For some women running is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle – their entire lives revolve around their next jaunt up the trail or around the neighborhood. They look natural, effortless, like that’s what their bodies were designed to do. You’ve been contemplating joining their ranks for a while now, but honestly have no idea where to start – not to mention your biggest fear, looking like the unflattering half of one of those “what I think I look like, what I actually look like” memes. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Together we’ll venture into the world of running so not only will you be able to keep up with those running addicts, you’ll look completely natural doing it.
The Benefits of Running Workouts and Fitness
The benefits of running are boundless — it will improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity and, best of all, will make you less likely to want to throat punch someone when they do or say something stupid. Nothing like a daily run to get those endorphins flowing and keep you in your happy place. Running on a regular basis can also help you to lose weight and tone up — so, ya, it’s pretty awesome.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
While runners come in all shapes and sizes, the elites have minimal body fat, which would infer that running has a pretty high potential to help us burn fat and lose weight. The biggest consideration in all of this is your training (and how much food you’re scarfing down between runs).
For a long time, now, there has been a belief about an infamous fat burning zone. Rumor has it, in order to burn maximal levels of fat, you have to stay in this zone, which would require you to run at a very comfortable pace. Like most things in life that seem too good to be true, so is this. In all actuality, if you want to burn fat and improve your running performance you’ll have to push yourself. If you opt to train using high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you’ll find you not only burn more calories but also boost your speed and fitness. Aside from the extra calories and fat burned during a HIIT running workout, you’ll also burn more calories after. About 6 to 15% more calories to be exact.
So bottom line, yes, running can help you burn fat and lose weight.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
The muscle building potential of running is pretty minimal, mainly due to the fact that the muscle fibers used for running don’t particularly like to grow. The second reason is that running just doesn’t create enough external load to elicit muscle growth. But don’t worry, you can still get some killer legs.
Because you have a pretty good chance of shedding some fat once your training commences, the underlying muscle that you already have, will make its grand reveal and your legs will take on a more toned appearance. Running regularly can also help give you more muscle definition, especially if you throw in some hill repeats, plyometrics and strength training — which are all great ideas to help you stay injury free.
Classes: What to expect; should I take them?
Running classes are not something most gyms offer. When you think about it, running is a natural movement for our bodies so it should be something we can do without instruction. However, this isn’t always the case. Whether running seems like the most unnatural activity in the world to you or you just want to clean up your form, there are plenty of running coaches out there who would love to get their hands on you. Online coaching is also available if you’re not the hands-on type. Joining a running club is another, less structured way to improve your running, glean training tips and hang out with other runners. If none of this sounds like a good time, it’s totally OK to go it alone and become a self-taught running machine.
Instructional Running Videos and Training Tips
The internet is loaded with videos as well as training plans and tips — just make sure the sources are legit. Here are a few of our faves.
Below you’ll find, what we consider to be, some of the most important training tips you can use to successfully begin your journey as a runner.
Laying a Foundation
Running demands at least some level of aerobic and neuromuscular endurance. This means your heart, lungs and muscles are going to get a workout. As a beginner runner, you’re primary goal is to lay a solid foundation in both of these areas of fitness. Here are a few guidelines to do so safely and successfully.
Build Gradually – Doing too much, too soon is a guaranteed way to get burnt out and drastically increase your risk of injury.
- Begin with a short 10- to 15-minute run three nonconsecutive days per week. This will give your body ample time to recover and adapt.
- Once you feel ready, you can either begin to: A) Increase your running time or B) Increase the frequency of your runs. For example, up your running time to 20 to 25 minutes three days per week or maintain your 15 minute runs but add one run per week to your routine.
- Follow the 10% rule: Never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% from the previous week to minimize overuse injuries.
Include One Long Run per Week – this will help build your endurance capacity. Since most people have more free time, the weekends are a great time for a long run. I like to take a rest day after long runs to give everything a break before heading back out.
Strengthen Your Muscles – A solid running program should include strength training. That’s right, you heard it here – runners need to lift weights. Strength training will not only make you a more efficient runner, it will also make you more resistant to injury.
- Strength train two to three days per week. You can choose to lift on the same days you run or lift on your off days as a means of cross training.
- Choose exercises that target the major muscle groups used for running such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings. A strong upper body is also beneficial to runners so be sure to throw in some chest and shoulder presses, rows and keep that core strong.
