Monday, May 18, 2009

Jogging/Running: Fun, Healthy, and Free

For the past 10 years, my husband and I have been runners (well, joggers, in our case; neither of us is particularly fast). Through high school and into college, I never ran unless blackmailed or threatened. In fact, I hated running. It made me feel like puking on the sidewalk. The mile run test in gym class was a living nightmare for me, one I dreaded for 364 days out of the year. 

But during my sophomore year of college, my new boyfriend Trent suggested we hit the pavement. I was too blinded by love (and his good looks) to protest. During our first workout, I managed to jog for 12 minutes. I felt great. The next time, we jogged for 12 1/2 minutes... then 13 minutes... Two years later, we completed the Nashville Marathon together.

Running is a wonderful activity for a multitude of reasons. It's good for you, for one thing; your heart strengthens with every workout. It gets you outdoors. It can help you lose weight (or so I hear - it's never worked for me because I use working out as an excuse to eat). If you're a lone ranger, running offers solitary meditation. If you're a social butterfly, you can always find people who want to participate in group runs. It revs up your endorphins. During the gloomy winter months, a quick run can help you beat seasonal depression.

In my opinion, one of running's best attributes is that it is practically free. There's no cost of admission, no expensive equipment, no lessons needed. All you have to do is put on a pair of comfortable shoes and get out there.

I love to see people who think they'll never be able to run a mile work up to that distance or even more. Try it - it's not as scary or as taxing as you might think. For those just getting started, consider the following:

1. Set small goals. If you don't work out already, you're not going to be able to run five miles at eight minute pace right off the bat (if ever - and that's okay!). Maintain manageable expectations. Your first time out, alternate 30 seconds of jogging with two minutes of walking. Alternatively, pick an object in the near distance and run to it. Stop. Walk for a while. Enjoy the scenery. Then pick another object and run to it. Either way, don't stay out too long. You want to feel energized and motivated when you get home. Beating yourself into the ground during your first workout is a great way to ensure it's your only running workout.

2. Pace yourself. Remember, your goal is to build up mileage. There's no need to sprint. If you start off at a pace that seems too slow, you'll be able to work out for a longer period of time. Slow is good.

3. Realize no-one in the neighborhood cares how sweaty you are or how grungy your sweats look. Seriously, they don't. For a long time, I refused to run because I thought people would laugh at how I looked. I get the impression that self consciousness hinders other would-be runners, too. Realistically, the only thing most people will be thinking when they see you is, "Wow, I should exercise more." See? You can be that inspiration for others! 

4. Don't invest in fancy shoes right away. Okay, so I lied: running does require equipment, namely decent running shoes. Most runners will tell you they're more than willing to spend $100 on a pair of Asics or Brooks because well-designed shoes help prevent injury. But in my opinion, it's wise to see whether you're going to stick with this hobby before you drop that much money on footwear. If you're still building up to a mile, you'll probably be just fine donning a pair of $10 cheapies from K-Mart or Payless.

5. Get motivated - for free! A great resource for runners is the Runner's World website. There, you'll find training plans, nutritional advice, and stories from other people who have been bitten by the running bug. You may find the beginner's section particularly useful.

Now go hit the road!

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