PUBLISHED: 4:34 PM on Wednesday, November 8, 2006
No excuses in starting a running program
Last spring, you might have stood at your front door and thought to yourself, "You know, now would be a good time to start running."

Of course, summer was near, so it really wouldn't be worth the effort to start an exercise program with other outdoor activities looming.

Well, the weather has cooled off again, and there's no excuse.

Make no mistake: Running is a challenging individual sport, but its benefits can last a lifetime and nearly everyone, no matter how out of shape, can do it.

Before you take that first step, set aside some time to consider your health. Benetta Albaugh, the coordinator of Doctors Hospital Center for Sports Medicine, said that if you've been out of the fitness game for any length of time, your first stop should be to your doctor. After that, it's just a matter of stretching and then putting one foot in front of the other.

"Really, if someone hasn't done a lot of running in past, they should start off with a run/walk program," she said. "You can start as simply as a five-minute walk followed by a one-minute jog. Just alternate that and gradually increase your jogging time."

The professionals tout a slow, steady buildup for a good reason: Too often, beginning runners bite off more than they can chew.

"Often what that means is that they try to run every day, or walk every day initially," said Adam Bean, the editorial director of Runner's World International, the publisher of Runner's World magazine. "What happens is, you say (you're going to run every day) and then in a week and a half, you miss a day for some reason ... and suddenly it's like, 'Oh my God, I'm out of the rhythm now. That's it, I've ruined it.'"

Even if you have the motivation to run every day, there are some very good reasons to start slowly.

Augusta Striders President Norris Beale said overexertion is a fast path to injury.

"You should never be sore when you finish," he said. "Always finish like you could do more."

Albaugh said early injuries can be a never-ending cycle of frustration for runners who want to do well but continue to push themselves beyond their limits.

"If they get injured early on, it can be discouraging," she said. "First thing, let pain be your guide. If it hurts, stop."

Keep in mind the 10 percent rule: Never increase your distance, time or intensity by more than 10 percent per week. That will give you time to build endurance and strength for even longer runs in the future.

Wanting to run and actually getting out the door are two very different things.

It's a matter of motivation, and if your health considerations aren't enough incentive, there are plenty of ways to keep your eye on the road.

"To put in a plug, has got all the training programs in the world and they're all excellent - lots of beginner programs as well as a beginner's section," Bean said in a phone interview from his offices in Allentown, Pa. "That takes the guesswork out of it. Early on, a lot of runners just want to be told what to do; forget the experimentation."

Besides the obvious benefits, both Bean and Beale said running works as much for your mental health as your physical health.

"You just don't meet a lot of depressed runners," Bean said with a laugh. "It keeps you young," said Beale, who said he runs four to five days a week and finishes about 40 miles per week. "It's my drug of choice, no doubt about it."

Another benefit of running is that it doesn't require a lot of equipment or expense. You don't need to join a gym and the road is always open.

That doesn't mean, however, that you can slap on those ratty 10-year-old tennis shoes you use to mow the lawn. Invest in a good pair of running shoes. Buy from a specialty running shoe store to ensure comfort and proper fit. No other equipment is required but shorts and a top, and for women, a sports bra.

It might take baby steps to fully appreciate becoming a runner, but ultimately the benefits can last a lifetime.