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Running (cont.)

Should I Run in Road Races as a Beginner?

Setting a goal to participate in a road race is an excellent idea. You're only competing against yourself, and they provide great motivation to help you stay focused on your training. You also get to meet lots of people who share a similar interest, have some fun, and collect a really cool T-shirt as a souvenir for participating! Racing also helps get otherwise sedentary couch potatoes outside on the weekend instead of sitting in front of the TV watching the ball game and eating. You can start with a one-mile fun run to get your feet (or running shoes as it may be) wet, and if you're more ambitious, then consider registering for a 5K race (3.2 miles). Many cities have local running clubs that sponsor races and offer training clinics for novices (also see the training plans below). Search online for running clubs in your location. Racing is a great way to go for novices and more experienced runners alike.

Beginner Mistakes

Beginners (and occasionally more experienced runners) do make mistakes. One of the classics is to overtrain -- that is, running too far, too fast, or too frequently, and ending up with overtraining syndrome. Symptoms of overtraining are loss of strength, speed, endurance, or other elements of performance, loss of appetite, inability to sleep well, chronic aches and pains or soreness, chronic colds or respiratory infections, overuse injuries like tendinitis, unusual fatigue, occasional increase in resting heart rate, irritability, or you just don't feel like exercising anymore. You should take a break if you have any of these symptoms and they are from overtraining. Seven to 10 days off may be all you need, and in virtually every case, runners who take a break come back stronger. To prevent overtraining syndrome, monitor your body and take breaks when you are tired. Your body needs time for rest, recovery, and growth after a workout, and so if you never take a break, there's no time for your muscles to get stronger.

Another mistake beginners make is to run in poorly fitted or worn-out shoes. Follow the suggestions given above for the type of shoe to wear, and don't run in worn-out shoes. Some experts suggest changing your running shoes every 500 miles. This advice is too generic because shoe life varies based on more than just distance; how heavy you are, how hard you run, your foot strike, and how old your shoes are (shoes can dry out over time and lose their shock absorption and resiliency) can all affect your shoe life. I suggest the following to determine if you need new shoes:

  • If your feet or joints or muscles start to hurt and medical problems can be ruled out, then it's definitely time to look at new shoes.
  • If the sole of your shoe is worn out, it's time to invest in new shoes.
  • If you're middle-aged and still running in the sneakers you used in high school, then it's time for a change.

The best way to know if you need new shoes is to take them with you to the running shoe store and compare how they feel to a brand-new pair. If the new shoes feel more supportive or stable, then you know you need new ones.

Yet another mistake is shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when the air you breathe doesn't saturate deep into the lungs and leaves you short of breath. Some people know shallow breathing as hyperventilating. It can be caused by anxiety, poor running form (leaning excessively forward), or going out too fast. If you find yourself short of breath when running, then slow down and take long exhalations. These will help you take in longer inhalations.

Interval Training and Running

Interval training is a method of training where you alternate between high and low intensities during your workout with the objective of increasing your stamina. Research shows that it is an extremely effective method for improving fitness. You set up intervals by using "work to active-recovery" ratios (expressed as work:active-recovery), where work is the faster speed and active-recovery is the slower. The mechanics of it are to simultaneously and progressively over time increase the time at the work interval and decrease the time at the active-recovery. Here's a simple example assuming you can jog or run for 30 minutes at 6 miles per hour (mph).

  1. Jog for five minutes at 6 mph to warm up.
  2. Increase the speed to 6.3 mph and jog for one minute.
  3. Jog for three minutes at 6 mph.
  4. Increase the speed to 6.3 mph and jog for one minute.
  5. Jog for three minutes at 6 mph.
  6. Repeat these intervals for your entire workout.

In this example, the work:active-recovery ratio is 1:3. The idea is to increase the work part to one and a half minutes and decrease the active-recovery to two and a half, and then continue to increase and decrease in 30-second increments (weekly if possible) until you are running at 6.3 mph for the entire workout.

You can also get more specific and use heart rate to set up your intervals. For example, say your heart rate is 70% of your predicted maximum when you run at 6 mph, and it's 85% of your max when you run at 6.5 mph. What you do then is set up your ratio of 1:3 based on your training zone by running at 6.5 mph (85%) for one minute and then 6 mph (70%) for three minutes. As you continue to decrease the active-recovery interval and increase the work interval, your conditioning will improve, and then after a couple of months you should be running your entire workout at 6.5 mph.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2014

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