Ready, set…run: The game plan

No gym fees, no fancy equipment — just you, your shoes and the open road.
Published November 12, 2015

In the minds of many nonrunners, pain and running go hand in hand. The reason for this is simple: People push too hard, causing injury, aches and early discouragement. To get beyond the newbie stage, try to follow a plan, keep the running light at first and begin the program with complementary strength training.

Because running is a demanding endeavor, Hamberger recommends strength training two to three times per week to get your body into running form and keep it there.


Get cleared

Not to open on a down note, but running, like any form of strenuous exercise, can lead to serious (and by that, we mean serious) injury if your body's not up to the challenge. A basic checkup will allow your doctor to give you medical clearance to increase your activity.


Pick a program

If you're in very poor shape, a week of brisk walking (about 5 miles per hour) may be in order. Otherwise, most starter regimens span eight to 10 weeks and call for a combination of walking and running, three to four times a week.

The routine Onines uses looks like this: 

Week Walk/Run Times Cooldown Total Time
WEEK 1: Walk 5 minutes. Run 2 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 26 minutes
WEEK 2: Walk 5 minutes. Run 4 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 32 minutes<
WEEK 3: Walk 4 minutes. Run 6 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 35 minutes
WEEK 4: Walk 3 minutes. Run 8 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 38 minutes
WEEK 5: Walk 2 minutes. Run 10 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 41 minutes
WEEK 6: Walk 1 minute. Run 12 minutes. (Repeat 2 more times.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 44 minutes
WEEK 7: Walk 1 minute. Run 20 minutes. (Repeat 1 more time.) Walk 5 minutes. Total: 47 minutes
WEEK 8: Walk 1 minute. Run 30 minutes. Walk 5 minutes. Total: 36 minutes

In the beginning, you should be running on a flat, forgiving surface. Rubberized tracks provide excellent shock absorption, even if circling around them can get monotonous. Wooded trails are both soft underfoot and visually inspiring. Just look out for roots, stones and other hazards of the trail.



Stretching and strengthening are as important to avoiding injuries as proper shoes. It's best to stretch after the run — a light jog is an adequate warm-up — when the muscles are loose.

Onines' regimen focuses on five major muscle groups: the calf/Achilles heel (especially important for preventing shin splints, maybe the most common runner's woe); the hamstring; the quadriceps; the ITB/iliotibial band (the band between the hip and knee); and the hip abductors (located in the buttocks region). She recommends three 30-second reps per stretch, and no bouncing.


Get stronger

Many running injuries are the result of a weakness or an imbalance in the body. To combat this, Hamberger recommends a regimen of strength training to all his clients.

Strength-training exercises should target core muscles (abdominal crunches and ball-balancing exercises are both great) and the muscles around the knee (try leg presses, hamstring curls and toe raises). Two 30-minute workouts on nonrunning days will get you the desired results.


Work on your form

Grade-school gym classes typically teach students how to throw a ball, climb a rope and do a push-up. But learning to run typically carries no instruction, leading to poor running form that can slow you down and increase the likelihood of injury or soreness. Hamberger says one thing to pay attention to is how your foot strikes the pavement. Focus on landing right behind the ball of your foot, which will help avoid harsh impacts.


Breathe easy

Establishing a regular breathing pattern can help improve running form and prevent cramps. There's a simple pattern that every casual jogger can follow, Hamberger says. "Just keep it rhythmic and stick to a two-two pattern: Two steps for the inhale and two steps for the exhale." As for nose-breathing versus mouth-breathing, Hamberger says to just do what comes naturally.


Avoid side stitches

Nothing breaks your stride worse than that familiar pain of an oncoming side stitch. There are many theories about what causes a side stitch — typically they're brought on by too-great exertion, too fast — but focusing on proper breathing patterns can minimize them. If you do get a side stitch, there are some ways to minimize the pain and get back to the run. Hamberger advises clients to first put their arms over their heads to stretch out the abdominal muscles. If the stitch remains, gently massage deep into the ribs with your fingers to push the diaphragm up and in.


Increase your ability level

After running your first 5K, you can increase your mileage by 10 percent each week. Make the 10K your next goal, then the 10-mile, then the half marathon, and finally the marathon. It's tough hitting those marks on your own, which is where running clubs can come in. The structure and camaraderie are great motivators. If you decide to go it alone, make sure you vary workouts regularly. Doing the same 5-mile course each week will run you right into the wall.


Join a club
If you get extra drive out of running in a group or just want to find some well researched routes, check out The Road Runners' Association of America They'll give you the scoop on running all over the county: the least trafficked areas, the safest places to run, the most scenic trails (asphalt and dirt trails are easier on your legs than concrete) and places where you'll find other runners.

Next: The workout >>