Make a Run For It

There are many physical and psychological benefits, so put your best foot forward for 2011
Lisa Senakiewich, assistant coach, men’s and women’s cross country & track, Michigan State University. // Photograph courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications

What tips can you provide for beginners?

Use your resources. If you know someone who already runs, ask him or her about how to get started. Check out training plans in books or via the Internet.

Keep it simple. A big mistake that beginning runners make is to complicate the process with training philosophies or gear and running gadgets.

Have fun. Like anything else in life, you should enjoy it. It doesn’t mean that you will exactly have fun running in snowstorm, although some people might. Overall, the entire process should be worthwhile.

If you’re just starting, how many miles should one attempt?

There’s no magic formula. Everyone’s different. Some people are involved in other sports or endurance activities like biking or swimming, for example. If someone is already athletic, he or she can easily be more aggressive. If the person has not been running, they’ll need to start off doing less.

In the beginning, it’s really a trial-and-error process. How someone responds and feels to their current amount of running will determine where he or she can go next. It’s a good idea to start off with runs that are based on minutes versus mileage. It’s easier to manage a plan of running for 10 to 15 minutes every day or every other day than running 1.5 to 2 miles every other day, for example. It’s also more fulfilling to get through a goal time for the day rather than feeling defeated by running a certain pace. Also, from a training standpoint, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to add up a 10-to-15 mile week. It’s a better idea to wait to base training on mileage once the individual can get through 20-or-30 minute runs without stopping. However, if you feel that it would be more beneficial for you to start off with exact miles, then by all means go for it. It’s a part of finding out what you like best and feel the most comfortable with.

How should miles be increased?

For some it may be only two weeks; for others it may take three or four. Understand, though, that you can only increase to a certain point — more is not always better. In time, you will be able to identify a reasonable mileage goal, and once you hit that goal, the next step will be to maintain that amount of mileage and to increase the intensity or pace of each run.

What is the benefit you personally feel from running?

I get a lot of things out of running. It’s a daily activity that helps me sort out my day, relieve any stress, and at the same time generate ideas. When I don’t run, I feel like something is missing.

I also think there’s something special about being outside throughout the seasons that makes running even more rewarding. I’ve seen a lot of neat things because of this. I once went out for a long run at night in the middle of winter on some country dirt roads. It was one of the better runs I have ever been on because of how absolutely silent it was and the way the snow lit up the roads.

More than anything though, the people I’ve met because of running has been the most rewarding part of all. I’ve formed some important bonds through the sport that continue to inspire me on a daily basis. The running community is definitely special.

Helen Phillips, of Sterling Heights, winner of The Biggest Loser, season seven.

What are some of the running tips you learned on The Biggest Loser?

I started jogging; you just don’t start running. You have to learn to crawl before you walk. So you have to walk before you run. That’s exactly where I started. I was afraid of running. [Jillian Michaels] taught me how to run properly. I was kicking too high, stressing, and holding my breath. [Jillian] stood on the treadmill next to me and taught me how to position my body, how to tilt my body forward. Then running started becoming more natural to me. Every day, I started running a little bit longer and faster. After two weeks, I ran five miles straight without stopping. It was a breakthrough for me.

What tips can you offer to beginners?

I think it’s important that runners learn to run properly. Everybody runs differently, everyone has a different body shape, weight, and size. For instance, in the Free Press marathon, there are thousands and thousands of people, and not one person is the same. You might see some people there who you would think are overweight, but they’re running a full marathon, and it’s because of the training they are doing.

Don’t be afraid of running. I was terrified. It’s the fear that holds you back. Let yourself go. It’s not about the time or how fast you get there; it’s that you’re going to get there. Start small and build.

Keith Hanson, co-owner of Hanson’s Running Shop, Lake Orion, Utica, Royal Oak, and Grosse Pointe Woods.

What are some common errors people make when buying running shoes?

Buying an expensive shoe, thinking if it cost a lot, it must be good. Running shoes are made for different types of running gaits. You could buy a running shoe that costs $140, but that may be the wrong shoe for you. A running-specialty store can help the customer get the right shoe for them. The correct shoe can keep you injury free.

How long should you keep your shoes?

Just like tires for your car, it depends on how often you use them. Most people can get around 400 miles of running on a pair of shoes.

If you’re just beginning to run, is there a certain brand or pair that’s best?

