells WebMD. Find out about local races by visiting your local roadrunner's club. Not sure if you have one? Visit the Road Runner's Club of America website at http://www.rrca.org for a list of local clubs. Click on your state for a list of local races.
Step 2. Get a physical before you get physical.
"Before you begin, it's a good idea to see your doctor and get a thorough physical examination -- particularly if you have not had one in several years or if until now you have been fairly sedentary," says Lewis G, Maharam, MD, medical director of the New York City Marathon and NYC Triathlon, among others. "This exam should include an exercise stress test (preferably done on a treadmill) to try and make sure that you have no obvious heart problems that might surface if you exercise too hard."
Step 3. Find a running partner or group.
Once your doctor has given you the 'all-clear,' the next step is to find someone to train with. "Partners and groups are motivating because you are accountable to a group and pushed by people -- some of whom are better than you," Kaehler says. "If you can't find a club, then try to find a running partner who is equivalent to your fitness level." Local running stores and your local runner's club can help you find groups. Many major road races, particularly marathons, also have classes for the benefit of runners training for their event. The park and recreation departments in many cities often provide jogging programs for interested parties. In addition, many charity organizations, notably The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training, offer training programs and help runners raise money for the cause.
Step 4. Dress for success
Though clothes do not make the runner, there is no substitute for the right running shoe, Maharam tells WebMD. "There should be about a thumbnail's length between the longest toe and the end of the shoe. Without this much space, you can lose your toe nails," he cautions. Your best bet is to go to a specialty shop to buy running-specific shoes because the staff will better trained at fitting them. Replace your running shoes every 350 to 500 miles because they lose shock absorption and other protective qualities with use. What's more, "make sure you choose synthetic socks," Maharam says. "Unlike cotton, synthetic material wicks away moisture and fluid; preventing blisters and the wearing away of your feet."
Step 5. Train to train
"Most people start running with a health or fitness goal in mind such as losing weight or being healthier rather than a specific race," says master's champion runner and coach Gordon Bakoulis, author of How to Train for and Run Your Best Marathon. "You should really be doing a base of 10 to 20 miles a week before you start training for your first long run." Once you have established a baseline, then training can begin. Remember that the amount of time it takes to train for a race depends on the distance as well as your fitness level, she says. In general, marathon training can take anywhere from six months to a year.
Step 6: Slow and steady ... finishes the race.
"For building up distance, the 10% rule works best," says Bakoulis. "Never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% over the week before. This helps to prevent the injuries that occur when you run too much or increase your weekly training program too quickly."