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How to Get Started Long-Distance Running

by Frank Johnson Jul 21, 2009
Want to get serious about running but not sure where to start? Matador’s Frank Johnson offers some tips to take you from couch potato to road warrior.

DISTANCE RUNNING HAS LONG been a love of mine, but when I mention this to friends or acquaintances, they typically respond with skepticism about their own running abilities. Reactions like these have always frustrated me, because I believe almost anyone without chronic joint problems can at least complete a 5k.

Here’s some advice to help those who’ve never even finished a single mile turn their legs into distance-covering machines.

Start slow and short

Most people assume that there’s no way they can run five miles, or even one, right away. They’re correct.

Their error is supposing that runners start out with thousands of meters at a time. The key is to start slow and increase incrementally.

You can measure yourself in distance (go for a half-mile) or time (15 minutes). Don’t worry about how small it may seem, just begin with what you can do and go up from there.

Be consistent

While many guides recommend that beginners use a combination of running and walking, I firmly disagree.

Pick a distance, and then run the entire way. This will help condition both your body and mind toward running for continuous stretches.

The largest factor in determining your success in knocking down mile after mile will be your ability to be consistent. If you run once, maybe twice a week, you’ll most likely never see any improvement. Try to run three to five times a week, with some rest days between each run.

Keep this up for a month or two and you’ll be amazed by how far you can go.

Don’t get discouraged

Once you’ve settled into a routine, don’t be discouraged by the occasional bad day when you find yourself completely lacking in energy and strength.

Many factors can go into this, including lack of sleep, what you ate yesterday, the weather outside (the sun will become your worst enemy, I promise), and your level of hydration. The important thing is to adopt a schedule and stick with it. Push yourself through those tired days and you’ll feel even better when you finish.

Besides its health benefits, running provides plenty of personal bonuses. My own favorite is the feeling I get after a long run on a bad day. The solitude of the trail, the sweat in my eyes, the rhythm of my feet, the effort and exhaustion – it wipes away all other frustrations.

It’s therapy and it’s free, so go get some.

A few more tips:

–Pay attention to your breathing. Try to keep your breath steady: in through your nose, out through your mouth.

–Concentrate on your stride. Focus on maintaining a calm, even pace. A stable, economical stride will maximize your performance.

–Being a smoker is not an excuse. Take it from me: I’ve run three half-marathons and had a cigarette to celebrate finishing each one.

Community Connection

Caught the long-distance bug? Read about some of the world’s longest footraces in Through Heaven and Hell: Ultramarathons That Go Beyond Human Limits.

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