March 2, 2012

Short and Kinda Slow: A Running Guide

After just one season of cross-country in highschool (as a way to get out of PE with no experience in athletics or sports), I made a promise to my body that it would no longer have to hear the words "12-mile-run". I know that some people live for long runs, and to them I say "Kudos and Enjoy!". For us humans, however, it's just not going to happen.

I reckon I'm in pretty good shape, and I feel great after a 3-5 mile run. I suppose if I had more time to train I could work my way up, but I don't. And, to be honest, I would probably rather spend that time in a BodyPump class or watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with a big bowl of berries and some dark chocolate.

Moreover, I don't think that you have to run miles in the double digits to call yourself a "runner". 3 miles a few times a week is more than enough justification to buy those cool shoes you wanted or to tell your friends about the run you went on that felt so amazing. And you know what else? Even a slow, short jog has infinite benefits for your heart health and overall metabolism. Just do something.

The trap, though, its that if you're running short distances, preparation and fuel needs are slightly different. There's really no need to carbo-load with 3 bowls of pasta the night before, and a jug of Gatorade to replenish lost electrolyties might be a bit unnecessary. I recommend a banana for pre-run fuel and a bowl of cereal with regular or coconut milk as as after-run snack. This has the right amount of sugars, carbs, protein, and potassium without any extras.

If you choose the right healthy fuel foods and don't add to your regular calorie intake, a short run can do wonders for a weight-loss goal. If you burn 100 calories a mile, you need 35 miles to lose a pound. That's only 12 3-mile runs! A longer run might make you much hungrier and you might find yourself eating more calories than normal, slowing down weight loss. Yes, I know, it sounds like an excuse for the short-and-slow running club, but it's pure math!

No one ever said that you can't get a killer workout from a run under 10 miles, anyway. Here are my tips for getting the best out of each mile:

1. Warm-up: Jogging or doing jumping jacks for about 5 minutes and then stretching for another 5 before your run will help your have maximum energy for your run. If your body is warm you'll be able to go faster and move more efficiently without getting sore muscles or cramps. Make sure to stretch after, as well.

2. Intervals: Use the lack of distance to work on speed. This can help raise your heart-rate and it's been repeatedly proven that interval workouts are more effective at beating fat than long, steady workouts. I recommend a 1 minute sprint, 2 minute jog pace.

3. Switch Up Locations: I find that I run faster and with more excitement when I'm running somewhere I've never been (or at least not in a while). Running the same route over and over can get boring and exhausting. You're much more likely to get a good workout if you're inspired to go faster to see what's around the next corner.

4. Add Weight: This can be during your run or after. First of all, if you can manage to run a few miles holding 3 or 5 lb. weights in each hand, power to you. Go for it. It'll tone your arms and help your posture. However, if this sounds dreadful, just do some basic weight-lifting, sit-ups, and push-ups after your run. It can be for as little at 5-10 minutes, but will help improve your overall fitness and make your next runs even easier.

5. Increase Frequency: Rather than running 12 miles one day and feeling out of commission for a week, break it up into smaller runs. Make a mileage goal for the week (say 12-15) and if you're feeling tired one day, just do 2 miles that day and a longer one the next. Running more frequently keeps your metablism higher, as well.

Just have fun with it! Since quitting cross-country, I still really enjoy running when I can and it feels great when I get some good miles in (meaning anything over 4). I know that I will likely never do a marathon, and I'm ok with that. I'm in good shape, I have a healthy heart, and I like a sweaty, rockin' work out as much as the next guy, but when it comes to running I like short distances at a kinda slow pace, and that's ok!

How do you get a good workout from a short run?


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