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Race Your Way to Fitness

Focused on Health - February 2011

by Colleen Martin

man runningRunning isn’t just for athletes and the super-fit. These days, a growing number of people who have never worked out are lacing up their sneakers and hitting the ground running.

Starting a running program can help you shed pounds, reduce stress, strengthen bones and reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases. Training for a race like a 5K (3.1 miles) or half-marathon also is a great way to pack in the 30 minutes of daily exercise your body needs to prevent cancer — and make that daily exercise a habit.

No matter what your fitness level, get inspired to be healthy by setting goals. Find a local race and ease into a training program. 

This is what Cydni Ellis did last fall. Her fitness level was “novice,” but she was determined to run her first half-marathon.  

“Preparing for that first race is hard, and it takes commitment,” Ellis says. “But push yourself, and there’s no telling how far you’ll go.”

Inspired? Ready to train for your first race? Hit the ground running with these tips.

1. Get the gear.

“Having the right shoes makes all the difference for runners,” says William Baun, manager of Health and Wellness programs at MD Anderson. “Go to a local running store and ask a consultant to help you find the best shoes for your feet and stride.”

Baun recommends buying shoes later in the day when your feet have a chance to swell a bit, and leaving about a thumbs width of room between the end of your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.

2. Start off slow.

If you haven’t been exercising, check with your doctor to make sure you are fit enough to start training for a race. If it’s been a while since you last ran, start with brisk walks three times a week. A brisk walk done right should allow you to talk but not sing.

Ellis eased into her training program by pushing herself to run for 30 seconds the first week. “Then I would walk a few minutes and push for another 30 seconds,” Ellis says. “The second week I built up to a full minute … then two … then three.”

3. Kick it up a notch.women running together

When those brisk walks no longer leave you out of breath, start 30-minute running workouts, three times a week. Run for two minutes, then walk for four. Move at a comfortable pace but increase the intensity as it gets easier.

Next, run three minutes and walk for two. Then run four minutes, and walk for two. Continue this pattern until you can run comfortably for 30 minutes without a break.

4. Mix it up.

After you’ve perfected your 30-minute run, increase your workouts to five times a week. But, alternate running with walking and cross-training to work different muscles, condition your body and prevent injury.

5. Stay motivated.marathon

To avoid burnout, rest two days a week. Consider running with a friend, trying different routes or joining a local running club to keep up the momentum. Once you find your stride, keep pushing to meet your fitness goals.

Whether you decide to sign up for a 5K, half-marathon, marathon or another race, give yourself plenty of time to train and enjoy the benefits of running.

“Prove yourself wrong,” says Ellis, who never considered herself a runner but is now training for her first full marathon. “26.2 miles? Bring it on!”

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