There are so many benefits of running. Besides being a great way to lose weight, the health benefits are endless.

But for many of us, the thought of taking those first steps is incredibly daunting. We look at other runners and think, “I’m not made to run, I’ll never be able to do that / go that fast / run that far…”

The moment you start running, you’re a runner. No matter how slow you go or how little distance you cover. So make 2016 the year that you put on your running shoes and fall in love with running.

Here are some great tips from Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners, co-authored by Jennifer Van Allen.

7 Secrets to becoming a runner (and loving it)

1. Do it your way. When you first hit the road, there are a couple of non-negotiables: start slow and finish strong, never run through pain, invest in good running shoes and replace them before they wear out. The rest is entirely up to you. Ignore anyone who tries to convince you that you must run a certain pace or number of kilometres to be a real runner. If you run, you’re a runner. Want to race? Great. Hate to race? Who cares?

2. Don’t undo your roadwork at the dinner table. It’s easy to get into a cycle of entitlement eating, indulging in unhealthy treats and eating back the calories you burn running – and then some.  Keep in mind that most people overestimate the number of calories they burn and lowball the number they consume.  For any run of an hour or less, it’s fine to run on empty. Anything longer, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve run, have a 100-200 calorie snack an hour before heading out. Make sure it’s high in carbs (your body’s favourite fuel) and low in fat and fibre.

3. Follow the 10 minute rule. The first 10 minutes of any run are going to feel tough. You’ll likely feel stiff, achy, tired and ticked off. That’s okay, and a natural part of transitioning from being sedentary to being in motion. If you keep pushing your body forward — even if you’re walking — your weariness will soon evolve into exhilaration. We promise. Just commit to 10 minutes of movement.  You can do anything for 10 minutes. Just don’t get back on the couch.After 10 minutes, you can call it quits with the satisfaction of knowing that your mission is accomplished. But more often than not, your muscles will feel warmed up, your heart rate will be elevated and you’ll start to feel energized, even excited to exercise.

4. Learn the difference between good pain and bad pain. Running isn’t going to feel comfortable, or easy. Not in the first few weeks or even months. But it shouldn’t feel like torture. Learn to distinguish between the muscle aches that go with pushing your legs and lungs farther and faster than they’ve gone before, and the more alarming pains that should stop your run, and prompt some rest and a call to a sports medicine specialist ASAP.Any pain that persists or worsens as you run, or after you’re done, is something that deserves at least two days of rest and possibly a call to the doctor. Same goes for any pain that’s sharp, makes you change your gait to compensate (which can cause more injury), or is located on one side of the body but not the other.

5. Take your run like medicine. The hour before a run is tougher than anything you’ll encounter out there. Before you go, a flood of excuses will threaten to get between you and the road. You will always have e-mails to answer, dishes to wash, laundry to do, phone calls to return. But if you don’t take care of your body, it won’t take care of you. Research has proven that regular exercise will help prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, among other conditions. It can help improve the quality of your life, help stave off depression, help you stay sharp as you age, and even help prevent age-related declines such as falling. You can’t control the chaos the day and your life may bring, but running will help you handle whatever comes.

6. Learn how to talk back to negative voices. At some point during a run of any distance you’ll start hearing these voices:

– I’m too slow.
– I’m too tired.
– I hate running.
– I can’t do this.
– I don’t want to do this.
– I should be working instead.
– I should be home instead.

You can’t prevent these voices from haunting your run. But you can develop a strategy for vanquishing them.  Make a list of reasons why you run. Fitting into your skinny jeans is perfectly acceptable. Add up your kilometres each week, so when you hit the wall at kilometre 4 of a planned 5km, you’ll know that final km is nothing compared to all the kms you’ve already logged. When someone passes you, don’t take it personally; it’s not a referendum on how fit you are.  It’s proof of what’s possible.

7. Go with the flow. Let your running life evolve as your life changes.The state of your work, family and social life will have a huge impact on how much time, emotion, energy and interest you can bring to running, and what you need from it. There will be times when you will love how running helps you test your physical and mental endurance. And there will be other times when surviving the workday and keeping your kids and partner fed, safe, healthy and happy feels like an endurance test, and you need to rely on running for relaxation.

Keep setting new goals that work well with your lifestyle and your state of mind. Change things up: Hit the trails. Run your regular route in reverse. Run with friends so the workout also serves as social hour. Stop racing. Or start. Mentor a friend. Set a weekly, monthly or annual mileage goal. Strap on a GPS watch and use your run to explore new places. One of the most beautiful things about this sport is that it is wide open to personal interpretation.

For more expert tips on starting out or improving your running, head to www.runnersworld.co.za

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