The arrival of spring brings many visual changes from winter: green leaves on formerly spartan trees, a rainbow of colorful flowers blooming from thawing soil, and runners finally willing to exercise outdoors now that the risk of frostbite has abated. You may notice people engaging in other types of exercise (e.g. biking, tennis, or walking) but the runners will outnumber them for several reasons:
- Equipment costs are next to nothing. Sure, you can invest in expensive running shoes and clothing, but you can also head out in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and old sneakers and still get the job done.
- Running can be done anywhere. You don’t need a gym membership, or access to a pool or lake, or a specific terrain (e.g. rocky hills for rock climbing).
- No special skills are required. Barring a major physical handicap, most of us can walk. And once you have left foot, right foot mastered, there’s nothing standing in the way of you jogging.
- Minute for minute, running burns more calories than almost any other physical activity that you have the access and ability to do. So, if you only have 30 minutes of workout time available each day, do you want to burn 240 calories bicycling or 300 calories jogging?
Even if you’re sold on the merits of running, you might not do it because you think you can’t, that it’s too hard, or that you’ll look bad doing it. To that last complaint I would like to point out that working out, no matter what activity you choose, makes you look motivated, health-conscious, and strong. And as for the first two complaints, that you don’t think you can be a runner or you think it’s too difficult, I have a plan to change your mind.
Running burns more calories than other activities because it is difficult. It gives your cardiovascular system a good workout and that rapidly beating heart and heavy breathing make it extremely hard for new runners to stick with it. Just like every other area of your life, if a task is too big to tackle all at once, break it down into smaller, manageable pieces.
In terms of running, don’t head out and expect to run 30 minutes straight if you aren’t a runner (yet!). Start by running one block. Then walk a block to recover. Do this for 30 minutes, continuing to alternate running one block and walking one block. Congratulations, you just ran! Do this on a couple of different days. You will soon discover that you want to run more than one block at a time because it’s gotten easier. When you get to this point, run two blocks at a time, and continue to take your one block recovery walk. When two blocks seems too short, add another block. Pretty soon you’ll be running the whole neighborhood.
If your neighborhood isn’t set up in nice, even blocks, wear a watch and choose a length of time. For beginners, this might be 30 seconds. You can do ANYTHING for 30 seconds! Jog for 30 seconds, then walk 30 seconds to recover. Keep alternating until you’ve exercised for 30 minutes. As you get stronger, lengthen the running intervals by 30 seconds. You can also lengthen the recovery time, but it should never exceed the running interval time and ideally, will be shorter. By the way, this system is borrowed from Galloway’s running formula, the program that many people use to train for marathons.
Eventually, you will get to the point that you can run for the entire 30 minutes if that is your goal. I recommend that you continue to use the interval system at least occasionally though (alternating running and walking) because it burns more calories by keeping your body guessing what you’re doing next and will help you avoid injuries by changing the muscles you use during your workout and reducing the pounding your body takes during high impact activities. Seasoned runners do these workouts (they refer to them as “speed work”) because nothing boosts cardiovascular performance like interval training. So, for those of you concerned about how you look, you’ll look like a serious running athlete!