Tips to Help You Start a Running or Walking Routine

It is easier to get started than you think.
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Krizia Liquido
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It is easier to get started than you think.

fitness, daily routine

Art Credit: Brittni Willie

When you think about getting into running, do you imagine yourself pounding the pavement seven days a week, working your way up from 1- to 10- to 20-milers and finally signing up for that marathon on your bucket list? (Or is that very thought the reason why you haven't started?)

News flash: It's not that easy, but it is probably easier to start than you'd think.

Personally, I've had an up-and-down relationship with running. I began long-distance running in sixth grade and carried the habit with me through college. By the time I was 21, I'd run a couple of marathons and more half-marathons than I could keep track of. A few months later, I moved from the Bay Area to bustling New York, with a busy schedule leaving just enough white space for one 6-mile run on Sundays. Over time, my body grew even more unaccustomed to running. At one point, I could barely manage three miles on a treadmill.

Fast forward four years later when I moved to Spain with my husband, pregnant with our first child. I tried to keep fit by going on 2-mile jogs, which turned out to be more like 2-mile speed walks. I had read so many forums and running articles about women who were able to continue their same running routines throughout their pregnancies—alongside photos of their taut muscles and cute baby bumps. I thought, "I can do that too!" So I planned on hitting the pavement every morning, running through the hills of Barcelona, enjoying the view with my bun in the oven. But try as I might, my body and pregnancy just weren't cut out for the fitness goals I'd set for myself. I felt pretty bummed.

This humbled me and reminded me of the importance of setting realistic goals. As Jessica Lawrence, executive director of New York Tech Meetup (who happens to have been profiled in Verily's teaser issue) recently wrote,

The problem with [my unrealistic] expectations . . . was that there was no way for me to actually meet them. I would attempt something, inevitably fall short, feel disappointed in myself, and then give up (or sometimes not even try in the first place).

We think that the point of setting high expectations it to push ourselves to do our best: we thrive on stories of people accomplishing the unreasonable and then push ourselves to get to that unreasonable place immediately.

But the truth is that there are a very few people who accomplish what seem like unreasonable feats from the very beginning.

She hit the nail on the head. How often do we set expectations for ourselves that are just out of our reach? How often do we fail to give ourselves an opportunity to sit down and reevaluate, turning unreasonable expectations into attainable actions?

I'm a runner at heart. I can recognize a healthy training plan when I see one, and I understand the incredible resilience of the human body. But losing so much momentum made me doubt my abilities. I knew that if I ever wanted to get back into a running routine, I'd have to start from the beginning.

Whether you're a beginner who wants to experience the endorphins and vitality of the "runner's high" or an expert looking to get back into your groove, here are some tips to get your running routine from zero to hero—in reasonable time.

Start slow.

Beginning your routine slowly will allow you to finish strong. This rule applies to speed and scheduling. Start by jogging or speed walking 1 mile in 10-15 minutes twice a week, for two weeks. Every two weeks, increase your distance by half a mile and your time by 5-10 minutes. By weeks three and four, you should be able to jog 1.5 miles in 15-20 minutes. Stick to it and by weeks nine and ten, you should be able to complete a 5k (about 3 miles) in 30 minutes—all just by getting yourself out there twice a week!

Run-walk-run.

Employing a run-walk-run method is a form of interval training (that is, high-intensity workouts interspersed with low-intensity periods). Jeff Galloway, running coach and former U.S. Olympian, recommends that you "start with jogging 1-2 minutes and walking 2-3 minutes. As your training level increases you can adjust your run-walk ratio to running 5 minutes and walking 1 minute on your long runs." It quickens recovery time and improves speed and cardiovascular fitness by giving you conscious control over your workout and delivering all the values of running while avoiding injuries and burnout.

Keep it conversational.

If you're running with a friend, try to maintain a conversation during each workout session. Galloway explains, "This means that you should be exerting yourself at a low enough level that you could talk. It’s okay to take deep breaths between sentences, but you don’t want to huff and puff between every word." This method helps control your breathing, reducing your body temperature to a sustainable level. If you prefer to exercise alone, talk to yourself! Mantras like, "I can do this! Just two more laps to go. I feel good. I'm doing something positive for my body," will transform your attitude and help you come out with the best running or walking experience that you choose for yourself.

Evaluate and adjust.

You know your body best. Like any strong relationship, exercise is a long-term commitment. A couple weeks into your fitness program, reflect on how it complements your lifestyle goals. If you feel aches and pains, back off and consult a specialist—you don't want to risk your health or injuries. If you find that a biweekly routine isn't challenging enough, consider cross-fit training between running days. Participating in workouts that are easier on your calves and knees—like swimming, cycling, or yoga—improves overall cardiovascular health and strength.

Make it fun.

Whether it's listening to your favorite playlist, working out with a friend or a group, or picking a new place to explore each week, getting creative with your routine is something to look forward to and helps increase motivation. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to keep going!