I am 39 and would like to start to lose some weight and feel better. I have been raising a family and now it's time to do something for myself. I would like to train to run. I have walked, but mostly with my children and not for fitness. I am also interested in entering some 5K runs eventually. How should I begin and how do I train so that I see these results? - Donna
This is a great goal backed by great reasons. Life is busy. We have 168 hours in a week; we sleep about 56 of them, work 40 to 50, which leaves an average of 66 hours to invest in family, friends, entertainment and our own personal goals. If you can carve four to six hours from your week to devote to a physical training program such as running, you can change the way you look, feel, sleep and - more important - live.
Running requires a fairly simple training regimen. After all, you are basically training your heart muscle, and all it needs to improve is consistently putting one foot in front of the other with minimal progressive challenge. You must listen to your body, but you must also persevere. Recognize the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort means you are pushing your body hard enough to progress and get stronger. Pain signals the possibility of an injury or illness.
Get used to the fact that you will have to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. Challenging your body has a way of making you feel this way. But barring any injury or medical limitations, anyone who wants to become a runner can.
Start with a good pair of running shoes and get moving. If possible, find a forgiving surface such as grass or a running track until your hips, knees, ankles and feet get accustomed to your new activity. Try to avoid concrete roadways in the beginning. Training on a treadmill for a portion of the run offers you a soft surface and an easy way to pace and track yourself.
Begin with a warm-up - a five- to 10-minute walk - then gradually increase the pace to a jog. Don't concentrate on speed except to make sure you are not going too fast. Run slowly and see how far you can go. Your limit may be only one telephone pole to the next at first. But if you are consistent - every other day - with your efforts, you will see improvement quickly as you aim to pass more and more telephone poles.
When you reach your limit during each training session, slow to a walk to allow your heart and lungs to recover. Then begin again and continue this jog/walk for 20 to 25 minutes. Each time you go out to run, push your limits by way of increasing the distance or intensity just a little. Soon you will be increasing your running minutes and decreasing your walking minutes. In eight to 12 weeks, you should see tremendous progress with your stronger heart, lungs and legs.
You also will see weight loss with the extra calories you'll burn - about double - by turning the intensity up from a walk to a run. And that will go a long way to make you feel better. Remember to stretch at the end of your run for at least five minutes, concentrating on the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings. This will help your muscles and joints recover so they will be ready and willing for your next run.
One piece of advice: Avoid the urge to spend all your training hours running. Invest in a durable body by devoting a few hours to strength training. You will derive amazing benefits such as speed, power, quickness, performance, balance and injury resistance if you concentrate on strengthening the muscles that support your running habit.
Strength training an hour or two a week will reinforce muscles, ligaments and tendons and help your body resist the normal stresses of a repetitive running movement. It will also increase the joint integrity of your hips, knees and ankles - three areas most likely to be injured during running. I recommend that on your light running days, after a short warm-up, spend 20 to 30 minutes training upper and lower body with weight that challenges you after 12 to 15 repetitions.
With your added physical exercise, it is imperative to supply your body with good nutrition and plenty of water, which will support your wonderful new efforts. Now get your shoes on and go. By spring, you will be looking for your first 5K run to show off your enviable results.
Cindy Boggs, fitness consultant, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com. Look for her fitness advice book, "CindySays... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.