What kind of running should you do?

Many people who take up running assume that the best thing to do is to go out and run as hard as possible for as far as possible, and keep doing that. In fact, that's a great approach to take – if you want your running career to be surprisingly short.

The first thing you should do is warm up. Don't go full speed as soon as you're out the front door; your muscles and tendons aren't ready for it yet and don't have enough give. For the same reason, don't stretch your muscles before warming up. It doesn't matter what you did in high school; recent research has found that stretching cold weakens the muscles. Go for an easy jog for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually increasing the pace. Then you can do some squats, lunges, and "form drills" such as kicking your heels up to touch your butt.

And once you're warmed up, then do you go full tilt as though you were being chased with an axe? Most of the time, still no. Speed training should only be a minor part of your workout – not more than about 15%. A good half of the time or more you'll be running at a fairly easy pace.

In fact, if you're not especially competitive, you can make quite a lot of your running easy. Training techniques that build up speed and power are less necessary if you're not planning to compete in a race, although they still do offer benefits. The most important thing is just to build up distance, and to do it in a way you can recover quickly from. You need to allow the body's muscles, tendons, and joints to adapt and strengthen.

There are many physiological changes that need to happen in order to train your body for long-distance running, including increased lung capacity and many muscular function changes right down to the cellular level. These changes only occur through time as your body adapts and strengthens. And you have to increase gradually – don't add more than 10% to your distance each week.

An average runner's week might have 3, 4, 5, or even more runs. Usually most of these will be for what is a moderate distance for that runner, which of course will increase as the runner's total distance increases. Often this doesn't ever get to more than about 8 kilometres; even people training for a marathon may stick around 10 kilometres for most of their runs.

The exception is the one long run each week (or each 10 days or so). This run will be twice as far or even more, but it should not be more than the total of all the other runs of the week. And it's normally run at a moderate pace (you may hear of "LSD" – long slow distance).

But running faster for shorter distances is also good for building up your fitness and endurance. For the runs that aren't slow, there are a few different options:

  • tempo runs: runs at a "comfortably hard" pace
  • hills: repeated runs up a hill about a half kilometre long, with recovery in between, adding more repeats each week
  • intervals: sets of short, fast runs with cool-down periods in between
  • fartleks: bursts of speed of varying length and intensity during a moderate-paced run (from Swedish for "speed play")

Take the time to get in-depth information on these different kinds of running as well as other exercises that you can do. There are many books, magazines, and websites on running with plenty of tips and techniques. Pick a program and work with it rather than trying too many different things all at once. You may also find it helps to join a running group or even take a "running clinic" – going for runs with a group and an instructor once or more a week.

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