Running 101

Use this primer and get running on the road to optimum fitness

Running 101

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2008

Running is one of the world’s most accessible sports: All you need is a pair of running shoes and some determination. But whether you are taking up running to lose weight, or are training to run your first 5K or even a marathon, there are some things you need to know. So we consulted three experts: Dr. Chris Woollam, a sports physician with Athlete’s Care and medical director for the Toronto and Mississauga marathons; Jay Blahnik, a California-based fitness professional and consultant for Nike; and John Stanton, president of the Running Room, who went from being an overweight, pack-a-day smoker to a marathon runner. They let us in on everything you need to get going, and how to stay the course.

Before you start running

1. Check with your physician or take the PAR-Q test

Woollam advises you to see a doctor, especially if you haven’t exercised for a while. The Par-Q test is a great self-test for physical fitness readiness endorsed by Health Canada. And, of course, if you know of any red flags such as a heart condition, tell your doctor.

2. Hit the gym before you hit the road

If you have not been running lately or have never run, you should train core and leg muscles in a gym first, says Woollam. ‘You need your core muscles to support the back, and to prevent injuries associated with the knee and the iliotibial (IT) band, a tough group of fibres that runs along the outside of the thigh. You need to work your hips and your upper legs to get in running shape.’ Two to three weeks of training should be adequate.

3. Get fitted for proper running shoes

This is absolutely essential. See below for details.

4. Wear a good sports bra

And if one doesn’t do the trick, invest in another and double up; you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

5. Join a group run

Although running can be a solitary sport, and many prefer it that way, one of the greatest motivators for others is joining a running group. ‘The power in the group is that you have support and positive mentorship,’ says Stanton. ‘There is also the peer pressure to get your butt out the door.’

6. Be gentle, be progressive and keep it fun

Stanton recommends you adopt this mantra: ‘Be gentle enough that you stay motivated and injury free, be progressive so you challenge yourself each week, and think of exercise as playtime. In as little as 10 weeks you will see huge improvements’physically, psychologically and emotionally.’

The worst thing you can do is try to do too much too soon. The American Council on Exercise recommends you start with 20-30 minutes of running, three days per week, at an intensity of 50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate, and build up from there.

Running shoes

The average runner strikes the ground with a force of 3½ to five times their body weight, which is absorbed by the legs and feet, so it’s essential to have the right shoe. The perfect running style is when your heel strikes first, your foot pronates (rolls inward) and then supinates (rolls outward). Problems occur when your feet are over- or under-pronating, and this can lead to injury. Woollam advises anyone who is starting running to be properly fitted by a professional’a shop that specializes in running shoes or a sports physician will be able to determine if you have a low or a high arch, which can lead to over- or under-pronation. ‘Having a proper shoe fit is the best prevention against injury,’ says Woollam.

And what is a good fit? According to the Running Room, your toes should not press against the end of the shoe when you are standing and your heel should fit snugly so there is no slipping. Also, replace your shoes every 600-800 kilometres (this range is dependent on body weight).


Individuals should drink about two cups (500 mL) of fluid about two hours before exercise to promote adequate hydration, according to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. If you’re running for less than an hour, water will be sufficient. In preparation for, and during, intense exercise lasting longer than one hour, a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink is recommended. The recommendation used to be to drink as much fluid as you could, but those guidelines have changed significantly. New guidelines from USA Track and Field say you should be sensitive to the onset of thirst as the signal to drink, rather than trying to stay ahead of thirst by drinking first.

‘Hyponatremia’or low sodium in the bloodstream, often caused by overhydration’is far more dangerous than dehydration,’ says Woollam. The condition, which most often occurs when you exercise or run for longer than four hours, results primarily from drinking excessive fluids and not replacing sodium. Severe cases can cause seizures, pulmonary edema, brain swelling and even death. So drink at regular intervals at a rate sufficient to replace water lost through sweating.

Running technique

1. Walk to run

If you’re new to running, begin walking for 10 minutes, then run for one minute. Do this for 20 minutes for the first week. Increase your mileage by 10 percent more each week.
Within weeks, you’ll be running for 30 minutes straight. Guess what? That’s the approximate time it takes to run a 5K!

2. Practise good running form

As a rule, stay upright, and keep your head, hips and shoulders aligned over your feet so that you move as one unit.
Good posture is very important. Many runners let their chest sag into a slouch, which doesn’t maximize the lungs’ efficiency.

Let your arms swing naturally and loosely from your shoulders’not too high, not too low, and relaxed.
Breathe deeply, and relax through your body and hips.
Strike the ground first with your heel, then roll to the ball of the foot, pushing off from the toes.

3. Pay attention to stride length and rate

Speed is determined by both stride rate’how many steps you’re taking’and stride length. If you want to improve your running, you have to focus on training both. Stay light on your feet. Avoid bouncing in your stride. Look at the horizon and concentrate on keeping your head on the same plane. Try to relax your arms instead of pumping them. Your strides should be skimming just above the running surface; your knee should be lifted just high enough to clear the ground. Too high a knee causes wasted energy.

The steeper the hill, the more strides you’ll need to get to the top, says Blahnik. ‘When going up hills, remember to not let your trailing leg get too far behind you.’ Take slightly shorter steps, and land slightly more toward the front of the foot than you might on a flat road. And looking at the top of a hill, instead of at the running surface, will give the illusion that you are running on a flatter surface.

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