f you've decided that running is a way to fitness and health, you're right. On average, a healthy adult male can burn close to 400 calories running 5 miles in under an hour. Running is a rewarding experience, physically, mentally and spiritually... do it right and you will find that consistent effort will yield consistent results.
The two main things to remember about running are: drink water and breath air. But don't stop there. Before you go out and run your first mile, you should prepare your body, because just like any other physical activity, you can do great harm if you don't start out small and slow.
Okay, so here's a primer to help you get out there on the track or on the road and keep injuries to a minimum and benefits to a maximum.
First, let's develop some good habits before you take your first running step. When running, what you want to avoid most is bobbing up and down. This is harmful in two ways. It can jostle your internal organs around fiercely and it can also cause jarring impact to your knees and your spine. Practice a good running style, it might feel silly at first, by walking back and forth on a small area 30 to 50 feet long and concentrate on keeping your head, shoulders and chest as level as possible. Keep your knees slightly bent and try to absorb your steps in your hips, knees, ankles and toes. It should feel springy when you do it, not choppy. I find the mental image of walking on
marshmallows or soft rubber to work best. Some running trainers call this "running light". This exercise helps build the muscles around your knees, and taking a few daily brisk walks this way is excellent preparation for running. Drink water, one gulp every 5 to 7 minutes is usually enough to keep you hydrated.
Second, use your abdominal wall muscles to breathe. This is a slightly harder concept to work on. We are rarely aware of our abdominal muscles and most people breathe with their chests and not their diaphragm. It is very important to use the diaphragm to breath when running. That small pain that grows between your ribcage and your hips, which many folks call
"stitches" will generally go away, when you breathe with your diaphragm. Using your chest when running can quickly wear you out, using abdominal muscles helps you take in air to fill your lungs and also massages your internal organs at the same time. Drink water... if you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrating.
A nice trick to learning how to breathe properly is to lie flat on your back, calm and still, arms at sides, completely relaxed. Try to imagine the weight, texture, temperature and touch of two pennies on your eyelids while breathing evenly and deeply. As you concentrate, you'll find your breathing naturally falls into the right patterns. You'll start to use more of your lower lungs and this will also help develop the diaphragm control you need for
breathing while running. Drink water, your body processes water faster when you exercise and passing water through your kidneys will keep them clean and working well.
Okay, now you're walking smoothly and breathing deeply.. The last thing you want to do before leaping out on that very first run is work on those abdominal muscles. Two to three weeks of moderate and simple sit-up exercises will provide enough framework to give support to your internal organs. We're not talking washboard abs here. What we are striving for is enough endurance in your abdominals so you can keep a firm (not hard) clench on those internal organs to minimize them from bouncing around under your ribs. If you're running smoothly, as we described above, that's half the battle. Start with 10 sit-ups, hands crossed on your chest and just lift your upper body off the ground (no chin to knees stuff) just clench, hold for a count of three and unclench. Do this for three or four days, then add 5 sit-ups, three to four days, add five... etc. When you can hold your abdominals firm (not tight) for 5 minutes at a time, you are on your way to your first run. Drink water, dehydration can be signalled by chills, nausea and diarrhea and once those symptoms appear, you need medical attention.
Okay, now you're breathing, walking smoothly, holding your abdominals firmly and drinking water. Let's talk equipment. You don't want to sweat excessively, so don't overdress. It'll seem like you're losing weight if you do, but it'll just be water loss and we don't want that. Ladies, find a nice firm sport bra that will hold your breasts firmly in place without being tight and constrictive... gentlemen, those nether parts must not jostle about either, but we don't want your eyes popping out of your head. Your shoes are very important. You should select shoes with adequate arch support. There should be some play in the toes, but your foot should never slip about. We don't want to be jamming our toes into the front
to the sneaker. You should lace the shoes firmly, but don't cut off your circulation. 90% of all complaints regarding knee pain, back pain and foot pain from running, is due to the shoes. If you start to hurt, try another shoe. Drink that water, need I say it again?
At last, we are ready to run. You had no idea something so simple could be so complex did you? Don't try to be a sprinter. Sprinters run short distances as fast as possible. They are already very thin and light and
aren't looking to build muscle or lose weight with the short run. They want speed, you don't. They rely on the upward pull of the back of the upper thigh to provide them with the forward motion to propel themselves across the finish line. This will hurt you, so don't try to do it. Running for health is far more subtle. Try this (and don't forget smooth), tilt your body forward slightly till you feel yourself fall forward, lift your knee (right or left makes no difference) as if you are about to step up a set of stairs, and gently place your foot down. This is the first step of what many long distance runners call a "loping run". Aboriginal hunters,
African hunters, native American plainsmen all use a form of this loping run to achieve great distances. It puts less wear and tear on the leg muscles and helps you achieve a smooth running style. Use the lift of your thigh to help propel you forward, not the kick at the end. Use your toes to give yourself a springy bounce (but don't really bounce). And finally, don't try to run like an antelope. You'll get much more out of your run with small fast steps, than long strides and you'll run a lot smoother. Remember, the less time between each step, the less time each foot has to bear your full weight. Running is a cardiovascular and fat burning exercise... it is not a muscle building exercise.
Keep a scorecard of your runs, with the time it took you to run each one. Start out small, 1/2 mile to 1 mile and run consistently. Build up slowly. A good way to get your metabolism to speed up is to build up to 5 to 10 miles per week and hold that for a while. Work on different facets and mix it up. A little faster today, shorter distance, a little slower tomorrow longer distance. You start noticing bodily changes around 6 to 8 weeks so be patient. Enjoy your runs, the human body is an amazing instrument and you can begin to discover how boundless your energy is only after you learn how to be patient with yourself.