Just like we did with healthy eating, we’re going to approach running as a habit to be formed, and we’ll use what we know about the process of creating habits to maximize your chances of success. This will mean the following:
- 1. Choosing a daily trigger
- 2. Starting small
- 3. Making it enjoyable
- 4. Recording and rewarding
- 5. Not trying to change other habits at the same time
Later in the chapter we’ll get into more technical matters, like running form and types of workouts, but first, let’s see how to apply each of these guidelines to running.
1. Choose a Daily Trigger
You don’t have to run or exercise every day. Once you get into the habit and start serious training, you’ll find a day off (or even several) each week will give your mind and body a chance to rest and recover.
But when you’re starting out, making your exercise a daily routine will lessen the time it takes for it to become automatic. To aid in that process, we want to identify a daily trigger or cue that will tell your brain it’s time to exercise.
Your trigger should be something that happens once every day, without fail. It could be waking up in the morning, brushing your teeth, taking your lunch break, or getting home from work. As long as it happens every day, automatically, then it’ll work.
Once you find your trigger, you want to get outside for your run (or walk) immediately after it happens. This will begin to teach your brain, “Once X happens, do Y,” with Y in this case being running or walking.
Don’t skip this step! The trigger or cue is an essential part of the habit cycle, and without a well-defined trigger, your habit will never be quite as ingrained as it could be.
2. Start Small
Small means really small. If you’re out of shape or you’ve never done much running, this probably means doing some walking at first. Which is fine—swallow your pride and understand that every time you lace up your shoes and get out the door, you’re building the neural pathway that will eventually become an automatic habit of exercising.
You’ll need to decide for yourself how much is enough, but I urge you to err on the side of making it too easy and too short. Remember, right now we’re not trying to make significant physical changes—instead, we just want to do what it takes to build the habit at first, without draining your willpower by making it too demanding.
If you’re starting from scratch, five minutes of walking is plenty. If you find that amount is causing you to procrastinate, you can do even less! Try two minutes or even just putting on your shoes and going outside.
Stick with this initial amount for a week before you think about increasing it, and only if you’ve been able to do your exercise every day for a week should you allow yourself to increase the amount or intensity.
There’s another reason to start small: in addition to what it’ll do for your chances of making your running habit stick, it’s the best way to avoid injury! Your legs need time to adapt to the stresses that even easy running puts on them, and forcing yourself to do less than you might feel up to in the early stages is an insurance policy against overuse injuries that can result from too quickly increasing your mileage.
If you’re already in decent shape, you can do more than five or ten minutes, but don’t overdo it. When I’m coming back from a long time without running (and yes, I go through these slumps like anyone else), twenty minutes of easy running each day for a week is how I start. Then each week I add five or ten minutes to the daily run until I’m back to a mileage level I’m comfortable with.
3. Make It Enjoyable
Again, we’re trying to eliminate the need for willpower right now. You want the experience of running to be as much fun (or at least as painless) as possible while you’re forming the habit. And the easiest way to do that is to slow down.
Who said that every run has to be done as fast as possible? This idea is left over from gym class, and you’ll do best by banishing it from your thoughts.
What most people mean when they say they “hate running” is that they hate running fast. So slow down—way down. Go ahead and find your Easy pace (capitalized because we’ll refer to it often later), which is the speed at which you can pretty easily carry on a conversation, your mouth doesn’t drop open, and you’re relaxed. For now, don’t worry about measuring your heart rate or actual speed for this Easy pace, just listen to your body and feel yourself in this zone.
If you’ve never run before or you’re out of shape, then this Easy pace is likely a walk or perhaps a brisk walk that’s not quite a run. Even for experienced runners, Easy pace often borders on shuffling, which makes you wonder what people who drive by must be thinking.
Every time you lace up your shoes and get out the door, you’re building the neural pathway that will eventually become an automatic habit of exercising.
