Running: Structure for Beginners

Running: Application and Implementation for Beginners

Becoming a runner is extremely satisfying. Having the ability to cover a certain distance, in a given time, is very freeing and enabling. You now can exercise almost anywhere, at any time, as well as plug yourself into the wildly popular and very welcoming running scene, whenever you feel like it. You can’t say that about too many other forms of exercise. Running is the best.

As you begin this journey, you must approach application in a patient manner with the intent to make it a lifestyle, not “bucket list” undertaking. I hate the idea of having a bucket list, but that’s beside the point here. Your first run may feel awkward. You may experience side aches, dull joint paint, dry mouth, and even boredom. This is OK. You are a beginner. Having two legs and being able to walk does not qualify you for anything. All good things come to those who persist, so as a beginner it is important to enlist the virtue of patience, often. Any time both feet are off the ground at the same time, you are running, not walking. There is no “pace” that you have to keep to be a runner. If it feels extremely slow, do not fret, you are running!

Running, like all endurance sports is measured in volume (mileage or time). As a beginner, understand that each week has seven days. Each week you will need to “rest” from running, three to four of those days. Sounds like a lot of rest right? It is. Your body needs time to adapt and accept what it is you are asking it to do. Think of it this way. Have you ever taken a long car ride or plane flight and had sore legs or back for a few days afterwards? I have, and that’s from being in a foreign position for far too long. Your muscles shorten, ache and may even spasm from just being a certain, non-strenuous, position. Well, running, or run/walking is the same way. You may be able to run/walk for six days in a row, but the unknown is how the cumulative fatigue will affect you the following week. Most likely it will leave you hungry, tired, lethargic, and unmotivated to keep up the activity. This, of course, is not what we want. Using our seven-day analogy, we need to structure our week like this:

  • Run or Run-Walk: Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday
  • Rest or Low Impact Activity: Monday/Wednesday/Friday
  • Full Rest: Sunday

I have not met a beginner yet who was ready to run or run/walk more than three times per week, successfully. At this stage quantity forces a sacrifice in quality, which leads to injury and burnout, and obviously we don’t that!

You may be asking how long? The answer is one hour. The answer is usually one hour. This includes warming up and cooling down. If you devote an hour you will get some quality work in during that time. Trying to shave it down to 30 minutes is OK for experienced athletes or exercisers, but not beginners. One-hour sounds like a long run, right? It is, and as a beginner you’ll want to break up this hour into small chunks of running and walking. A common application is running for 1-minute, walking for 2-3 minutes, and repeating until you’ve covered the hour. Remember it’s easy to scale your workouts up, meaning make them harder, but it’s harder to cut back after you’ve gone too far, both physically and mentally. Applying the run/walk technique also makes you a more efficient and aware walker. Your pace quickens while you walk as you work to keep your heart rate elevated. This also keeps your mind engaged in utilizing each minute. It’s not boring, because you have something to monitor, you are covering ground, and working on the new you.

After 4-weeks of 1-minute running, 2-3 minute walking, you will want to increase the time of the run to 2-minutes, while keeping the walking at 3-minutes, or dropping it to 2-minutes. At this time you should be motoring along, walking briskly, and running each interval comfortably. Notice I did not say quickly or fast. You are still building tolerance for the activity, allowing your whole system to adapt to the applied demands of running. What will not change is your volume. One hour, three days per week stays constant.

During your rest or off days from running I encourage you to partake in non-impact activities. Strength training, cycling, swimming, rowing, and yoga are all novel activities. Be aware of the amount of effort each of these requires. You will want to avoid grueling, high-intensity sessions. Volume is cumulative, so adding three hours of yoga and three hours of strength to your weekly running workouts will simply leave you tired, and looking for a way to boost energy. We don’t want that. It doesn’t work! Our virtue is patience. Cycling, swimming, and yoga are nice additions to running. Different muscle groups are prioritized and utilized during these activities, which is helpful, but the most important benefit is that they all need cardiovascular endurance to accomplish.

Remember, the key is to monitor intensity and volume. As a beginner, you must err on the side of caution and be diligent in your progression. Adding a variety of activities, especially if you have a comfort level in them already, will help you build cardiovascular endurance. Again, monitor intensity!



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