How to Start Running: The Molasses Method

May 20, 2011

A lot of my co-workers have been asking how I’ve started running again. Aside from working with my coach, I’ve been working on my own running plan.

I hypothesize that most “unfit” people who start running completely overdo themselves (I can say this because I was one too). You go to the gym, choose a number of miles you want to do, and turn up the treadmill to some speed you equate to running. For the first minute, you feel like a champion. After that, you feel like death.

Running by Coolidge Corner

I think, personally, the Couch to 5K program (C25K) is overdoing it for a completely beginner runner. Especially if you’re a digital worker like myself, after doing five 90 second runs ends up teaching you the wrong thing.

I started off by doing a Nike + Walk to Run program. At first it seemed like a joke: I was walking pretty fast but I was becoming a little bit breathless. I thought the only way that I could get fit was just by running right away. What that doesn’t address is the mental side of things: if your running workouts are horribly painful or you get an injury you are unlikely continue your plan.

If the goal is to get in shape, you need to make a life long change.¬†You can’t think that you’re going to start running a 5K in a month and then keep that going forever. I’ve taken my experiences and put them in this “Molasses Method”.

Please note: I am not a fitness professional. Please check with your doctor before starting any exercise or diet plans. These have worked for me but results may vary.

The main points of this plan are:

  1. Focus on getting fit: not a mile number.
  2. Don’t push yourself to the point of huffing and puffing.
  3. Make incremental improvements that you can keep doing.

If you have some running experience or are doing something now:

Focus on keeping your perceived exertions. Thats a fancy way of saying “how you feel while you’re running”. The gold standard is you should be able to talk while running. I’ve personally found this near impossible. But I think a good way to explain it is that you shouldn’t be huffing and puffing for breath. You may have a pretty standard breathing cycle but you shouldn’t feel out of breath at all. If you feel yourself gasping every few breaths, you’re running too quickly. (Note: slow might feel REALLY slow if you’ve been over-doing it).

If you are a beginner and haven’t done any running:

Start off with a simple plan like the following. You should have a rest day between the runs. Please note that I’m not using weeks, I’m saying stages. You can stay in a stage until it feels comfortable. It shouldn’t be “easy” but it should feel doable.

Stage 1 (3 times a week): walk 5, run 1; repeat 4 times

Stage 2 (3 times a week): walk 6, run 2; repeat 4 times

Stage 3 (3 times a week): walk 6, run 3; repeat 4 times

Stage 4 (3 times a week): walk 6, run 3; repeat 4 times

Stage 5 (3 times a week): walk 6, run 4; repeat 4 times

Stage 6 (3 times a week): walk 4, run 4; repeat 4 times

Stage 7 (3 times a week): walk 2, run 5; repeat 4 times

Stage 8 (3 times a week): run 5, walk 1: repeat 4 times

The focus with all plans should be time running and NOT distance. You want to focus on staying in your aerobic zones where you will get the most benefit from cardio. One person doing this plan may get do 3 miles while you may only get up to 1. Its OK. The goal is to get personally fit.

Let me know how you think these tips work for you and what your personal experience has been. For me, these plans have been do-able and I’ve seen some great benefits.