Easy pace isn’t terribly exciting, but if all you’ve ever done is run hard, then your first run at this speed will be an eye-opener. You’ll realize that, if you had to, you could keep this pace up for a pretty long time. I remember how light and free I felt when I first realized that if I just slowed down, I could run for three or four miles without stopping, when prior to that, one mile was about my limit before I’d start gasping for air.
Even experienced runners will benefit from the introduction of Easy-pace runs to their training, and if you’re just getting restarted, they’re a great way to ease back into it.
If you’re used to running an eight-minute mile for your workouts, slow it down to nine or ten minutes per mile and just focus on enjoying how it feels to be moving without straining. If the farthest you’ve run at your old pace is a 5K, just imagine how far you could go at this slower one.
Running slow is an entirely different experience, both mentally and physiologically, than running fast. And as you practice it, you’ll learn to feel your Easy pace without thinking about it, and you can let your mind wander. Enjoy the outdoors, listen to your breathing, or use this relaxed state to tap into the enhanced creativity it encourages and think through what’s going on at home or work. (Just ask Einstein, who said of his theory of relativity, “I thought of it while I was riding my bicycle.”) Who knew exercise could be so relaxing?
And running slowly isn’t the only way to make the experience more enjoyable. Some people like listening to music while they run, and as long as you’re able to hear other runners and traffic, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you find that anything you’re wearing is uncomfortable, do yourself a favor and replace it with a running-specific version from the running store. Running clothes aren’t cheap, but if a little comfort makes the difference between sticking with this habit (and ultimately improving your health and fitness) or giving it up, then it’s worth the price.
Placing a single “X” in a box that signifies you completed your activity today can be deeply gratifying, especially if it’s in a highly visible place where you’ll see it throughout the day.
Finally, what if Easy-pace running isn’t enjoyable for you? What if you’re a type-A personality who thrives on speed and challenge and achievement? Well, you’ve still got to go easy on your body if you’re just getting into running, but because the point is to make it fun, do what it takes to have fun. If that means working in thirty seconds of sprinting after every three minutes of Easy-pace running, do it.
4. Record and Reward
After the trigger and the activity itself, the step that completes the habit cycle is the reward. If you want to create a habit and get past the point of having to work up the willpower to run every time, then you’ve got to ensure that your brain feels a sense of pleasure when you’re finished.
The simplest way to do this is to write down your accomplishment on a chart. Placing a single “X” in a box that signifies you completed your activity today can be deeply gratifying, especially if it’s in a highly visible place where you’ll see it throughout the day. If you want to get fancier, you can log your progress on a site like Daily Mile (www.dailymile.com) or just post it on Facebook for your friends to see that you did your exercise. Whichever way of recording you choose, do it as soon as possible after you complete your run so that your brain knows the two events are related.
The act of tracking your progress, by the way, independent of its role as a reward, can do wonders for you. Business people know that whatever outcomes are focused on and tracked will tend to improve, even without a conscious effort to do so. In his book The 4-Hour Body, author and entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss tells the story of a man who lost twenty-eight pounds simply by tracking his weight each day, even when he was very careful not to make any conscious changes to his diet or exercise habits! Apparently, the awareness of tracking his weight each day and recording it led to tiny, subconscious changes that over time helped him to lose weight.
But you can go beyond tracking as your reward to increase your sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I once saw an interview with The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg, in which he suggested that eating a little piece of chocolate after your initial workouts could help you form the habit even if the extra calories more than make up for those burned during exercise. Although in the long term, a reward like this would be counterproductive, the point is that in the beginning, it’s not the physical benefits we’re concerned about, but instead, the formation of the habit.
In the best case, you’ll do Step 3 (Make it Enjoyable) well enough that the activity itself is the reward, and even if it’s not this way at first, you might be surprised at how quickly you start to look forward to your run each day.
5. Don’t Try to Change Other Habits at the Same Time
One of the wonderful things about healthy habits is the way they stack on top of each other. Once you start getting in shape by exercising, often you start eating better simply because you don’t want to screw up everything you’ve worked toward.
