Starting Running for Novices

In case I am too occupied (my word for lazy) to write a post before the new year arrives, Happy New Year 2012! Don’t forget your party glasses now.

2012 Novelty Glasses

Week 5 is a washout. It is a poor excuse to say the last week of the year is full with things to do and people to see that I don’t have time to run at all but there you go. Having said that, it is Thursday so that means I have only lost 2 days of running (Tue & Wed = 40mins worth). There is still time to make amends and replace these this evening and Friday, so that by Saturday I would be back on track.

I am not giving an update of my running progress this week, instead I will answer the top 10 questions asked by new runners. This is adapted from an article found in and was one of the first things I read about when I started running a year ago. Click here if you’d like to see the source material.

But before that, a few friends wrote to me to ask about what they need to buy to start running. I wrote about running for novices before (blogpost is here) but I think it was too complicated. After my many successful and failed attempts at making running a routine, I would simplify my running starter kit as follows:

  1. Get a good pair of running shoes and socks. Buy your trainers one or two size bigger than your regular street size. So if you are a size 5, buy size 6 or 7. Buy them in the afternoon when your feet is bigger. It’s even better if you can try the trainers on with socks. Get synthetic socks, cotton ones are just blisters waiting to happen.
  2. Support clothing is a must. If you are a girl, invest in some sports bras. Or, use a non-underwire bra with wide straps that will give your bosom adequate support. Then wear a tight tank top (spandex ones are good) on top of the bra, underneath your t-shirt or track top.  Some girls with ample bosom may need to wear 2 sports bras, but I find using 1 + a spandex tank top is enough. You can also wear spandex shorts underneath your track bottom to avoid chafing.
  3. Optional – Yoga mat or a thick towel. When I stretch and rest after a run, I like to do it on a yoga mat, or if I can’t find one, a thick towel. If you are not squeamish about lying on the grass or beach when you are running outdoors, that is okay too.
  4. Optional – a pedometer. Some fancy phones like Sony Ericsson and iPhone, or sports watches, come with pedometer function. This is great to track your distance when running outdoors.

That’s all that you need. The rest is just willpower and water.

Next, the top 10 questions, in no particular order:

  1. How long should I run? During the first week, aim to be able to complete 15 mins continuous run and then gradually add the time up as your fitness and endurance  improve. Running continuously is a lot harder than it sounds. When I first started,  I follow the 7 3 2 rule: (7 mins run + 3 mins walk) x 2 sets. Small goals like this is easier for me to achieve and eventually I got to a point where I was able to run for 60 mins continuously.
  2. How fast should I run? As fast as it takes for you to still be able to carry a light conversation. If you can sing, you are too slow; if you are out of breath and panting, you are too fast. You will find that as you run longer, your speed improves naturally. When I first started, I ran at 5.5km/h. It can be frustrating as you feel that you are running too slow and you don’t sweat as much as you think you should. However, keep to it. Having a comfortable pace is important and we don’t want to  over-stress the body especially if we are not used to running.
  3. How far should I run each time? In the initial stage, forget about accumulating kilometres. Instead, focus on getting your fitness up so that you can run for 15 mins continuously. Eventually, you may want to track the distance covered using a pedometer (if you are running outdoors). Novice runners are advised to cover a total distance of 20-25km a week.
  4. How many times should I run a week? Three (3) times a week is good, if you can manage more – fantastic. Always designate one or two days as rest days. I know many people (myself included) get so over-motivated in the initial stages that they want to run daily.  The body needs to recover, so give it a rest. If for some reason you are unable to complete 3 runs a week because you are busy or tired or travelling or sick etc, try to replace the missed runs the next time you do i.e if you usually run for 15 mins, then make it 30 mins.
  5. Is there any other exercise that I need to do? Warming up before running is a must. Spend 3-5 mins brisk walking to get the heart rate up. Or, try a combo of jumping jacks, lunges and side-to-side ski jumps for 3 minutes. If you are in the gym, try the crosstrainer or recumbent bike. Then, cooling down after a run is also a must. Don’t stop abruptly after your run is over (especially important to remember if you are using the treadmill). Spend 3-5 mins to walk slowly to get your breathing back to normal. Lastly, stretch once you’ve sufficiently cooled down. Runner’s World has an excellent resource on all kinds of stretches here, choose one that’s right for you. I do a 15-min yoga routine.
  6. Do I need a special diet or supplement or sports drinks? No. Eat as you normally would. Of course if you are on the weight loss path it is always advisable to modify your diet but that’s not covered here. You can go to to help you with that. Get 2 liters of water in you daily even on days that you don’t run. I find drinking a few sips of super cold isotonic drink during and after a run helps to recharge my energy but it is not really necessary, plain old water will do.
  7. How much weight will I lose? It depends, a safe number would be 500g/week. If your diet stays the same i.e you don’t start to eat more or anything, the kilos will drop. It didn’t happen to me because I went through a carb addiction when I started running a year ago. So, although I was exercising, I was also eating a lot more than usual. You do get hungrier and this can lead to overcompensating (eating more than you need for recovery); or you may get caught in the “I have been so good, I deserve a cupcake” trap. I know I did. So, if you can stick to your regular diet, you should lose weight.
  8. I stick to my regular diet but I gain weight instead. What the…?!  Not all weight gain is bad. When you have run sufficiently, you will gain muscle and muscle is denser than fat, thus heavier. The layman’s way to measure this is to use a measuring tape. Your body changes once you start running – your physical form gets fitter, your face looks younger. You will be pleasantly surprised to see that you are losing inches although the scale may show an increase in weight. I don’t use measuring tapes, I use a size 2 jeans instead. If I can fit into it, I know I am in a good place even if the scale shows I am heavier than I’d like to be. Runner’s World has an excellent article called Incredible Weight Loss Myths Exposed about how to lose weight with running, read it here.
  9. I am so busy I have no time to run at all. So how?  Ok, can you manage walking continuously for 10 mins daily? If you can – great. Start with that. Once you get the walking 10 mins daily down pat as a habit that you can’t get rid of, you will find the transition to running easier. Seriously, give this a try.
  10. I lost my motivation to run. Help! Quite honestly I find any form of exercise, even something as simple as walking, a daily struggle. If you relapse, and I have relapsed twice this year alone, just get back to one and try again. Maybe you are bored with running, so include other kinds of routines like aerobics or pilates to mix it up. Maybe you are bored with running alone, so look for running buddies. Maybe you are bored with your running goals, then sign up for a couple of races and try to run competitively. Maybe you are just too busy, then walk for 10 mins and see where you can go from there. It is not easy to be consistent with running (or exercising in general) and it is not true that losing weight will make you happier and more motivated. I lost a lot of weight during Cycle 1 yet I managed to lose the yen to run and gained the weight all back and then some. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you look good or what your dress size is, the lazy monster is blind and un-biased and it attacks everyone. You just have to get up and try again.

Like Adidas says, impossible is nothing. Conquer yourself.


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