By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
Winter is over. Days are getting warmer and longer. It may be time to revisit those well-intentioned, but short-lived, New Year resolutions. If a regular exercise program was one of your resolutions, consider taking up running. It is simple, effective, and inexpensive, and it promises to lower your stress and increase your energy.
First, start with the right equipment. You need shoes, clothing, and a partner. Invest in a good pair of running shoes. It will pay off in safer, enjoyable runs. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 for a good pair. Good shoes are shoes that fit you well at the store. Try them on before you buy them. Clothing can be kept simple: a loose fitting t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and socks. Synthetic material helps keep you dry. Women require a good sports bra. Last but not least, a partner helps you stick to your program. Running with a partner is also safer and more fun than running alone. In my first year on the roads, I stepped in a pothole and fractured my foot. My partner ran home for a car and picked me up.
Having improved your chances of success with the right equipment, it is time for strategy. Plan to go out 4 or 5 days each week, preferably at the same time each day. Some people prefer to run early in the morning, many run at noon, and others in the evening. The best time to run is the time that works for you. Set aside an hour each day for your activity. Select a safe route. Look for wide shoulders or sidewalks, low vehicular traffic, and good visibility. You may start at your house, or take a short drive to a park or a track. Begin your program by walking 1 or 2 miles each day. Take a couple of days off each week for a physical and a mental break. Gradually increase your distance until you can walk 3 miles a day, 5 days a week. This goal may take a few weeks to reach. Do not rush it; you have the rest of your life to run.
Now you are ready to start jogging. Cover the same 3-mile course, alternating jogging with walking. You may jog one block and walk one block; or jog one minute and walk one minute. Gradually, extend your jogging intervals and shorten the walks in between. Eventually, you will be able to jog the full 3-mile course, several times each week. Congratulations! The most difficult part is behind you.
Doing too much, too soon, may produce soreness in the muscles and the joints, and sometimes shin splints. Treat these with rest and ice. When in doubt, jog less and walk more. Measure your run in time or distance, but not both. Stretch if you like, but do so gently. Pay attention to your nutrition: eat less fat and sweets, and more vegetables and fruits. Drink plenty of water. Sleep well.
When you complete 3 miles without walking, you may be tempted to run a race. Go for it! Spring and summer in Central New York feature weekly training runs, road races and track meets at every distance and skill level. According to Dr. George Sheehan, the difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank. Fill it up, send it in, and run that race; it will transform you from a jogger into a runner. You will also run your first Personal Record, and earn the right to shout "It's a PR".
The promise of PR's keeps us coming back to races. We run to race, and we race to run new PR's. Soon, we outgrow our PR spurt, as gravity takes its toll and slows us down. Yet, the camaraderie in running and the sense of achievement in finishing keep us coming back to races. So, whether you run for fitness or competition, make running more than a passing New Year resolution; make it a lifelong endeavor. There has never been a better to time to start.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.