But be careful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to overhaul your entire life all at once: “Starting tomorrow, I’m going to exercise every day, stick to a strict diet, stop drinking coffee, and read for thirty minutes each night.” Sound familiar? As exciting as it sounds and as motivated as you may be, attempting to change so much at once almost never works. It takes too much willpower, and after a few days (if you make it that long), that willpower is depleted, and all of your well-intentioned changes fall apart.
Instead, practice patience. Promise yourself that you’ll focus on just this one new habit until it feels routine, which means at least two or three weeks, probably even more. If exercising this restraint is tough for you (it is for me!), one trick you can try that I’ve found helpful is to make a list of all the habits you’re tempted to change right now and put them below “Running” on a tracking sheet. Simply having them written out in front of you, knowing that you’ll take care of each when you get to it, alleviates some of the feeling of urgency to change right now. You can also use this list to get excited for the start date of the next habit you’re going to change, and that makes it all the more likely you’ll stick with it, as opposed to simply deciding that you’re going to change something in the spur of a moment.
To summarize this final key: Focus on one change at a time. Be satisfied with running (or whatever your sport of choice is) right now and don’t try to change everything else in your life until this one is automatic. There’s no rush—keep in mind that if you could change just one habit a month, in three years you’d have thirty-six new habits and be transformed from the inside out.
The above steps are really all it takes to get started: trigger, small action (run or walk), reward—day in, day out. Make the action so small, so easy, and so enjoyable that you can’t possibly skip it. If you find that you’re procrastinating even a little bit, you’ve started with too much. Make it easier or shorter. Remember, the point right now is to reinforce that habit loop in your brain, and only once that’s established should you worry about (gradually) increasing the intensity or volume of your training.
The Basics of Good Running Form
To many people, the idea that we don’t already know how to run is absurd. After all, we’ve done it since we were kids, so we should know how to run properly, right?
Well, it’s true that if we could all run like we did when we were kids, we’d probably have beautiful, natural form. But the fact is that most people don’t run that way anymore. Years of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, injuries sustained from running or other sports, and going months or years with little to no physical activity have all changed our body mechanics for the worse. Add to these factors the heavy, cushioned shoes we’ve been walking or running around in, which allow us to change our stride to one that’s totally unlike the way we naturally ran as kids, and running form becomes something that’s worth at least a little time and attention.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can go as in-depth as you like, exploring entire programs designed to teach the most efficient form of running, but most philosophies about running form are pretty simple at their core and share several common elements. I’ve found that if you just focus on the primary keys that are taught in some form or another by all of these methods, you can develop a philosophy of running that is both simple and extremely effective—and for a beginner, I think that’s more important than the nitty-gritty details of running form, about which there’s no real consensus anyway.
As it turns out, there’s an even simpler way to get at the heart of most modern approaches to running form—an approach to running that’s decidedly old-school. And I mean prehistorically old.
What Barefoot Running Can Teach Us about Running Form
If you’ve paid any attention at all to the running world over the past few years, you’ve probably heard about the barefoot running craze or at least seen a few people walking around in Vibram FiveFingers, those funny-looking shoes with the toes. It’s quite possible that the idea of running barefoot (or close to it) so that you can feel the ground and run the way nature intended is what brought you to running in the first place.
Although I wouldn’t call myself a proponent of running exclusively barefoot or even in FiveFingers, I’m a big fan of the rationale that has made it so popular. Here’s how the thinking goes.
Human beings have been running (primarily for the purpose of persistence hunting) for hundreds of thousands of years. And for the vast majority of that time, we’ve done it without shoes; the human foot has evolved over time into an incredibly advanced and efficient tool for the purpose.
When we run barefoot, then, we naturally assume the running mechanics that nature intended. We take quick, short strides, keeping our weight over our feet and landing on the midfoot or perhaps the forefoot. By running the way we were built to run, we’re able to avoid injury, even over long distances.