- The use of hill runs can also be used to improve neuromuscular fitness and can be implemented into your running program. When performing hill runs, start out small gradually increasing your distance and/or intensity.
One point new runners can easily get hung up on and overthink is running form. Forcing any specific form is just going to make you tired and uncomfortable. Your best bet is to just start running and let your body do what it needs to do to get you from point A to point B. That being said, here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind.
- Head – Keep your head level and eyes focused straight ahead, avoid looking down at your feet. Allow your jaw to stay relaxed during your run.
- Upper body – Keep your elbows bent to around 90 degrees, torso in an upright position and maintain a state of relaxation in your hands, arms and shoulders.
- Stride – Keep your stride short and quick. Pushing your foot forward for a longer stride (overstriding) is a good way to wind up with an injury.
- Feet — Some women are heel strikers, meaning their heels strike the ground first, while others hit the ground with the front part of the foot. Some experts argue one is better than the other, but go with whatever feels good to you. You’ll find your foot naturally strikes the ground one way or another – just follow your body’s lead.
Even as a beginner, you need to be on point with your nutrition – primarily your hydration. If your runs last less than 60 minutes, you generally don’t need to worry about fueling during your workout. Hydrating, however, is of utmost importance, particularly during the hot, humid months of summer. Water is perfectly acceptable to use while running but if you find it difficult to stomach water or are the type of gal whose sweat glands rival Niagara Falls, you may want to consider sports drinks. They tend to be more palatable than water and help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat.
- Pre-Run – Before your run ensure you’re fully hydrated. It’s better to stay hydrated throughout the day rather than slamming a glass of water right before your run – this will prevent a mid-run bathroom break and a potential side ache. If you run first thing in the morning, try to get at least 8 ounces of water in you before heading out the door.
- Mid-Run – During your run, aim for 7 to 10 ounces (about 7 to 10 gulps) every 10 to 20 minutes. Obviously, if your run lasts only this long, you don’t need to worry about carrying a water bottle with you. Otherwise, you’ll definitely want to pack some fluid.
- Post-Run – After your run, be sure to rehydrate completely. Ideally, it would be great if you could weigh yourself before and after your workout. This will give you the exact amount of water you need to drink to restore hydration levels – 20 to 24 ounces of water or sports drink should be consumed for every pound lost during exercise. If weighing yourself constantly is too laborious, simply monitor the color of your urine – light is good, dark is not.
What to Expect
You may be approaching this new running journey with the same enthusiasm as if you were prancing through a meadow or rainbows and butterflies. That’s great, it really is, but it’s important to keep in mind that running is hard, plain and simple. I don’t want to deter you from your goals, however you need to be aware of what to expect as you start out.
- You will be uncomfortable – If you’re already an avid exerciser, you’re familiar with the feeling of being out of breath. However, if you’ve never physically challenged your body, the increased heart and breathing rate can be a bit scary. Don’t worry, you will live through it and each consecutive run will get easier and easier. Just remember to stay relaxed and trust your body to do what it needs to. And walking breaks are completely acceptable so when you feel like you can’t go on, drop into a walk until you’re ready to continue running.
- You will likely be sore – The first few runs can do a number on your out-of-shape running muscles. Even if you’re a gym rat, running requires us to use our muscles in ways we don’t generally use them on a daily basis. Don’t panic if the thought of sitting on the toilet the next day makes you want to cry. The soreness will fade, your muscles will get stronger and your running will improve.
- It will take some time – You’re not going to become a world-class runner overnight (unless you’re one of those freaks of nature) but you will see improvements. Whether you can run farther this week than you could last week or you’ve knocked a few seconds off of your neighborhood loop, your endurance will develop and you’ll become the runner you want to be. Enjoy the little accomplishments – they make it all worthwhile.
One of the best things about running is anyone can compete — you don’t have to be the best or the most experienced, you just have to show up. Whether you’re ready to sign up for your first 5K or thinking of putting in the effort to cross the finish line of a marathon, signing up for a race, of any distance, is an excellent way to stay motivated and stick to a training schedule. If you see a race in your future, here are a few tips to follow.
- Start early – Pick a race a few months out to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. If you’ve got your sights set on a distance race, plan even further in advance.
