Running is one of the greatest, original workouts. Our bodies actually are designed to do it, but it’s not easy getting started. Whether you’re a beginner or trying to start again, here are eight suggested steps to begin.
1. Before and after your workout, take take time to stretch out.
2. Start by walking or running an easy 1-3 mile route. Try to run as much as you can, then walk the parts in between. Eventually you’ll be able to run the entire route without stopping.
3. In the beginning, run for time not for distance. Try running for at least 20 minutes.
4. Select a good pace. When running, you should be able to pass the “talk test”. This means if you can’t talk, you’re probably running to fast.
5. Try to run several times a week. It’s better to do several short runs than one or two big runs every week.
6. Gradually increase the distances and difficulty of your runs. For example, you can run routes that include hills or increase the pace.
7. Use a log (like Athlete’s Database) to record your runs. Studies prove when you keep a journal, you’re twice as likely to reach your goals and you reach them faster.
Please be patient! It can take several months to get in shape to run long distances.
Most people are motivated to exercise when they achieve noticeable goals (like losing weight and looking better in the mirror), when someone else compliments them (especially someone they don’t know), or when they can visually see progress (like the changes since they started their exercise program). It helps to keep a journal too (like Athlete’s Database), track progress on a calendar, view it on a graph, and take regular progress photos. U.S. government studies have proven when you keep a journal, you’re twice as likely to reach goals and typically reach them in less time.
Studies prove keeping a journal or log nearly doubles the chance of reaching your goals and almost cuts the time in half. Almost all food and fitness tracking software is based on this. The concept is sometimes described as “self improvement by self tracking”. So first, does the software support this? Does it make it easy to track meals and workouts daily?
Over the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of food and fitness tracking applications on the market. Some are free and others are paid, but like most software, the average lifespan is about two years. Most don’t survive major changes in technology, like switching from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and now Windows 10. When selecting any software, has it been on the market more than two years? Since tracking health and fitness is a lifetime commitment, you want something you can use for many years. Also how long does the software store your data? Many free, web-based fitness trackers only store data for a year.
Historically, fitness software began with traditional applications for Windows and Mac (software that doesn’t use Internet), followed by web-based applications (software that can only be accessed from a website), mobile apps and now cloud-based software (your data is stored in the cloud, but can be accessed from any computer or mobile device). The latest approach eliminates the need to visit a website. In a “best of both worlds approach”, you can install real desktop software and apps on your computer and smartphone, but using cloud technology, you can access your data anywhere. Large companies like Microsoft now employ this strategy.
Almost all fitness software can record the basic information you need to track progress and reach goals. However they differ widely in how much information you can track, how many tools they provide to analyze your progress, and how fast and easy it is to record data. Most lean toward tracking exercise or tracking nutrition, but only a few provide equal support for both.
Whether you’re searching for a free or paid option, good fitness and nutrition software will have the following features.
Track Meals and Nutrition:
1. The ability to track core nutrients that appear on food labels (calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, cholesterol and sugar); tracking dozens of minor nutrients increases complexity and is usually not necessary.
2. Built-in food database with search; size is not critical because since there are millions of foods on the market, every application requires you to add custom foods and most people eat the same 20-30 foods year-round.
3. An option to add new custom foods.
4. A favorites list that lets you record daily food using drag and drop.
5. Option to create and save pre-defined meals or menus; lets you enter all your foods for a meal or entire day in one click.
6. Simple chart that shows total nutrients you’ve eaten for the day, compared to goals.
Track Cardio and Strength Training:
1. Option to track both cardio and weight training with ability to record more than one workout per day.
2. For cardio, it should at least track distance, time, pace and speed.
3. For weight training, it should at least track the name of each exercise along with the weight and repetitions for each set.
4. The ability to copy paste previous workouts is helpful.
5. Option to create and save pre-defined weight training workouts or templates (weight training is very time consuming to record).
6. Some provide tools to map routes, which is helpful when planning a run or bike ride.
Track Daily Measurements:
No tracker would be complete without the ability to measurements.
1. It should track daily or weekly body weight.
2. Tracking body fat, heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol is helpful.
3. Some also track measurements like waist size, hip size, arm size, etc.
Tools to Analyze Progress:
To track progress, and know if your workout and diet plan is effective, several tools can be helpful. Whether you use them or not, a good food and fitness tracker should include calendars, graphs and statistics.
1. Calendar that shows information and progress by month and year.
2. Chart that shows progress over time, including workouts, nutrition and measurements.
Good fitness software should also include some widely used calculators. Look for the following.
1. Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator.
2. BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) calculator.
3. Percent body fat calculator.
4. Target heart rate calculator.
5. Calories burned calculator.
Regardless of the food and fitness tracker you choose, it should be something you can comfortably use every day. It should track meals, exercise and measurements (they all go together), track and analyze progress and provide some basic fitness calculators.
While there some good free fitness trackers, there is a catch. To cover their operating costs, they typically generate revenue by embedding advertisements, selling your personal information (like your email address and custom foods) and only store data for a limited time. We also hope you’ll try Athlete’s Database! It uses cloud technology, installs like desktop software and it’s been evolving for over a decade.