When, instead, we run in fancy, high-tech, super-cushioned running shoes, we’re all of a sudden able to run with an unnaturally long stride that forces us to come crashing down on our heels with each step. (Try landing hard on your heel without any protection, and you’ll understand. On second thought, don’t do that. It hurts.) Indeed, laboratory studies have shown that the impact shockwave through the leg is significantly higher in shod runners than in barefoot runners, despite the extra cushioning.
That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, there are some other considerations that favor wearing at least some sort of protection on your feet. The most compelling, to me, is that we do so much of our running on rough roads now as opposed to the grass or dirt that the hunters who have inspired this way of thinking and running did.
The best advice I’ve heard for applying the principles of barefoot running in the modern world is this: Run like a barefooter, but do it in shoes. This means taking quick, light steps with your feet under your body instead of way out in front of you and landing on your midfoot instead of your heel. But more than just physically, the goal is also to run mentally like a barefooter: with the sense of playfulness and excitement that you see in kids when they run just because it feels good.
The best way to learn to run like a barefooter is to actually run barefoot for a few minutes—just some light barefoot jogging in the grass after your normal run can help you learn what it feels like. Have fun with it, but be careful because it’s easy to twist your ankle if you’re not used to running in the grass.
Once you’ve got the feeling, put your shoes back on, but try to recapture that feeling you had without shoes. It’s not an easy thing to do, and if running barefoot appeals to you, by all means keep at it. The more you do it, the more the form will begin to carry over to when you’re running in shoes.
But even if you have no desire to run barefoot regularly, we still want to work toward the form that barefooting imposes. Here, boiled down into three crucial but simple keys, is how to do that.
The Three Most Important Keys to Good Running Form
1. TAKE 180 STEPS EVERY MINUTE.
The biggest change you can make to dramatically reduce the stress of running on your body is to take frequent action. How to run slower is not just a form of training wheels; It is a habit practiced by the best marathoners and ultra runners in the world.
If you look at the rate of leg rotation of most elite runners, that is, the speed at which they take steps, you will see that almost everyone takes at least 180 steps per minute (three per second). Compare that to your Warrior’s average step rate over the weekend and you will see that the elites take about twenty steps more per minute than the fans.
Why take more steps every minute? Because taking short, fast steps, rather than long, slow ones, means your feet spend less time on the ground and generate less impact with each contact.
How do you train to take steps faster? It’s easier to think of 180 steps per minute as three per second, then slow down to that rate while looking at your watch. Of course, it is much safer and easier on a treadmill than on the road.
Another way is to run to the beat of a metronome, or better yet, find a song with a tempo that you can align your steps with. (See “Training to complete 180 steps per minute” on the next page.)
At first it will seem like the strangest thing in the world, I promise. You’ll feel like a cartoon character, spinning your wheels without really covering a lot of ground. But take a break. You are working different muscles than in any races you’ve done before, so it will take a little getting used to. But after several runs like this, you will start to look normal and be less likely to injure yourself.
TRAINING YOURSELF TO TAKE 180 STEPS PER MINUTE
If you naturally run at less than 180 steps per minute (three per second), running this way will feel very strange at first.
Its good. Those faster, shorter strides will force you to use a new set of muscles, so hopefully you will feel less efficient until your body and muscles get used to it. But trust me, it will be worth it to run injury-free and cover distances you never thought possible before.
First, let’s clarify what I mean exactly when I say “180 steps per minute”. I mean, the total number of hits you make on the ground in a minute, that is, counting both feet. (Some people call this a cadence and measure the number of times a foot hits the ground, so you may hear some people call it a “cadence ninety.” It’s the same).
The easiest way to learn what it looks like is to think about three steps per second. Here’s what I recommend you do:
Get on a mat.
Set it to a fast but comfortable speed, a pace at which you could say a few sentences without difficulty, but which would struggle to maintain a full conversation (running too slowly for this is harder at first than running fast).
Start running and time your steps so that every time a second strike hits, your third step hits the ground.
