New runners should start slowly, keep it fun

30-minute running/walking sessions a good, initial goal

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Paul Oppenheim

Running columnist

This time of year I see lots of runners on our streets – maybe a few more than usual after our loooong winter, those who are grateful for spring weather. And I'm hearing the annual discussions about beginning runners, and "learning how" to run.

We've all seen articles in runners' magazines or other publications on how to start. Mostly they're too complicated – heart rate, shoe types, proper clothing, hydration, blah, blah, blah. But it's only running. Anybody caught in the middle of a crosswalk when the traffic light changes can run. Developing endurance is the main hurdle. As more serious runners, we very quickly learn to pace ourselves to sustain any distance, but those how-to articles get into technical stuff that probably discourages some beginners. So here's a No-Frills Beginner's Program lifted from my very first column back in 1999:

The simplest advice I can offer a new runner is 30 MINUTES. Don't spend big bucks on apparel; just make sure you have some basic running shoes that are comfortable and light. Start by jogging slowly (no sprinting) until you start to get winded; walk until you can breathe easily again, run some more, then walk again, then run again until your 30 minutes are up. Keep moving but don't kill yourself! Day after tomorrow do it again. Pretty soon you'll be running more than walking, and eventually you'll be able to run for the entire 30 minutes. Once you can run non-stop for 30 minutes, consider yourself an official runner. You should now sign up for a 5K race.

By entering that first 5K race (3.1 miles), you should be able to finish in somewhere around that familiar 30 minutes. That's just the beginning. Then you can check out the fancier running shoes, clothing and other stuff. Keep entering races since they provide great incentive for training and improvement. After racing on a fairly regular basis, most people see big gains in fitness, weight loss and speed. Join a running club, and keep running year 'round. You'll be physically fit, lose weight, and get your exercise by simply stepping out your front door to run. No need for a health club with boring exercise machines, and no need to feel guilty about using your home exercise equipment as a high-tech clothes rack. That's what it's for.

Running can be pretty addictive, but that addiction can lead to overdoing it. Many runners tell stories about having done too much, too soon. It's a matter of patience and gradual improvement. Save that first marathon until you have a few years' experience at shorter distances.

A few years back I was told of one young guy, a new runner, who struggled through the Chicago Marathon. I had two questions: Was it his first race? And, did he keep on running? The answers were yes and no, respectively -- not much of a role model. We're encouraging a lifestyle here, not checking a single item off a bucket list. So enjoy your running.

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.

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