Thinking of taking up running as an athletic hobby? Great! You must know that the health advantages of running are numerous: weight loss, improved mental state, and decreased cancer risk are just a few of the top wellness benefits runners experience. Here’s how you can start a routine of your own to reap the rewards for yourself:

1. Start Easy

You may be tempted to start big and run every day as hard as you can until your body gives out. And while that ambition is admirable, abort! This plan will surely lead to fatigue and injury. If your body is not used to the mechanics and effort of running, it needs an introductory period, just like all new relationships. Don’t be afraid of run/walk programs, made popular by Jeff Galloway, that are designed to ease new runners into this high-impact, high-intensity sport.

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2. Commit to Multiple Runs per Week

To truly make running stick, you should do it at least twice a week. If you only run once per week, your body will have a much harder time getting used to the habit; it will forget what running feels like and have to start all over again the next week. The more times you run in a given week (without overdoing it), the more efficient your body will become at running, the less burdensome it will feel, and the less dread you will experience when considering going for your next run. Establishing the right mentality for running is key to a successful habit.

3. Find a Local Running Group

Sure, you might want to start solo to get a feel for running, but once you have your feet on the ground, so to speak, seek out local running groups that meet on a regular basis. Many groups have members at a variety of running abilities, so you’re likely to find someone with similar goals to yours. Meetup.com hosts loads of local running groups. You might also look for pub runs in your area if you’re interested in meeting other runners and socializing afterward. Running groups can be the foundation of long-time friendships, and they can also help keep you accountable for your goals.

4. Get Fitted for Running Shoes

While running is a fairly inexpensive sport, especially in the beginning, I do recommend going to a local running specialty store to get fitted for the right type of shoe for your stride, foot fall, and goals. Wearing the wrong shoe can cause unnecessary pain and can prevent you from running efficiently. But be firm if you have a budget to consider; a good store salesperson will evaluate your form and let you know what kind of shoe you need (neutral, stability, over/under-pronation, etc.) while still working within your budget as best as possible.

5. Learn What (Not) to Eat Before Running

This was a hard lesson for me. I learned pretty quickly that I had a sensitive stomach, meaning that I could only run so far before urgently needing “to go.” Try not to eat too close to your run, and be mindful of your fiber intake before a run. Stomach discomfort can kill a running groove instantly. Other common triggers for GI trouble in runners are high-fat, high-protein, high-sugar, and high-volume foods, as well as caffeine.

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6. Determine Your Calorie Needs

If you’re just starting out, and especially if you’re trying to increase your body’s metabolism to help lose unwanted weight, you’re probably not running enough mileage to require caloric replacement during a run. For a 130 lb. woman, running an average of 10 minutes per mile would burn about 180 calories in 20 minutes, or two miles. This gives you an idea of what you may or may not need to replenish, depending on whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. According to Runner’s World, if your run is “75 minutes or less, you can rely on your body’s glycogen stores and the food you eat prerun to power you through.” Again using the handy, round figure of a 10-minute-per-mile pace, you’d have to run 7.5 miles before you burned through your energy stores, assuming you’re eating an adequate diet for your new workout regimen. To calculate your own calorie burn, play with this calorie calculator from RW.

7. Read Up

Learn about your new endeavor by looking for blogs, magazines, and websites that will inspire you and inform you on the latest information in running. No Meat Athlete, a website created by Matt Frazier, is an amazing hub of resources and articles for running on a plant-based diet. And of course you can always consult OGP for advice on fueling, training, and even shoe-shopping!

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8. Strength-Train

If you’re thinking this running thing might actually stick, make sure you incorporate strength-training into your routine to help prevent injury. You may feel like your muscles are getting a pretty good workout already, but taking on a new high-impact sport can also cause stress on parts of your body that aren’t conditioned for it. Certain strength exercises will help you develop the muscles you use most for running and will help you perform with better efficiency and strength.

9. Race

Signing up for local races is a great way to get excited about running. But start small: a 5k race is the perfect distance for a new runner. It’s long enough to challenge your comfort level but short enough to not make you detest running and never want to do it again. Plus, you can get away with little training for a 5k, assuming your goal is just to finish. If you truly get a taste for racing, you’ll want to find a training plan that’s right for your level and the distance your aiming for. I’ve run countless races, from 5ks to marathons, and I still feel a sense of camaraderie at the beginning of every race. I know each person’s reasons for being at that start line vary greatly, but when we’re all there together, the feeling of solitude is tangible (and then the horn blows, and it’s see-ya-later-sister).

10. Rest

Once you get going and you find your rhythm in running, you may feel so great you don’t ever want to stop. But your body will require it. Taking a rest from regular running, especially after long periods of training, helps your body and your mind recover and regain the necessary strength to start again. Even elite runners, whose careers are to run competitively, take rests. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for you.

Beginning a new running regimen requires desire, dedication, and smarts. If you’re reading this article, you likely already have the desire. Here’s hoping these tips will help you with the rest!

Image source: Garry Knight/Fotopedia

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