For example, if your right foot lands when the stopwatch strikes one second (0:01), it will again be “left” then “right” before your left foot lands exactly as the clock strikes 0:02. . So it will be “right”, then “left” before your right foot touches 0:03. And so.
After you learn how to do this you will find that it is very easy to get into the rhythm, it is like a waltz.
NOW GET COMFORTABLE WITH IT
It takes a while for this rhythm to feel normal, but after doing it for a while you will feel it. Assuming that you aren’t always running on a treadmill or looking at your watch while running, it’s helpful (if you wear headphones while you run) to find a song that has a beat that matches that time. , so you can run to the music.
The song I always recommend for this is “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson, which is completely instrumental, but is actually a really good song to play (note that it doesn’t start for about 45 seconds). But you can find any other song longer or shorter or even half as fast; in this case, you only need to take two steps for each beat, instead of one.
Finally, keep in mind that you won’t always need a crutch, like a watch or a helmet, to hit this pace. Over time, that turnover rate will increase and it will be what you do naturally. I still glance at my watch for two to three seconds every now and then to line up my steps, but if that’s not your place, imagine running barefoot over broken glass to get the picture of light, quick steps.
ONE MORE THING: WHAT ABOUT SPEED?
More than anything else, this trick gets people to email me saying how much it helped them stop hurting themselves and running more. But a question often arises: how to change this stride speed when you want to run faster or slower?
The simple answer is, it shouldn’t. Keep this rate of rotation constant at 180 steps per minute and adjust your running speed by varying your stride length. For slow, relaxed runs, you’ll take very short strides, and when you want to open it up to 3 miles or something even shorter and faster, you’ll increase your stride to cover more ground with each step. But you’re still taking 180 or more steps per minute at all speeds.
(Note: there is nothing magical about the exact number 180. If you can be somewhere in the neighborhood, or even much faster, you will be fine).
2. LAND ON YOUR MIDFOOT INSTEAD OF YOUR HEEL.
I’ve already explained how modern running shoes encourage us to land with what’s called a heel strike. Without shoes, it’s painful to land on your heel when you run. But throw on a pair of heavy, cushioned, expensive running shoes, and you’re invincible! You can land on your heel all day long and not feel a bit of pain.
But there’s something dangerous about this type of landing. If we’re not really built to run with a heel strike, then cushioning the heel to avoid pain will only lead to more problems, often further up the leg in the knee or hip. When we’re barefoot, the pain of a heel strike prevents us from taking such long strides where the only possibility is to land on the heel. But once the pain is eliminated by shoes, we’re free to take that long stride, and suddenly we’re running with a form that’s nothing like what we’re built for. Rather than keeping our weight over our feet, we begin to land with our foot out in front of the body—a position that leads to all sorts of problems over time.
Most of us aren’t going to be running barefoot, so it’s important to pay attention to how we land because we can’t rely on pain to signal when we’re running in a way that will ultimately lead to injury. (Although if you wear somewhat minimalist shoes, like the ones I recommend for most runners, you’ll be able to feel more than you can with heavy, cushioned shoes.)
There’s some debate, even among barefooters, over whether it’s best to land on the midfoot or the forefoot, assuming we all agree that severe heel striking is bad (not everyone in the running community agrees with this, by the way). I like a midfoot strike for a few reasons: first, forefoot striking tends to lead to a lot of up and down movement of the body, which is wasted energy when the direction you really want to go is forward. Second, a midfoot strike is more natural for most runners, especially those used to years of heel striking, than landing on the forefoot.
This is a good time to bring up an important caveat: if you’ve been running a certain way all your life (or if you haven’t been running at all), it’s critical that you make any changes to your form gradually. When you change your form, you use different muscles than you’re used to using, and these muscles need time to develop; otherwise, you’ll risk serious injuries (stress fractures are common among people who suddenly start running barefoot without first building up their barefoot mileage slowly). It’s also mentally tiring to focus on form for more than a few minutes at a time.