What is college cross country like? I have been running over 28 years, which includes eight years of varsity track between high school and college, plus coaching college cross country.
At the college level, cross country is different from high school mainly because the races are longer (5.2 miles/8K versus 2-3 miles). Depending on the school and division, training can start as early as July or August, several weeks before classes resume. During the main season, you will train five days a week, compete on the fifth and have one day off. But many coaches will still advise going for an easy run by yourself on that day. To fit everyone’s schedule, races are usually held on Saturday, either in the morning or afternoon.
When training, you generally run distances that are close to races (8-10K). This usually varies from slightly less to twice the distance (4 – 12 miles or 7- 19 kilometers). Most teams run an average of 40 to 45 miles (64 to 72 kilometers) each week. In competitive programs, it’s not uncommon to have two workouts in the same day (such as a morning and an afternoon run which break the total distances up). Studies have shown this can be very beneficial and almost counts as two days.
But for cross country, it’s not always about the distance you run. Most workouts are designed to increase your speed, endurance and strength. This includes speed-work, interval training, hills, middle and long distance. Routes include trails in the woods, playing fields, golf courses, tracks, sidewalks and pavement. It generally reflects the conditions you might see during meets. Speed-work and interval training typically involve shorter distances but are much harder. For example, you might run 1-2 miles to a local track (if you’re school doesn’t have one), then run one mile four or five times in a row. Each mile would be timed and you have to run it fast (or faster than you’re comfortable with), with a short break in between them. For example, the coach might ask you to run each mile in five minutes. Yes, it’s brutal, but it significantly improves your speed. Later in the season, you’ll be able to run a much faster pace with the same effort. As the season progresses, you’ll find the easiest days are when you do simple long distance runs.
Depending on your location, most training will involve a mixture of hills and flat terrain, such as “rolling hills”. It is important to run routes with both inclines and declines as well as off-road, so you’re comfortable running anywhere. Many teams specifically do hill workouts once a week. For example, running up the side of a short and steep or long and gradual hill multiple times with short breaks in between. In our school, we took advantage of the hills at a local abandoned ski area. While college cross country is more challenging than high school cross country, you’ll find that you adapt very quickly.
I’ve been running and weight training for over 28 years. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter when you workout. Exercise is great, any time of day.
If you’re getting enough rest, your body feels good before and after training, and you’re able to perform your best, it’s okay to workout anytime. Having missed runs earlier in the day, I have gone running outdoors after midnight to make it up. For example, when I was on a night schedule at work, I have gone for quick, 3-4 mile runs at 12:30 am. At night, when subway service stops in my city, I frequently walk several miles home from bars and restaurants. I also weight train day or night depending on my schedule. The key is to workout consistently and frequently. For example, it’s better to run 2 miles a day, 3-4 days a week, than it is to run 8 miles once a week. Likewise, it’s better to workout during off-peak hours than miss a day.
When running outdoors, there are many benefits to going at night. Temperature and humidity usually drop, you eliminate the need to wear sunblock, there is less traffic, air pollution subsides, you can cross intersections without waiting for cars, there are fewer people (so you don’t have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable if you don’t run fast) and the sidewalks are clear. In some towns, where parking is prohibited after certain hours, the roads are free of parked cars too. Of course use caution. This may not be safe or practical in every community.
You can weight train late at night too. Gyms are usually less crowded, you don’t have to wait for machines and equipment, there are fewer distractions, less traffic means it’s easier to get to the gym and you can save a lot of time. But weight training during off peak hours also limits the gyms you can use, restricts access to workout partners, trainers and coaches, and in some areas may pose a safety risk.
However if you’re training for a specific competition, it often better to train at the same time you’ll be competing. For example, if an upcoming race is scheduled in the early evening (like a Friday night fun run), you might want to get used to exercising and condition your body to be at peak performance at the same time. Elite marathon runners do this when they arrive in a host city ahead of time to familiarize themselves with the course and if necessary adjust to the time zone.
Regardless when you exercise, to be successful, you have to find times when you can consistently train several times a week. For cardio activities like running, frequency is usually more important than quantity. In my opinion, this is more important than trying to workout during “normal hours”. Scientific studies have also shown working out late at night does not have a signifiant impact on sleep. In other words, working out at midnight will not keep you up all night.
Since runners tend to be outside more, if you run during daylight hours, you definitely need to wear sunscreen. However there is valid, real concern sunblock can interfere with your body’s ability to sweat (and release heat) and may even block pores. It can also get in your eyes when you sweat, causing a lot of pain, especially for runners wearing contact lenses. And there is almost no way to fix this when running.
For these reasons, I choose not to wear any sunblock. Instead, I schedule my runs to avoid sun by going out early in the morning before sunrise, or in the evening close to after sunset. This saves time, eliminates concerns about trapping heat, it’s usually much cooler, and there is typically less traffic and air pollution.
But if you do run outside in the sun, experts recommend SPF-30 or higher sunscreen for proper protection. Runners also need sunblock that is sweat resistant. This means the sunscreen is less likely to become diluted (and weaker) when exposed to sweat or water. Many runners I talk to use Neutrogena. They make an “active breathable sunblock” that works well for running.