How to Determine the Right Running Program Before You Hit the Pavement

Soldiers were sweating during the two-mile run, part of the in processing for the Soldier Wellness Education and Training program (SWEAT) (Photo Credit: Heidi Kroll)

Most of the time, when people start training to get better at running, they will either pick up where they left off years ago, running with a friend, or just run for the 30 minutes they allotted to run that day.  Regardless, this often can spell pain and injury for many as they typically progress way too quickly for their current abilities.  When starting a running program or trying to figure out how to start a running program, the best answer is IT DEPENDS.  The following is a list of why IT DEPENDS on which running program is right for you:

1 – Running Background – When was the last time you did any running? Months, Years, or Never? If you run, how many miles per week are you currently running? If you are completely new to running, you definitely want to start off like a beginner.  This typically means start off by walking and mixing in short runs of 1-2 minutes throughout the 30-45 minute walk. If you are serious about progressing into being able to run 5-6 miles without stopping, give yourself a few months to build up to that distance. See beginner running plan for ideas. 

2- Body Weight – Depending on your body weight, you may want to start off with a walk program if you have significant weight to lose.  Your knees, shins, and hips will thank you for not running on them while 40-50lbs or more overweight.  Even walking may cause pain as it is impact on your joints, so you may want to consider non-impact cardio options just until you are feeling less or no pain when walking. Biking, elliptical, rowing, or swimming are great ways to get the cardio conditioning needed to not just lose weight, but get in better shape to run when you are able.  Here is a rule to follow as it applies to activity:  “When it hurts to run, stop running. When it hurts to walk, don’t run, stop walking and try non-impact cardio activity. When it hurts doing non-impact or nothing at all, see a doctor.”

3 – Goals – It also depends on your goals. Do you want to run your first 5-10 km run? Are you preparing for boot camp, special ops screening, or PT tests? All of these require a different level of preparation and foundational workload prior to completion. If you run regularly, but need to speed up your pace for timed runs, consider training for your timed runs with goal pace and sprint workouts. Dropping your mile pace can be a combination of building volume each week and speed, but learning your goal pace for any running event is a smart way to tackle the training.  For instance, if you want to run a really fast 5km run, you do not need to run slow 10 mile workouts.  Make your workouts fast / goal pace and sprint intervals so you push the new pace and learn how to maintain it as well.

4 – Injuries – Has injury plagued your running build up or introduction to running? Were you previously injured from running and now getting back started again? If you are susceptible to running injuries that are in the overuse category (tendonitis, fasciitis, shin splints, stress fractures), this could be due to too aggressive of a progression when you started running again. When you are recovering from a running injury, you should still continue to do some form of non-impact cardio activity if possible (depending upon the injury of course). And when you start to run again, do not start back where you left off – treat yourself like a beginner with a basic running program that allows for non-impact days in between running days until you build a solid base of pain free running again.  Your injury could also be from your running technique or footwear. Maybe a new pair of real running shoes will help.  You tend to get what you pay for when it comes to quality running shoes. They can be a bit expensive and in the $100+ range.

When you are considering running in preparation for future training or racing goal, it is important to remember you need to start small and proceed with a series of progressions. There is a reason why more than 50% of all runners get injured every year and typically that is due to too steep of a progression and mileage increase.  Start off with shorter and faster runs first with walking intervals mixed in.  Build up to longer distances that build on each other every week to the tune of 10-15% increase in time or distance.  If you create a steady progression of running distance or time, you will be less likely to get overuse injuries that can cause great delays with training for your future goals.

References Running Plans Beginner to Advanced Running Plan Six Week Running Plan  Intermediate Levels Need for Speed Workout Interval Workouts


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