Running: 30-Day Guide for Beginners - Your First Week

Learn to Run Continuously for 20 Minutes

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On Day 1 of your 30-Day Quick Start Guide, you completed your first run. Now it's time to start slowly increasing your run time/distance.

Week 1:

Day 1:  Run at an easy pace for 1 minute, then walk for 5 minutes. Repeat that sequence 3 times.

Day 2:  Run at an easy pace for 1 minute, then walk for 4 minutes. Repeat that sequence 3 times. Today, try to focus on the proper running form. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep your arms bent at a 90 degree angle.
  • Your arms should swing back and forth from your shoulder joint, not your elbow joint.
  • Keep your shoulders low (to prevent tightness), back (not hunched forward), and relaxed (to open the chest area to facilitate breathing).
  • Keep your wrists relaxed. Your hands should be in a loose fist (as if you're holding an egg and don't want to break it.)
  • Your arms should never cross the center of chest area. If your arms cross over your chest, you're more likely to slouch, which means you're not breathing efficiently.
  • Keep your posture tall and upright with a slight forward lean coming from the ankles, not your hips.
  • Keep your head up, looking in the same direction you're running (not down at your feet). Look forward in front of you approximately 10-20 meters.
  • Don't be a toe runner or a heel-striker. If you land on your toes, your calves will get tight or fatigue quickly and you may develop shin pain. Landing on your heels means you have overstrided and you're braking, which wastes energy and may cause injury. Try to land on the middle of your foot, and then roll through to the front of your toes.

    Day 3:  Rest day. What, no running today? That's right -- it's important that you take some days to rest. The body actually needs rest days to recover and repair muscles to get stronger. So, if you run every day without taking days off, you won't see much improvement.

    Running puts a lot of stress on your joints, and taking rest days will give your joints a chance to recover from all that pounding.

    It's also good to take a mental break from running, so you don't lose motivation by running every day.

    Most runners need at least one, even two, days off a week from running and other exercise. Research has shown that taking at least one day off a week reduces the frequency of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures.

    Day 4:  Run at an easy pace for 2 minutes, then walk for 4 minutes. Repeat that sequence 3 times. Today, try to work on the proper breathing technique to help avoid side stitches. Follow these tips:

    • Make sure you're breathing more from your diaphragm, or belly, not from your chest -- that's too shallow. Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which can also help prevent side stitches.
    • You should exhale through your mouth and try to focus on exhaling fully, which will remove more carbon dioxide and also help you inhale more deeply.
    • Try to take three footstrikes for every inhale, and two footstrikes for every exhale.
    • As a beginner, try to run at a pace at which you can breathe easily. Use the "talk test" to figure out if your pace is appropriate. You should be able to speak in full sentences, without gasping for air.
    • Slow down or walk if you're running out of breath. If you relax and slow the pace, breathing problems often take care of themselves. Don't overthink it!

    Day 5:  Rest or cross-train. If you don't feel like taking a complete rest day today, you can do 30-45 minutes of a low-impact cross-training activity, such as swimming. Those types of cross-training days are considered to be rest days because they give the joints and muscles you use in running a break. Cross-training can help you build your fitness without increasing your risk for injuries (which is what happens when you run too much too soon.) Here are some other options for cross-training activities: walking, elliptical trainer, cycling, rowing, Pilates, yoga, and strength-training.

    Day 6:  Run at an easy pace for 3 minutes, then walk for 3 minutes. Repeat that sequence 3 times. Are you doing some of your runs on a treadmill? Follow these treadmill running tips:

    • Running on the treadmill is physically easier than outdoor running. To simulate the resistance you would feel when running outside, set the treadmill at a 1% incline.
    • Make sure you warm up by running or walking at a slow, easy pace for 5-10 minutes. Spend 5-10 minutes doing a slow jog or walk at the end of your run to cool down.
    • Practice proper upper body form by keeping your arms at a 90 degree angle, just as you would if you were running outside. Don't hold onto the handrails -- they're only there to help you safely get on and off of the treadmill. Make sure your body is upright and you're not leaning forward.
    • Keep your stride quick and short to help minimize the impact transferred to your legs. Try to maintain a mid-foot strike to make sure you're not heel striking and sending shock to your knees.

    Day 7:  Rest. Enjoy it - you've earned it! At this point, you may have some questions about what you should be eating and drinking before and after runs. Here's some basic nutrition and hydration advice:

    What to eat before runs:

    When you begin a run, you should feel neither starved nor stuffed. Try to eat a snack or light meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before. Choose something high in carbs and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich, fatty, and high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress.

    What to drink:

    Staying hydrated is critical. Try to drink 14 to 20 ounces of water about 90 minutes before long runs. You can drink another 4 to 6 ounces about 15 minutes before you start. To replace fluids while running (longer than 30-40 minutes), you should be drinking about 5 to 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes.

    After your run, make sure you have a bottle of water on hand to rehydrate. Check your urine after your run -- if it's clear to light yellow, you're hydrated. If it's dark yellow or orange, you're dehydrated and need to keep drinking.

    Next: 30-Day Quick Start Guide for Beginners - Your First Month

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