Find you’re zen one foot at a time: how to begin a running program

By Lisa Rambo

Breathing in the brisk fall air and smelling the scents of evergreens, you pass by the tranquil river as you listen to the sparrows chirp through the silence. You are overcome by relief as the stresses of the day are forgotten at the sight of a white-tailed deer darting into the woods. Your energy begins to return as you wonder what awaits ahead in your adventure. Then you settle into pondering thoughts about your next adventure: exploring the cityscape, frolicking along the lakeshore, or just meandering around your own neighborhood.

Beginning a running program is the beginning of an adventure – an adventure that is different every time. Each season can also provide a different setting to these varied experiences. The cool fall temperatures, however, provide ideal running conditions: not too hot like summer, not too cold and slippery like winter, and not too rainy like spring. Additionally, fall offers a stunning color palate you’ll be anxious to explore on your journeys.

Besides partaking in exciting journeys, you can also reap the many other benefits of cardiovascular exercise: weight loss, increased energy, improved fitness and refined mood.

Put aside the fear, dread, and avoidance excuses you may associate with running that are probably the result of a chastising school gym class, an impudent track coach or poor training. By learning how to effectively begin a running program, you can find long-term success, continued motivation, and Zen.

Many running programs are doomed from the start because they are either overly ambitious or complex, or on the other side of the spectrum, lack goals completely.

“A beginner runner should put the physical demands of running different distances in perspective and set realistic goals based on these demands,” explained Ted Hirschfeld, a certified athletic trainer and certified orthopedic technologist.

“Running 15 miles is going to be significantly more demanding on the body than running one or two miles,” Hirschfeld added.

The key is to keep your goals simple; by doing so you will be more likely to stick with your program. Start with a walk or a jog/walk program after you get approval from your physician. Jogging is running at a slower pace, usually less than six miles per hour. Eventually jogging may progress to running with practice and motivation.

“Once you are able to walk for over 30 minutes, you can attempt jogging,” suggested Eugene Miranda, cross country head coach at Mount Mary.

Miranda cautioned that as a beginner, you should not expect to jog for 30 minutes immediately. Start with intervals of mostly walking and some jogging. Slowly build up to intervals of mostly jogging and some walking. When ready, try jogging for the entire duration.

Once able to jog for 30 to 45 minutes comfortably, you can progressively increase your speed to a running pace, usually more than six miles per hour. Also, be sure to begin every workout with a warm-up and end with a cool-down.

Stephen Carter, author of the Ezine article “The Importance of Warm-Up and Cool-Down,” indicated that the warm-up gradually prepares the body to better cope with the increased activity and helps to introduce more oxygen into the blood.

“A warm-up should include some ‘loosening exercises,’ such as arm circles or shoulder rolls, a few minutes of low-impact aerobic activity, and stretching,” stressed Shelly Jens, Westwood Health and Fitness running club instructor.

“The purpose of the cool-down at the tail end of your workout is to gradually return the body to its normal state. A proper cool-down will help your body rid itself of metabolic waste, which causes faintness and dizziness. The cool-down can consist of slow walking and stretching,” Carter added.

Now that you have a plan in place, finding the best place to start your program is an important next step. To avoid injury, you should plan your routes on smooth, soft surfaces, such as a dirt or cinder trail, a rubberized track, a grassy field or a gravel road.

In the beginning stages of your program, avoid steep inclines and uneven surfaces as they can throw off your gait and cause soreness and injury. As your program advances, you can add gradual inclines.

Mount Mary is situated among many ideal places to begin your program. The campus sits on expansive flat, grassy fields. Across the street is the beautiful Menomonee River Parkway, which offers miles of running paths. Also, closely situated are county parks, such as LaFollett, Cooper, Currie, Enderis, Hansen, Kops, Hoyt and Nash.

However or wherever you plan your program, it’s important to stay motivated. Some ways to keep your program motivating and fun are to practice moderation; vary your routes; vary your duration, speed and intensity; listen to music when running in low-traffic areas; continuously update your goals; or find a running partner or group.

So what are you waiting for? Your Zen awaits you!

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