- Find a training program – The internet is full of training programs. Find one for your current fitness level, race distance, and time frame and start training.
- Focus on the finish – With social media running rampant in our lives, it easy to compare ourselves to, well, everyone. Don’t fall into this trap with your first race – rather than setting a time goal, just aim to finish the race. Once you get a few races under your belt, you can start pushing for some personal bests.
Clothes and Proper Attire
Running doesn’t require a lot, but the gear you do need should be good quality – this is not the time to be cheap.
- Shoes – Quite literally, the one thing you can’t run without (unless you’re into the barefoot scene, but for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re not). The right shoe will make you a happy runner; the wrong shoe will make you uncomfortable and possibly lead to an injury. Find a running specialty store in your area to get fitted by a professional – some of our feet don’t land squarely on the ground when we run, a good shoe will correct your foot strike and keep your form strong.
- Bra – Second to shoes, this one is critical – especially for those of you well endowed. These days there are endless options for sports bras, no matter your specific need of support. Shop around until you find something comfortable that keeps the girls in place, you’ll be happy you did.
- Socks – Performance socks are a must to keep your feet healthy and blisters at bay.
- Top – Your shirt can consist of about anything – cotton sweatshirt, performance fabric, tank top, ratty college t-shirt, or you can be brave and just stick with that pretty new bra you just snagged.
- Bottoms – Since women started dropping a ton of money into athletic ware, our options are plentiful. Running shorts, leggings and even skirts – wear whatever floats your boat and keeps you comfy.
- Chafe Protection – Though not technically gear, anti-chafe cream is a huge plus to have on hand, especially if you’ve never run before. There are parts of the body (inner thighs, for example) that can rub together and make you downright miserable. Be proactive and save your skin.
- Accessories (optional) – As with any sport, running comes with its own set of accoutrement. Watches, heart rate monitors, sunglasses, hats/visors, headlights, bags, belts, holders, compression garments, etc. – the list goes on. My advice is start with the basics, add the extras as you go if want but don’t buy it all up front.
Results and Success Stories
Not only does running make you feel great, it can make you look pretty awesome too!
“I was always chubbier growing up and was never a runner. My 1-year run anniversary was August 22, 2016. I started from scratch. From being a person who enjoys the couch way more than anything else & finds comfort in rice & potatoes, I had never run willingly. I am not counting the punishment runs we had to do in PE class. I remember countless excuses & forged sick notes I made my mom write just to skip PE. No, I didn’t just hate running I vehemently despised it. I would say “It’s just not for me”.
In 2009, I moved to the US to start school and I didn’t realize how much free on campus food + emotional eating could affect me. 2011, my highest recorded weight of 210 lbs …any sort of physical activity was literally the last thing on earth I could imagine myself doing voluntarily up until 2012. I remember countless times I had “tried” to lose weight & failed miserably. I don’t remember exactly whether it was an inner awakening or comments from concerned friends & family..but I had a realization moment when I went shopping for my graduation dress & thought I was a size 10 but really I was a size 14! I remember my eyes getting cloudy in the dressing room. I bought the dress & I wasn’t too excited about my graduation because it had sunk in how I let myself go, not caring for my health this past 1.5 years. I kept waiting for the right moment to do something about it you know. I thought after I graduate I would join a gym. Then I said when I find a job I would. When I found a job & moved to a new city, 4 months passed in just settling down & getting used to a full time job & handling life!! One day after having 3 donuts for lunch at a work potluck, I felt miserable & I told myself I will never be ready until I take the 1st step. I remembered my promise to myself & how I let myself down so that evening, after work, there was a gym in my APT community, I decided to check it out.
Running was hard to me. I didn’t like it.
I had a pair of Nike running shoes that my friend had bought me & on the recommendation of my friend, I downloaded the free MapMyRun running app for my iPhone. I thought I would give the treadmill a try. I couldn’t even run for a minute straight. But I set a goal for myself: Don’t quit.
