Establishing a Foundation

Following the basic principles of exercise establishes a solid foundation for a successful exercise program. These principles are centered around the idea that stressing one's muscles at the appropriate level (the workout) followed by rest leads to the next level of fitness. Understanding this important concept can help you determine workout specifics such as frequency, intensity, time, and type. By considering these factors you can optimize your workouts and increase your ability at a safe and healthy pace.

Fitness expert, author, endurance athlete, and exercise physiologist Sally Edwards states in her book, Heart Zone Training, “You can only manage what you can measure and monitor.” This is certainly true for exercise and health. In order to take an active role in your fitness, keep track in your running notebook of what you do, how much you do, and any other relevant information that relates to your health. Be as descriptive as you like. You do not have to be obsessive about every detail but you should include enough to tell a story about your exercise and health.

The following is an overview of what you need to get started with your running program to train safely and successfully. These topics are explored in depth later in the book, but they're mentioned briefly here as essential matters to take into consideration when first getting started.

“After having my second baby, I became frustrated that I had not lost the last ten pounds of baby weight. This is when I found Art Liberman's mileage buildup program. I dedicated myself to, and completed, the nineteen-week program. When I finished the ten-mile run, I felt fabulously proud of myself. My self-confidence and self-image soared.”—Shelley Barineau, Houston, TX

Equipment and Training Log

Buy a new pair of running shoes from someone knowledgeable. The sales staff in specialty running stores are usually runners themselves. They should have the technical knowledge to put you in the right shoes to meet your biomechanical needs. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

When the mileage total of your shoes approaches 350 miles, it's time to think about purchasing a new pair, particularly if you are above average weight, run on rough terrain, or train in hot, humid conditions. While it's possible for some lighter runners to go beyond 350 miles, the maximum recommended limit for everyone is 500 miles, at which time new shoes need to be purchased. You may think 500 miles sounds like a lot, but as you become a more experienced runner, mileage total will accrue quickly. Training in shoes that have exceeded their lifespan can lead to a variety of overuse injuries that may take days or even weeks to heal properly.

When considering clothing (such as socks, shirts, and shorts), choose those manufactured with synthetic blends that wick away perspiration and reduce the possibility of chafing.

Another item that will improve your running experience is a training log. Use a notebook, calendar, or running log to record the following information at a minimum: miles run, total time run, and shoe model worn. Some runners record everything from the weather conditions to the route they have run to the total shoe mileage.

Keeping a log is important because it provides a history of your running, which is crucial for finding the possible cause of a running injury. Additionally, reviewing a running log helps to determine the training method that has been most effective in turning out one's best performances. Finally, keeping a log is highly motivating, for few runners like to leave too many blank entries. However, do not become compulsive about your running just to “fill in the blanks” or reach a specific weekly mileage total come what may.

There are a variety of websites that provide training logs and show you how to record everything pertaining to your training program, from actual miles run to cumulative shoe mileage. Best of all, most of these sites are free.

A training log may not seem like an essential item in your quest for fitness, but it is. It's a place to set goals, track achievements, and note ups or downs. You'll be thrilled to look back at the mileage you've run, and in turn you'll be more motivated to stick to your plan.

Build a Base

Without question the most important area to focus on when beginning a running program is that of safely building a mileage base, or the distance you run per week. It's essential to start out running in small increments and build on these, no matter how silly or short your distance seems. Never try to take on too much too soon. Doing so can greatly increase your chances of incurring an overuse injury and may ruin your appetite for running.

In a chapter on motivation and success, it's hard not to feel like you can strap on your running shoes and do five miles easily. Although it's admirable to want to seize the day, remember, slow and steady wins the race. You'll be running an easy five miles soon enough if you train smart.

In building your mileage base, remember the 10 percent rule: Do not increase either your weekly mileage and/or your long-run mileage by more than 10 percent a week. Doing so greatly increases the chance of incurring an injury, thereby delaying or stopping your training altogether. This is one of the biggest mistakes runners make. Don't do it!

Without a doubt, runners should include supplemental activities such as weight training and cross-training as part of their total fitness program. In particular, incorporating weight training, stretching, and carefully selected cross-training activities into your fitness regimen both reduces the risk of injury and facilitates total body conditioning.

You shouldn't even think of training for a marathon (26.2 miles) until meeting certain conditions. Specifically, you should have been running consistently four to five days per week, twenty-five miles per week, for at least a year, without any major injuries.


Nutrition is an essential part of any exercise program. One thing to keep in mind at this point, though, is that nutrition is not just about food; it's about fluids, too. Runners must be well hydrated to run effectively. For runs of up to 60 minutes, water is the drink of choice.

It is also important to emphasize healthy foods in your diet and limit fried and high-fat foods. There is some debate now regarding the proper mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. As a runner you should focus on consuming a mixed diet with carbohydrate foods (grains, fruits, vegetables) filling at least three-quarters of your plate, your protein source filling a quarter of your plate, and a light sprinkle of fats such as oils, butters, or cream.

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