One way to slowly introduce improvements to your form is to spend just thirty seconds out of every five minutes on your Easy-pace runs practicing your new form for the first week. The next week, spend a minute out of every five and gradually increase in this manner until the new form comes naturally.
But simply changing the angle at which your foot strikes the ground is something of a “Band-Aid” method of making the change. A more holistic approach starting from your core is far better. In fact, you may be able to change your foot strike to one that lands on the midfoot without focusing on it at all, if you implement key number one, above, first. The only practical way to increase your cadence to 180 steps per minute without actually changing your running speed is to shorten your stride. And a shorter stride means you’re keeping your weight over your feet, rather than landing with your leg extended far in front of you. Which, in turn, makes it much more natural to land with a midfoot strike, or at worst with a mild heel strike, which is nothing to be concerned about.
3. LEAN FORWARD FROM THE ANKLES, NOT THE HIPS.
Lots of runners lean forward, but too many do it from the wrong place: their hips. Leaning forward from the hips results in an inefficient, bent-over posture that invites injury. Instead, you want to keep a relatively straight line from your ankles to the top of your head and lean your entire body forward while maintaining that line.
You may have heard of the idea of falling forward when you run, letting gravity do the work. The forward lean accomplishes exactly this. It should feel like you’re constantly falling forward, using each successive step to catch yourself, rather than the opposite feeling of driving from behind with your legs to keep yourself in motion. Make sure your shoulders stay slightly ahead of your feet while you’re running—you’ll bend from the ankles, not the waist, to achieve this.
Focus on these mental images to help you find your form
If you focus on just the three principles we talked about previously, you’ll be 95 percent of the way toward achieving an efficient running form. (In fact, you could get 80 percent of it just with the first key of taking 180 steps per minute.) But as you get more serious about running, you’ll naturally start to wonder about other aspects of form. Rather than trying to remember a bunch of angles at which your joints should be bent, let’s keep it simple, with a few easy-to-remember mental images. These aren’t essential to get started, but if you’re the curious type who isn’t comfortable with just doing what comes naturally, you might find them helpful.
- Keep your hands lightly closed, as if you’re holding butterflies and don’t want to crush them.
- Envision that you have Tyrannosaurus Rex arms—not doing too much movement, just hanging out at your sides but bent with your hands in front of you.
- Pump your arms back and forth at your sides, not across your body.
WHAT ABOUT BREATHING?
For as integral to running (and almost all sports) as breathing is, the topic is oddly ignored among runners. Ask a runner, even a good one, how he or she breathes, and you’ll likely get a shrug or maybe an answer of, “I don’t really think about it; I just do what comes naturally.”
Jack Daniels, a well-known running coach, recommends breathing with what’s called a 2:2 rhythm: in for two steps, out for two steps (which means if you’re running at 180 steps per minute, you’re taking forty-five full breaths per minute). If there’s a rule of thumb for how to breathe while you run, this is it.
But you may find that if you’re training at a low intensity, you can actually breathe much more slowly than this without straining. In his fascinating book Body, Mind, and Sport, John Douillard suggests that by training yourself to breathe solely through your nose, you can decrease your breath rate to as little as fifteen breaths per minute. He argues that this is a much less stressful and more efficient way to run, especially at low intensities like what is required for a marathon or half marathon. Scott Jurek, the legendary vegan ultramarathoner, puts in another vote for nose-breathing in his book Eat and Run, and in fact mentions Douillard’s book as one that he learned from.
If you decide to experiment with nose-breathing, understand that it takes time to get used to it. At first, you’ll find it very hard to get enough oxygen without opening your mouth, especially on hills or when you pick up the pace. But with practice, nose-breathing can become second nature and so will a slower breath rate.
How to Begin Your Training
Now that we’ve covered the basics of a simple, efficient method of running, it’s time to take it to the streets (or the trails, or the treadmill, or wherever you’ll be doing your training). How you get started will depend greatly on your fitness and experience as a runner, but I’ll provide a few guidelines here to help you decide what’s best for your unique situation.