No one brand is best for everyone. It really depends on your foot type. A good running shop will scan your foot and then watch you walk or run in different shoe types to guide you in your selection. The foot scan will tell you pressure points, arch type, foot length, and width. This information, combined with watching how a person’s foot falls through the running/walking cycle, is used to get a person in the correct category. [Then] a person can choose the most comfortable shoe.

What training advice do you have for beginners?

Start out conservatively. Many end up giving up after two to four weeks because they’re too aggressive. We have a couch potato-to-10K training schedule on our website,, that can help guide you. We also have beginning running groups at both our Royal Oak and Lake Orion stores, with coaches and employees to help you through things.

Why is running so important for your overall health?

It’s the quickest, least expensive, and most convenient form of exercise to keep you very fit and healthy. It helps control weight and improves cardiovascular fitness.

Jeffrey Martin, professor of kinesiology at Wayne State University and editor of Sport, Exercise & Performance Psychology.

What do you see as the greatest benefits of running?

It’s hard to nail down any one benefit, as I’m sure it will vary from person to person and might vary across time for any one person. [There are] various benefits across realms: psychological (enhanced self-esteem, better body image, greater feelings of internal control, and so on), social (developing friendships), physiological (better function for activities of daily living, lowered blood pressure, and so on), health (improved HDL and weight loss), and body image (weight loss, muscle tone). All vary in value/importance from person to person.

How much time should one spend?

Most people should try to be physically active 30 to 60 minutes a day, but that can include walking, yard work, weight lifting, et cetera. For many people, running might be one of many things they do.

What would you suggest to someone just starting out?

Go slow in the beginning to avoid injury, fatigue, and soreness. Build up over time and try to find a time, place, and companion to run with (if desired) to help with motivation on days you might not feel like running.

At what age should someone start running?

At any age, although the very young and the elderly should tread lightly to avoid over training for their current health and fitness status. Seeing a doctor before starting is rarely a bad idea.

How do you prevent injuries?

Run on softer surfaces.

Is it true that running can damage your bones and joints? Are there any disadvantages?

The strengthening benefits to the bones and joints far outweigh the damaging ramifications. But, like anything, if you do too much, you can get hurt.

Scott Cooper, coach, Grosse Pointe North High School Women’s Cross-Country Team and Parcells Middle School Running Club.

How running benefits young people.

1. It’s a lifelong sport.
2. Anyone can do it for little or no money. No team or club membership is required; you can just run.
3. It’s great for your health.
4. If you’re interested in any other sport, you’ll be prepared because they all require running. Running early helps condition your body for any and all sports you might be interested in.
5. In school, you don’t have to be a superstar to participate [in cross country]. You never sit on the bench. It’s you against the elements. Whether you stink at ball sports or are great at ball sports, running has a place for you.

What are the physical and mental benefits for your student runners?

Running seems to help melt away any issues from the day. I actually feel more energized after a good run.

My runners have said the same things. After school, they look forward to coming to practice and running. They enjoy the camaraderie and the exercise.

How would you encourage someone to start running? Any tips?

Start slow and have patience. Just go a little at a time. Even start by walking, if it’s hard to run. Go for a 30-minute walk three times a week. In the next week, add a two-minute run in the middle of the walk. Each day, add another minute of running in the middle. Before you know it, you’re running 30 minutes three times a week.

Most injuries happen when you try to do too much too soon.  Don’t finish your first 15-minute mile and suddenly sign up for a marathon. Go at it cautiously, but push yourself at the same time. Listen to your body, but don’t be afraid to tell it a few things as well.

To maintain a healthy weight, how many times a week should someone run?

Three times a week for a 30-minute duration is a good start. Being consistent is key. The best plan is to record your runs on a chart. Every time you run, record it. Then look back on this. If you don’t, you’ll think you’re doing more than you really are.

Four to five times a week is a better plan if you have the time. It’s easier to maintain good health and a healthy body weight if you’re more consistent. But don’t rely on just the running. You have to eat healthy as well. Don’t go for a four-mile run and then reward yourself with a Big Mac and fries with a milkshake chaser.

Any other benefits?

I truly believe running helps make a sounder body and a sounder mind. Some of my best thoughts and ideas come on a run. Running gives me more energy.

[It helps to] mix things up. Don’t always run at the same place and time. Go to a park, run on some trails, drive to a different neighborhood to run once in a while.

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