Written by: Rahaf Khatib. Rahaf, stay-at-home mom of three, is an 11-time marathoner, 25-time half marathoner and a 2-time sprint triathlete. She was the first Syrian to complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors and was the first hijabi to appear on the cover of a fitness magazine (Women's Running — October 2016). Rahaf has been featured in Strong Fitness, Runner's World, New Balance's fall catalog, the New York Marathon catalog, Times Weekly and Women's Health. She is a level 1 RRCA Certified Running Coach, TEDx speaker and co-created the Adidas hijab. Find Rahaf on Instagram: @runlikeahijabi.
Whether you want to run a marathon, or just want stress relief during the pandemic, running can help you improve your overall physical and mental health. If you are new to running, you want to be sure to take measures to start running safely to avoid injury and ensure running can become part of your long-term routine.
As a running coach, I caution beginner runners that there’s more to getting started than simply lacing up your shoes and heading out the door. Here is my best advice for how to start running safely when you are out of shape or when you want to start a running routine.
Get fitted for the right running shoes
One of the biggest mistake newbie runners make is assuming one size fits all, and I don’t just mean the numerical size of your shoe. When it comes to purchasing your first pair of running shoes, I highly recommend visiting a running specialty shop or talking to your Physical Therapist. They can assess your running form by performing several easy and doable physical tests like squatting or walking across the room. Some places have you bring in your old shoes to observe old wear and tear patterns. Many people run in the wrong shoe type and size and get injured. Bonus tip: in running shoes, go up a size from you regular shoe size.
Pick a running program for beginners
Starting with a specific and realistic goal is key for success. Training plans are plentiful and vary in fitness levels, all provided for free online. When I trained for my first marathon I used the Hal Higdon plans. He provides plans from competitive/novice/beginner 5k up to competitive/novice/beginner full marathon training plans. Reach out to your local YMCA or join a local running group in your community. It’ll help you connect with other beginner runners and mostly have a sense of belonging with like-minded people. But remember, what works for one runner may not work for you. Pick a goal that will challenge you enough to motivate you.
Beware of doing too much too soon
Another huge mistake beginning runners make: running too much mileage with little experience — running too much, too soon, too fast. I have gotten injured as a newer running by falling into this trap. I became so motivated and pushed too hard and did too much. A good rule of thumb is to increase your mileage by 10% a week. And don’t compare yourself to other runners. Just do you and listen to your body — gradually increase your mileage and take a full rest day if need be. Common running injuries like shin spits, IT band syndrome and Runners Knee can occur by pushing your body further and faster than it is used to. Overuse injuries can be avoided by carefully increasing mileage.
Strength Training is a MUST
All that pounding on the pavement (or treadmill) can take a toll on the body. It is a MUST for beginning runners to add in a couple of days of strength training a week. Strength training can help prevent running injuries by strengthening your core, hips and glutes. These muscle groups need to be strong to help withstand impact and repetition of running. Common running injuries ca stem from weak core, hips and/or glutes.
You don’t need to lift heavy — even a simple Barre or Pilates class will do the trick. Personally, I love my strength training classes and Vinyasa yoga classes. Some people like to cross train to supplement running. Cross training aerobic exercises like swimming, cycling, or elliptical use and strengthen different muscles than running and can be very beneficial. Pick a workout that will benefit your running and keep you engaged
Finally, find the JOY in running. Taking it too seriously will leave you unmotivated and let down. Running is similar to life. It’s parallel in ways where one can find such joys in the high, and sometimes, if a run goes bad, can leave you feeling low. Expect that.
I myself love the process. Re-evaluate your goals if need be — sometimes you may need to challenge yourself further or sometimes you may need to scale down. One thing I can say for sure that by sticking to your training plan, being consistent and determined will pay you back ten-fold. This may take weeks or years even. The feeling of accomplishment after achieving a running goal is what keeps me coming back for more. Remember, we are all crossing the same finish line, but how you get there is the real prize.