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Get Going: A Guide to Running for Beginners

Although it might not feel like it, your body is a running machine. In fact, many experts say that a well-trained human can outdo nearly any other animal on the planet over long distances. In 2004, for example, one man in Wales outpaced dozens of horses in a 22-mile marathon. However, thanks to sedentary jobs, poorly designed footwear, and other negative factors, most people aren't ready to enter a race against a pack of horses. But even if you've never hit the pavement before, you can become a runner. Here are some tips on running for beginners to help you form a long-lasting, safe routine and live up to your running potential.

Check Your Form

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they first start a running for beginners program is underestimating the strain that their body will undergo. Because running is such a natural act, it's easy to assume that you can start without paying any extra attention to form. In reality, each step places force that's equal to about four times your body weight on your knees. While your knees and other joints are built specifically to absorb that impact, if your form isn't correct, those joints can't operate properly.

So, what is proper running form? The exact details of running mechanics will depend on flexibility and structural differences. Still, there are some basic principles that are true for everyone, so make sure you:

  • Look straight ahead.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Keep your core tight and your back straight.
  • Bend your elbows slightly but allow your arms to swing at your sides.
  • Keep your legs under your body with short steps.
  • Land under your knees and on the middle of your foot.

Getting each of these points just right -- especially your foot strike -- can take time and practice. A few sessions with a qualified running coach will give you a chance to have your form analyzed and any problems corrected.

Start Smart

As with any sport or workout routine, running is not something that you can simply launch into at full speed. It's vital that you start out slowly and then gradually increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of your runs. In order to judge exactly how to do this, set realistic goals that will guide your routine.

Goals help you stay motivated by providing an easily referenced measurement of your progress. Your goals can also help you decide what your workout schedule should look like. If you want to work your way up to completing a marathon, for example, endurance will be your primary focus, so you probably won't do a lot of sprinting.

The American Council on Exercise recommends using the SMART model to design useful, progressive running goals. This concept states that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Instead of saying something vague like, "I want to be a better runner," a SMART goal would be, "I want to be able to complete a 5K in under 35 minutes on October 10."

Learn to Love It

It's very possible that you don't enjoy running and are getting into the habit for its health benefits. But no matter how good something is for you, you're unlikely to keep it up if you can't stand doing it. The trick is to find something about running that you truly love and design your workouts accordingly. For example, if you generally run outside, plan routes that will provide both a physical challenge and some beautiful scenery. On the other hand, making your runs enjoyable might be as simple as adding some music. Find a playlist that keeps you motivated, pop in your headphones, and get moving. A lot of scientific evidence supports the long-standing idea that music can make your workouts more fun and improve your overall athletic performance.

Although it might seem like all running is the same, there are many different types of running routines to try. There's the standard steady-state run, where you run at the same pace for the whole duration. But you can also throw in some interval training or even cross-train with related exercises, such as cycling or swimming, to keep things fresh. At the end of the day -- or the beginning, if that's when you prefer to exercise -- it's all about perseverance and the goals you set. So keep these tips in mind, lace up your sneakers, and go get started!

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