Newbie Runners

For whatever reason you are new to running, here are a few basic tips and some sound advice to get you started on the road to becomming a runner.
Created: March 2011
Revised: August 2011
Latest Feedback: August 2011

Basic Aspects of Running

Take heart new runners, if you're looking to start running in order to participate in your first triathlon, this article provides all the basic aspects you need to focus on. We will look at goal setting, training locations, diet, running technique, and in simple terms, we'll explain the basics of heart rate monitors and how they help measure your performance.

See a Doctor

As a newbie runner, it’s a good idea to get a physical check-up before you start your training regime, especially if you haven’t had one for some time. Regardless of your age, the check should include an exercise stress test to rule out any cardiovascular problems - request one if necessary. Remember, running places a lot of stress on the body, so it’s important to identify any medical issues and get medical clearance.

Goal Setting

It’s important to establish a realistic goal before you start a running routine. Some runners may be motivated to run in order to lose weight, while for others it could be about relieving stress, overall fitness or to embark upon competitive running. It helps to break your goal down into different milestones, as achieving each milestone could give you a runner’s high and the motivation to keep you going. When you have a goal, you can train to achieve that specific distance.

What distance?

If doing a triathlon is your goal, then make sure you know what distance you are training for. Triathlons come in many varied forms and distances, however the Sprint Distance triathlon - the shortest race sanctioned by Triathlon Australia, is a 750m swim, 20km bike ride, and finally a 5km run. For an experienced runner, this distance should be comparatively achievable provided you can swim and ride! But a newbie runner would consider this a challenge - particuarly because the run is the final leg and you'll already have exhausted your reserves on the swim and ride before you tackle that run distance. With that said, most triathlon event organisers will also hold a series of smaller races concurrently on the day to entice newcomers to the sport. These are even shorter distances than the Sprint, and are an ideal starting distance, particuarly if running is something new to you and/or you'll be doing your first triathlon.

TIP

For more information refer to our article titled Triathlon Race Distances.

Diet

As a beginner runner, you probably don't need to worry about taking any additional dietry supplements or even sports nutrition, which really only come into play when the body has been at work at high intensity for over 1 - 1.5hrs. However, long distance running (this usually means distances over 10km) takes a lot out of your body, so if you run long, ensure that you replenish its reserves by eating adequate carbohydrates and looking at your diet to minimize fat intake and increase proteins.

While your diet would largely depend on your body structure, age and physical condition, normally a runners’ diet would include 60% to 65% carbohydrates, 20% to 25% fat and 0.5 to 0.75 gram of protein every day for every pound of body weight. However, once again, it is best to seek medical advice before you alter your dietary regimen.

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For more indepth articles on diet, especially sports nutrition please refer to the Nutrition topic in the Tips&Techniques section on this site.

Hydration

Proper hydration is critical especially in hot conditions, as you tend to sweat more. The more water your body loses, the risk of dehydration sets in. When your body experiences a 3% loss of water, this could lead to performance impairment, but by 11% you could face heat exhaustion, delirium, stroke or even death. It’s important to drink plenty of fluid before, during and even after your run. The amount of water you should drink depends on your sweat rate, speed and distance you are covering.

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If you need to carry water for your runs, consider getting the type of belt that supports four small bottles instead of one large bottle, as this will evenly distribute the weight around your waist and feel much more comfortable. It also allows you to fill the bottles with different fluids if you desire as you tackle longer distance runs where you might require electrolytes, or gels/water mix.

Footwear

The type of running shoes that you use should be based on your running style, weight, biomechanics, shape of the feet and the surface you run on. Figure out your feet type by looking at an imprint of your foot when standing on firm sand or dirt.

Flat Feet:- If you have flat feet, there won’t be an inward curve and you will most likely overpronate when you run. This means that your feet will roll inward, so you will require a shoe that establishes stability and motion control. You may also need to wear orthotics or tailor-made shoe inserts.

High Arch:- If you have high arched feet you will probably underpronate or supinate when you run. Here, your feet will roll outward, so you need flexible running shoes that have a soft or cushioned midsole, which will absorb shock.