IF YOU’RE ALREADY A RUNNER
If you’re already a runner and train regularly but you find yourself too often sidelined by injury or simply not progressing as well as you’d like, you can apply the running form suggestions here and the advanced techniques in the next chapter to your current training schedule. Keep in mind that changes in your form will take several weeks to feel comfortable, and you may even find that you become less efficient in the short term, as the burden of moving you forward shifts to new muscles that haven’t had a chance to develop yet. But be patient; the rewards to running this way are great. Also, be sure to incorporate the form changes gradually—treat each of them as a new habit and use the habit change principles at the beginning of this chapter to incorporate them into your running so that they become automatic.
For example, if you use the technique from this chapter to calculate your current turnover rate and find that you’re only taking 160 steps per minute, you might try doing one run each week on a treadmill so that you can get the sense of what it feels like to run at three steps per second as you align your steps with the clock on the treadmill for fifteen or twenty straight minutes. After two or three weeks, start incorporating this faster turnover into your normal runs, doing it for just one minute out of every five at first and then increasing that proportion each week until this faster cadence becomes second nature.
If you do nothing else I suggest in this chapter, I hope you’ll try just two things: increase your turnover rate to 180 steps per minute and run your easy miles even easier than you already do. Those were the two keys that changed everything for me and allowed me to finally stop getting injured and put in the miles I needed to take serious time off my marathon, and I’ve seen them do the same for so many others.
IF YOU’RE NEW TO RUNNING
If you’re brand-new to running or even if you’ve done some running in your life but it’s been a while, I suggest you focus first on creating the habit of running. Go through the five habit change keys listed previously and create a plan for implementing the habit. You’ll need to decide for yourself, for example, how much time or distance to start with and whether it’s best to start out with walking. (For most people who have never run, I think it’s best to swallow your pride and walk at first.)
An example of how someone who currently doesn’t exercise, is slightly overweight, and has never run consistently might get started is as follows (this is just a general example, so adjust it any way you see fit).
1. Each day, as soon as you wake up or as soon as you get home from work, put on your running shoes and get out the door. (Start small, remember?)
2. Walk at a brisk pace for five minutes, perhaps with music if that makes the experience more enjoyable for you.
3. When you’re done, make a big “X” on a calendar that’s in a place where you’ll see it often and do whatever else will make you feel great about it, whether that’s posting about your run or walk on a social networking site or giving yourself a small reward.
4. If you do this for seven straight days (and only then!), allow yourself to do more. Increase the time to, say, eight or ten minutes.
5. If you succeed at this next level for seven straight days, allow yourself to do more. That might mean increasing to fifteen minutes or perhaps staying at ten minutes but jogging for three minutes in the middle.
6. In this way, gradually increase what you do each day, as long as you’re having success and sticking with it. If you’re missing days or procrastinating, stay at the current level or scale it back a bit and think about how you can engineer the experience so that it’s more enjoyable or give yourself more accountability.
7. Once you can jog for about half an hour without stopping, congratulations! If you’re not in 5K shape yet, you’re very close, and you’re ready to start incorporating different types of workouts into your training (and go for a 10K or half marathon, if that appeals to you).
Again, the right routine for you depends on you! The above example of starting with just five minutes of walking each day might be perfect for someone who hasn’t exercised in years, but for someone who has hit the gym on and off for the past six months, chances are good that five minutes of walking is too little. For that person, perhaps running five minutes is the right place to start. It’s up to you, and you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Remember, it’s fine to fail, and it’s expected! Screw up, learn, and try again. Don’t feel bad or guilty—just go back and figure out what didn’t work last time, re-engineer your routine, and try again!
Because you’re starting with a clean slate, you have the advantage of not having any bad habits to undo (well, at least when it comes to running form!). From the beginning, use the principles outlined in this chapter to ensure that you’re using the form that will make running as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.