Choosing and Sticking with a Running Program

Once you are sure of your primary goal and your doctor has given you a green light, you are ready to choose a running program. Not knowing how to start is often the most significant roadblock keeping people from beginning a running program. With the right guidelines in hand, however, you can get started, know where you are going, and enjoy the journey. The following steps will set you up for success.

Schedule Running in Your Life

Pull out your daily planner or calendar and look at the week ahead. Schedule your exercise session to fit into your busy schedule. Find a desirable time of day or evening to exercise, and make it a regular habit.

Arrange for family cooperation, if necessary. Perhaps your spouse can trade early-morning responsibilities with you; perhaps your children can learn how to make their own breakfast so you can run before taking them to school. When you use your daily planner with an opportunistic eye, you can reserve a small part of your busy day for your exercise time.

Think about ways to include family members if they can't be left alone. Buy a baby jogger or stroller and take your youngster with you. Or allow an older child to ride a bike while you run. A child's designated time for homework can be your designated time for body work.

A frequently asked question is: When is the best time of day to do one's body work—morning, afternoon, or evening? The best answer is: The time when you will do it. Some people have a regular schedule that makes it easy for them to plan their exercise at a designated time and day. For others no two days are alike, and they have to create windows of opportunity for exercise time

You manage to make time every day for the appointments you can't miss. You get to work on time, pick the kids up from school, and set aside time to read the newspaper or talk on the phone. You find time for these activities because they are important to you. When you have something important in your life, you are more apt to cherish it and treat it with respect.

Morning running works for a lot of people—all the better if you are a morning person. When you run in the morning you are less likely to skip the workout. You may be more likely to cancel an afternoon or evening workout if you are feeling tired or hungry or if something important comes up. Run in the morning if you can to get the exercise out of the way for the day, and you'll feel better for it.

Another advantage of morning workouts is that studies have shown that there are fewer injuries among morning runners than with afternoon and evening runners. This might be because you start slower and warm up longer when you run in the morning.

Schedule your exercise time as you would other important appointments. Give yourself a start time and finish time, and be punctual. A side benefit of setting a regular exercise time is that your partner, boss, children, and coworkers will learn to respect your private exercise time and not to infringe on it unless absolutely necessary.

Make Your Runs Fun and Convenient

Invite a friend, neighbor, or coworker to join you as a regular or even occasional workout partner. Make sure you choose someone whose company you enjoy so that you will look forward to sharing that time. Ideally, find someone who is also a beginner so that both of you will be running at the same approximate pace.

Canine companions are usually happy to be included on jogs. Make sure that if your dog isn't used to running long distances, you take extra care in conditioning him. You have to remember that his paws and cardiovascular system need time to adapt. And make sure your breed of dog is capable of this type of exercise, of course; you won't get far with a Chihuahua or a pug, for example.


Remember to carry along some water for your canine runner—dogs can overheat quickly. Check out the dog packs that your four-legged friend can carry on his back, remembering to keep the load light. Also, be considerate of how much running your particular dog can handle.

Wear the Right Clothing

Make your runs more enjoyable by investing in sportswear that gives you confidence. Wearing functional and comfortable clothing can make a world of difference in how you feel working out. If you have been saving your worn-out T-shirts, shorts, and sweats for exercise, think again. Those old clothes may not do much for your motivation, especially if you're a beginner who feels a bit self-conscious about running anyway.

There are many useful fabrics available in the marketplace, such as Coolmax®, Capilene®, and other synthetic-blend fabrics. These are designed not only to look good but also to help keep you cool, reduce if not eliminate chafing, wick away moisture, and make you feel comfortable.

Start Incrementally and Increase Gradually

When first becoming physically active, more is not always better. Before you learned to walk you had to crawl, and the same is true with your fitness regimen. If you want to be successful with your program and feel good both during and after exercise, you need to start incrementally and then increase time and effort gradually.

This is where many people set themselves up to fail. They expect their bodies to perform at levels that are neither realistic nor recommended. Then afterward they wrongly insist that the exercise itself made them feel sore. The point here is to be patient and consistent with your exercise plan.

It is particularly important to start slowly if you have not exercised recently. When you first begin to move, it's as if your body has been in a coma. If someone were coming out of a coma, would you shake her and say, “Hey, come on, get going, faster, harder, more, more”? Of course not.

Similarly, when you begin an exercise program, you should be gentle with your body. If you start slowly, your body will respond favorably. To set yourself up for success, start running for small increments of time at low intensity levels until your body has time to adjust to the new activity.

Understanding and applying this pacing of fitness will in fact help you to achieve your goal. Some people feel embarrassed by running at a slow pace at first. You need to put this concern aside so you don't set yourself up for injury.

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