Normal:- If you have normal feet, then don’t pick a shoe with lots of motion control or stability. Simply choose one for neutral runners.

If you develop foot pain or blisters then you may need to re-evaluate the shoes you are wearing. For further advice, you can contact a podiatrist to accurately identify your feet type and gait, before you buy shoes.

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Some specialist sports stores will have a dedicated person who can assess your running gait and advise the most suitable shoes for you from their range.

Where to Run

There are pros and cons associated with different locations so let’s take a quick look.
Footpath:- Footpath- Since it offers a varied elevation, it is good for the development of muscles and joints and it will help you adapt to inclines, flats, downhill etc. However, if you run too long on very hard surfaces, it can cause trauma for beginners. Further, you’ll have to watch out for other runners, traffic and people walking their dogs.

Treadmill:- Perfect for bad weather days, the treadmill goes easy on the legs and joints and helps you maintain a specific pace. You can adjust the speed, level of elevation and monitor your progress on an in-built heart rate monitor. However, unless there is adequate ventilation, you may sweat profusely due to the lack of a natural breeze.

Grass:- Whether it’s a park, football pitch or a golf course, this is the most natural running surface. It gets your muscles working to build strength as well as speed. Be wary of wet grass, especially if you have unstable ankles. Many ovals have a 400m track marked out - which can be a very handy place to perform interval sets.

Sand:- Running barefoot helps in resistance training, mastering your forefoot strike position and strengthening the legs. However, if the sand is too soft then you may injure the Achilles tendon. Further, it’s best not to run long distances on uneven surfaces, as the tilt can stress the body. If the surface is deep and dry then your calf muscles will get a good work out without damaging your joints.

Trails:- Whether the terrain is dirt, gravel, woodchips or soft peat, offroad running is important. Apart from often being located in scenic areas, this type of surface is usually more kind to your legs than running on bitumen/concrete surfaces, especially if you are prone to impact injury. Of course, unsealed surfcaces are also subject to weather, so it can also be muddy and slippery and you'll need to watch out for tree roots and uneven ground. Trail running is probably therefore best reserved until you have developed some some confidence and strength in your ankles, calf muscles and shins.

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For more information about how to structure your own weekly running routines, we suggest you refer to our article How to Improve your Running.

When to Run

If you’ve been bitten by the runners bug, then irrespective of external conditions, you’ll find the time and the motivation to get your feet moving! However, you should try to plan your run well in advance, so you’re not caught unawares. It is best to avoid running when it’s extremely hot or humid, as this puts extra pressure on your cardiovascular system and will result in an elevated heart rate and can even cause cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Try to choose early morning or late evening for your run when the sun’s heat won’t wear you down.

Of course other factors will play a part in when is best for you to run. Never setoff for a run feeling thirsty, as this indicates you are already partly dehydrated. Surprisingly, most people are most dehydrated first thing in the morning immediately after waking. As this is also one of the best times for most people to run, it is a good idea to have a water bottle beside your bed and to sip water throughout the night to avoid morning dehydration.

Another factor to consider is how recently you've eaten. Commonsense says not to run on a full belly, but depending on your training intensity and distance, you can impair your performance by running on empty. In this case, consider quick release energy sources such as a banana, a few nuts, or a few pieces of dried fruit such as dates, prunes or figs. If you have a little more time, then a breakfast of porridge is usually well tolerated before running, but ideally give yourself 30 minutes to digest this and keep your portions small. Alternatively, many people prefer the use of specially formulated sports bars with high carbohydrate content. These are designed to cause minimal digestive upsets and are easily and quickly absorbed by the body to provide necessary fuel for exercise, hence their popularity by competitive athletes of all disciplines. TriathlonOz.com stocks an excellent range of quality sports bars and electrolyte fluids in our online shop. Our prices should match or even better retail prices elsewhere and if you are a Member, you'll also get a 5% discount off the listed price. We've listed these at the bottom of this paragraph for your convenience.