I “tried” to make better food choices, cut out fast food, drank more water. After a couple months of keeping at it, I could walk for 5 mins & then run for a whole minute without stopping. I set a goal for doing this for 10 mins which would give me 2 mins. of running & I did this 3 times a week along with yoga, zumba & other group classes offered at my local gym. Gradually, I increased my cardio workouts to be 20 mins. & then 40 mins. with more running mins. incorporated in between. I still hadn’t become a runner perse but I did commit to going to the gym 4x a week & making those changes I started to see big results fast….. -5 lbs then -10 lbs, -25 lbs …. I ended up losing exactly 59 lbs in about a little less than 2 years. Putting me at my lowest weight on this journey of 151 lbs.
My weight loss so far has been slow and steady , giving my body time to react. “Abs are made in the kitchen ” … Mine are still baking ; )… but really , clean healthy foods make a huge difference! 2014 a friend asked me to join her for a 5k run. I looked at her & said, “You must be joking” Me and running? She said trust me, you have come such a long way, I believe you can do it… I did my first 5k , took me 45 mins! I signed up for a 10k & started to train for it.. I tried to power through & push myself to do a mile without stopping, then 1.5m & then 3. I now love to run & sometimes I do it to clear my head, to stay committed to myself, to prove to everyone who said to me “haha, why chose her in our team? She can barely move”
I did get lost..Something major happened in my life & I turned to food again. There will be a time when you think… ” oh I can have that pizza because I’ve done so good” …events come up and you just let it go and forget everything you have been doing. I still constantly struggle with swapping pizza for salad & I do have the biggest sweet tooth in the world. I could eat cake for breakfast! But I TRY to find a balance EVERY FRIKKIN DAY!
There’s lots of good things about running. I love running outdoors. My favorite part about running is when I do long runs on Sundays, I look forward to pancakes & scrambled eggs. Or french toast. YUM. When I run, I get reminded of how dreadful was the time when even running for a minute straight without stopping used to seem like a humongous task!! 59 lbs heavier, u bet I hated to run. But when I run, it’s like a moment of clarity, I am in my zone watching a film without sound playing in my head..flashback to NOW. Somedays, I smile thinking about my journey, & somedays I have my eyes filled with cloudy little tears coz this journey hasn’t been easy.
If you would have told me a year ago that I would be working out almost every day and running 100 miles/month, I would never have believed you. Running really snuck up on me. I had modest aspirations and didn’t really care if I was great at running. I just wanted to stick to my one goal.
I have come a long way & it didn’t happen overnight. I still remember the day when for the 1st time I was able to run nonstop for 5 mins. My first 5k! I thought I was going to die. My first half 6 months ago!!! Words can’t describe the feeling of accomplishment and I’m still learning to trust the process.
Just because you think you hate running may not mean you hate running. A few weeks is all it takes to catch the running bug. Once you can run a few miles without stopping it’s smooth sailing. It’s a no-brainer. The running community is SO welcoming.”
“My journey started 2.5 years ago. I have been overweight since the 9th grade. By my senior year I was weighing 210 pounds. I was very insecure and miserable. I had tried everything from dieting to starving myself and wouldn’t get anywhere. I gave birth to my daughter April 2014. I told myself I wasn’t going to proceed to gain weight!
I started a running program shortly after I gave birth and proceeded to lose 20lbs. Once the weight started to melt off I wanted to change my whole lifestyle. I now exercise regularly and have improved my diet on many levels! I just recently gave birth to my second child in May of 2016. Starting out I weighed 175 and was right back to my pre-pregnancy weight shortly after. Although I still needed to lose around 30lbs.
About a month or so following his birth, I once again got back on a running program and have lost 10 more lbs weighing in at 165. I can’t remember the last time I was at this weight, but have been feeling great since dedicating myself to my health. I have never been a runner but I now enjoy it!!! I can willingly keep up with my kiddos and my overall health has improved tremendously. I love to escape from the world with my sneakers and music!”
“I hate running…
The saying “Running Sucks,” is an understatement. Everything about running is painful, from the first stride to the last deep breath. Running, in my opinion, is the only form of cardio that attacks every part of your body. However, as hard as I knew it was going to be I decided to conquer this beast roughly two years ago.
