“I want to run. How do I start?”

By Peter Buffington, DPT

I hear this question all the time. Or, I hear another version of the same question from the physical therapy side: “I tried to start running, but I got hurt after the first week and quit.” We all remember running as kids, and we think that it must be as simple as putting on running shorts and shoes and going out the front door.  If it has been a while, the reality is a little more challenging. You can find success with running, however, if you set yourself up for consistency and sustainability.

First, it is a good idea to undergo a yearly physical exam to make sure that you are in good general health. If you haven’t yet done this, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers guidance in a form known as the PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire). It will help you decide if you need to wait to begin exercise until after seeing a doctor. 

At this point, where to start depends on your current level of fitness. Even if you were a high school standout athlete, you may need to “begin at the beginning” in order to achieve consistent, sustainable progress. The ACSM recommends that adults get 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week (in addition to 2 strength training sessions). This breaks down to 30-60 minutes per day, 5 days per week. If time is a factor, they recommend 75-150 minutes of higher intensity exercise over the week. 

What does 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise per week mean? The ACSM  quantifies moderate activity as between 3.0-5.9 metabolic equivalents, or METs. A MET is simply a “useful, convenient, and standardized way to describe the…intensity of a variety of physical activities” (ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 2019). For example, brisk walking at 3.0 miles per hour on flat, hard ground equates to 3.0 METs, while walking 4.0 miles per hour is 5.0 METs.

So, to begin, see if you are able to walk 30-60 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week to get to that total of 150-300 minutes. To do this, you will have to walk 1.5 miles to 4.0 miles per day (30 minutes at 3.0 miles/hour, up to 60 minutes at 4.0 miles/hour). If you are able to complete this for a couple of weeks, you can be fairly sure that from an aerobic standpoint you may be ready to begin a walk/run program. Again, consistency matters, so stick with the walking program until you are able to reasonably complete 3-5 days per week and meet the time requirement. 

Proper footwear is also essential to running sustainably.  As to what types of shoes to wear, if you have something that has worked in the past, you may be able to stick with the same pair. If they are old–if you can’t remember in what year you bought them, for example–consider buying a new pair, as there is a lifetime to the cushion of the shoes. If you are not sure whether your shoes are a good fit for your feet, consider visiting your local running store (#trackshack) or physical therapist for a shoe evaluation. We will be considering general shoe wear recommendations and running programs in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Even if you are no longer a child, you can run for exercise.  The key is to start properly: get a physical, start with walking, mix in running over time, and wear the right shoes.