In terms of running frequency, there is nothing wrong with running daily if you work up to it gradually and aren't doing long distances, however it is advisable to give your body 1 day per week rest. Without this, you increase chances of injury and fatigue but you also are robbing your body of important time to repair. For more tips on how the body repairs itself, refer to our article Rest and Recovery, located in the Training topic of our Tips&Techniques section.

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If you're looking for more specific information about types of run sesssions and frequency, then refer to our article How to Improve your Running.

Technique

Good running technique may be difficult for some people to master. Whatever your style, the aim is to ensure the effort you exert is efficient. You can waste a lot of unnecessary energy by holding up your shoulders too high, grimacing your face, twisting your torso or moving your body too much from side to side. To improve your efficiency will result in less effort to do the same work, so that's what you need to aim for when we talk of good technique.

Put simply, try and stay as relaxed as possible. Don’t tense up as you’ll put unnecessary strain on your shoulders and arms. When running, your arms should gracefully swing back and forth and not across your body. Indentify your own rhythm, so you feel comfortable with what you’re doing.

Build Steadily:- Don’t try and achieve too much, too soon. Pushing too hard can lead to exhaustion and injury and you may end up taking a long break. Only increase your weekly mileage by 10% or below.

Dynamic Stretches:- Always prepare your body for a run by walking or jogging slowly. You can also add a few dynamic stretches that will prepare your muscles for that extra exertion, as it will make your body more flexible and less prone to injury. At the end of the run, wind down slowly so your muscles can get rid of that lactic acid and help you recover.

Speed:- It’s better to get a running routine sorted out before you concentrate on speed. Once you’re comfortable with your run, you can increase your stamina, speed and pain threshold by sprinting short distances.

Listen to your Body:- This is extremely important as there’s no rule book when it comes to running successfully. Your body is the best judge of whether you’re running too fast, too long or not putting in adequate effort. Listen to your breathing and train your mind to tune into your body while running. It helps to not carry an iPod or any other distraction that will keep you from concentrating on your progress.

Using a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM)

A heart rate monitor will record and measure your heart rate, so you can analyse your 'cardiovascular respiratory endurance' or aerobic endurance.

Advantages

  • A heart rate monitor helps you track your heart rate throughout an entire workout and also keeps an accurate record for future reference.
  • You can track your cardiovascular fitness, so you can customize your training to meet specific goals. It will also provide inputs on whether your training is really effective or not.
  • There’s a fine line difference between over-training and optimal training. Using a heart rate monitor you can avoid placing too much stress on the body, as this instrument acts like a gauge to identify desired intensity. Fatigue will only slow you down, as you’ll have to take a few days off to get back in control again.
  • As a newbie runner, you may not be running as hard as you need to. A heart rate monitor will indicate whether your body can handle more, so you can pick up the pace accordingly. When you set a minimum heart rate goal, your monitor will notify you when you fall below that level.
  • You can use a monitor to pace your training runs, as this will give you an accurate estimate of how well or how poorly you have performed, based on the work-rate of your heart. This measurement is the ideal method to target your cardiovascular fitness levels.
  • During a race, the monitor will help you maintain a consistent work rate irrespective of the terrain or other external factors. It will prevent you from going too fast and tiring out too soon.

Use and Review

Before you begin to use a heart rate monitor, it is important to identify your Max Heart Rate and your Resting Heart Rate. Once you have these values you can calculate your own personal training zones to customize your workout to your fitness level. Over time you will be able to measure the efficiency of your heart. For example, when you run the same distance at a preset speed, your heart rate will be lower when compared to a previous run, if you’re in better physical condition. However, if your heart rate is higher than before, then that signifies that your heart has not increased its efficiency. Further, experienced runners also record their Resting Heart Rate to see that it gets lower as their physical fitness improves.

As a newbie runner, continue to challenge yourself by setting new goals, adding obstacles of inclines and declines, so your body learns to adapt. Once you get started, you can slowly begin to train your body to enhance endurance and speed. Concentrate on your strengths and work on your weaknesses systematically, so you head in the right direction.

TIP

For a more in-depth review of using heart rate to determine training intensity, refer to our article How to Improve your Running.
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