In 2014, my fiance and I decided it was time to get back to physical exercise. After college, with several pounds added and coming to the realization that father time was slowing down our metabolism we had no choice but to start a workout plan. We both have athletic backgrounds so physical activity is no stranger. We both played a variety of team sports but neither of us did any type of distance running. (I consider distance running more than 1 mile.) We made the crazy conscious decision to run because it was something we could do on our own, at any time, with no gym memberships, no running clubs, but just us and the road. Since we’re both highly competitive we decided to enter races every other month so that we could have an incentive for the daily running and our races would be the markers of our progress. On March 1, 2014, we ran our first 5k since our determination to start our running journey and boy did I reevaluate our decision. I finished that 5K in 34:08 and I my thought process went as such, “One more mile, just one more” “How do these people run any faster? “This is insane” “I will NEVER get faster.” Only time would show me there is no such thing as, never. We give the word never too much power and only through hard work does that word get easier to erase.
Please note that in 2014 when we started a workout plan it never included a meal plan. Yes, I know, extremely novice runners here. The difference in two years has shown me how diet and exercise go hand in hand. It’s important to balance your eating habits with plenty of protein, vegetables and fruits. Drinking lots a of water is extremely important. Should I want a carbonated drink once in awhile, a diet drink or anything zero is my choice. I keep these cravings to a minimum as I don’t trust the nutritional value on the label. Eating healthy and clean is extremely important to the progress of physical activity. I definitely keep my sanity by enjoying bad food aka as delicious food every once in awhile, but for the most part I make conscious decisions to eat healthier options.
Fast forward to 2016, I found the nutrition plan that works for me, I incorporated strength training, cycling, and interval running to my workouts. My current 5K PR is a 22:59 and my 10K PR is 49:46. “I will NEVER get faster” keeps disappearing with every workout and with every choice I make to be a healthier woman. There will always be setbacks along the way and plenty of trial and errors in your healthy journey, but stick with it, it works. My personal goals will only keep changing as I keep working. From 2014 through 2016, I’ve participated in 38 races, and dedicated countless miles to the pavement. In every thought of my journey, my mantra continues to be, “One More Mile.”
“I started running and eating healthily two and a half years ago to get rid of pregnancy weight and to be healthier. Running was something that seemed to be the easiest to do as it didn’t need a lot of special equipment, just shoes and the time to go out and actually do it. At first I struggled a lot, I couldn’t run for a long time or especially fast, but I got better with time. After a while I noticed that I was enjoying it and on days that I couldn’t go out for a run I actually missed it.
Running didn’t just change my body, but also changed my attitude and my mind. When I started to take running seriously and signed up for a marathon I realized that long distance running is as much an exercise to the body as it is to the mind. You need to keep yourself going, a big part of it is in your head. With marathon training I started to run regularly and also started to lift weights to get stronger.
I also felt more patient with my family and more confident at work.
Training wise, I try to run or work out as often as I can. I am going to start training for my second marathon in December. Normally I run around 5km on weekdays and I do some other exercises in the gym as well. I do 3 sets of 10 with a 12.5 kg weight. I do squats, bench presses, overhead presses and deadlifts. I also do barbell curls. I am working on pull ups with the machine, I would like to be able to lift my whole bodyweight up one day. At the moment on the pull up machine I have 32 kg set as assistance. I also do planks at the end of my workout.
All I can say that running and exercises completely changed my life. I feel happier, healthier and I hope that I can be a positive example for my daughter.”
“How has running changed me? It’s changed everything. I’ve been an on-and-off runner ever since high school and just last Fall of 2015, I decided to make a change and continue to run for good. After I ran the Hershey Half Marathon, I wanted to continue to live the healthy lifestyle. I created new goals for myself that seemed impossible, I tried incorporating speed work outs where I thought I was going to die, I tried new food that I swore I would never try because it was “too healthy”.
It wasn’t about becoming skinny (even though I was slightly on the heavier side), it was about feeling good about myself and trying new things. I think as a woman, it’s hard to not to think that we have to look a certain way to be a runner or look “athletic”, but that’s certainly not the case! Anyone can be a runner, and once you start running, any distance, and pace, you ARE a runner. Yes it sucks to get up at that 4:30 or 4:45 alarm but the results and outcomes in the long run are totally worth it.
Now that I’ve completed my first marathon, I’ll be doing a lot of cross training classes to gain back some full body strength. I’ll slowly start running 4 days a week for the rest of December and hopefully start marathon training again at the beginning of January! Finding time to do all these can be tough, but you have to MAKE it a priority or else you’ll never do it. It was the best decision I ever made.”
There you have it! Everything you need to know about running to get started and stay in the race!