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By Kelli Calabrese

Monday, October 18, 2010.

It is never too late to set a goal that can make a major difference in your health, happiness and life. The decision to commit to participating in some sort of fitness event can do just that.

You may never have pictured yourself wearing a race number and standing in a huddle at the starting line, but you can do it. There’s an event out there for you. Everyone has the ability to perform some sort of athletic event... EVERYONE no matter what age or physical capacity.

I bet you have cheered at an athletic event, watched runners stride through your town or viewed sporting competitions on TV. Well, life is not a spectator sport - start participating. It’s the things in life that you don’t do that you regret.

The first step involves selecting an event that appeals to you. Now is the perfect time to begin searching for events which can be held year-round or seasonally (depending on what part of the world you live). Regardless of the event you choose, give yourself plenty of time to prepare mentally and physically. No clue where to begin? Search your local Newspaper, ask at your local leisure centre, check it out on the internet.

Choosing an event can involve a few factors. First, what activity would you like to do? The possibilities are limitless. There's walking, swimming, cycling, rowing, roller blading, skiing, trail running, canoeing, rock climbing or any combination thereof.

The second factor would be the distance or intensity of the event. You should choose one that is more than you can do now, but realistically one that you can complete in 8-10 weeks of training. A walk-a-thon, 5K run, 25-mile cycle or mini-triathlon are good goals for just about any beginner.

You can also base the event on a favorite charity and have your buddies sponsor you. You could go to the foundation’s website to search events in your area.

OK, now you’ve made the decision, found an event and filled out the application form - which is posted on your refrigerator as a daily reminder of your commitment. At this point, you may want to enlist a friend to help you in your training and commitment to the cause.

First you want to start building your base. Increase your muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. Both of these components will help you regardless of which event you choose. Plan on 4–6 days a week of cardio and 3 days of strength training.

Minimal or no equipment? Fear not. You can start your training by walking, jogging and taking the stairs. The stairs are a great form of training to build your endurance and are especially helpful if you have chosen a walking or running event.

Without equipment you can stick to old-fashioned exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks and sit-ups, which can be done almost anywhere.

Consider taking a martial arts or SPIN class to build your cardio base as well. Visit www.amazon.co.uk for a wide selection of fitness videos.

If you do have access to machines, you should begin to simulate the muscle groups and movements patterns that are working in the activity you have chosen to participate in. Choices might include using a stationary bike, a rowing machine, a treadmill, swimming pool, etc.

You should maintain and continue to progress your strength programme. Having a strong muscular physique will help you in any event. As you get closer to the event you will begin to taper off your strength training, focusing on the activity of the event itself.

If you are going to join a gym, most will offer free introductory training with your membership. So, advise your trainer of your goal and ask them to design a programme to help meet your challenge. Don’t let any obstacles stop you from beginning your training now.

Let's use a 5K as a sample goal which would be appropriate for you as a beginner, intermediate or advanced. You can be standing at the starting line of your first 5K after only a few months training since a 5k is only 3.1 miles.

How much do you need to train to be able to run your first 5K race? Some people who possess a reasonably good level of fitness could probably go out and run three miles on very little training. They might be sore for a few days after the race, but they still could finish.



The 30/30 plan

Here's a simple 30/30 plan to get you going -- it features 30 minutes of exercise for the first 30 days. You should build in 3–4 days of rest in those 30 days. Walk out the door and go 15 minutes in one direction and return 15 minutes to where you started. For the first 10 minutes of your workout, it's obligatory that you walk. Yes, NO running. For the last five minutes, it is also obligatory that you walk.

During the middle 15 minutes of the workout, you are free to jog or run as long as you do so easily and do not push yourself. Here's how to run during those middle 15 minutes: Jog for 30 seconds, walk until you are recovered, jog 30 seconds again. Jog, walk. Jog, walk. Jog, walk.

Once comfortable jogging and walking, adapt a 30/30 pattern: jogging 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, etc. Follow this 30/30 pattern for 30 days. If you train continuously (every day), you can complete this stage in a month. If you train only every other day, it will take you two months.

Do what your body tells you. Everyone is different in his or her ability to adapt to exercise. When you're beginning, it is better to do too little than too much. If you continue this 30/30 routine for 30 days, you will finish the month able to cover between two and three kilometers walking and jogging.

You are now ready to progress to the next stage of your training as a runner. Your next goal is to develop an ability to run continuously for a kilometre, then two, then more if you want. Gradually increase the length of time in the middle of your workout spent jogging and decrease the number of walking breaks. Do 45/30 (45 seconds jogging, 30 seconds walking), then 60/30, then 75/30, or 60/15.

Vary your routine. Work a little harder one day, then make the next an easy day. Programme occasional rest days when you do no walking and jogging, or cross-training days when you do some other exercise. Test yourself to see if you can run one kilometer continuously.

It won't happen overnight, but you should begin to see a gradual improvement in your physical fitness. Remember that you can walk the 5K and don’t have to do any jogging or running in your first event. Try to add 1/4 mile to your distance each week. As with the 30/30 training programme, begin and end each workout by walking 10 and 5 minutes. This pattern of warming up, training hard, then cooling down is one used by runners at all levels.

If increasing 1/4 mile each week seems too difficult for you, either repeat the week you have just completed or drop back to the previous week before continuing. Only you can judge whether you are pushing too fast or too slow, but it's best to err on the conservative side.

Are you getting closer to picturing yourself training for an event? Remember that your training includes combinations of rest, walking, jogging and running.

Rest: The most important day in any beginning or intermediate running programme is rest. Rest days are as important as training days. They give your muscles time to recover so you can run again. Actually, your muscles will build in strength as you rest. Without recovery days, you will not improve.

Run: Put one foot in front of the other and run. It sounds pretty simple... and it is. Don't worry about how fast you run. Just cover the distance or approximately the distance suggested. Ideally, you should be able to run at a pace that allows you to converse comfortably while you do so. This isn't always easy for beginners, so don't push too hard.

Walk/Run: This is a combination of running and walking, suggested for those in-between days. There's nothing in the rules that suggests you have to run continuously, either in training or in the 5K race. Use your judgment. Run until you begin to feel fatigued, then walk until recovered. Run. Walk. Run. Walk.

Another option for in-between days is to do some cross-training: biking, swimming or just walking. You get a little exercise, but not so much that you are fatigued for the next day's running workout.

If your only interest is to stroll 5K at a comfortable pace, you don't need any particular training programme. Just make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes and do enough walks of at least 15-30 minutes in the last month or two before the 5-k to make sure you won't have any trouble finishing the 3.1-mile distance.

Make sure you treat yourself to a new pair of trainers. A beginner can probably get a good pair for around £40. Don’t trust anything under £25. Consider asking friends who run where they shop for shoes.

Socks will help prevent blisters, calluses, corns and ingrown nails. They help to keep the feet dry so they don’t move as much inside the shoe. Any sock will do or you can purchase specialty socks.

Two popular choices of running clothes are loose-fitting garments and tight-fitting Lycra. Try each to decide, as they both work equally well. Bright colored clothing helps ensure safety in traffic areas.

On fast days, crank the motivational music. On easy days, cruise to books on tape. Just stay alert to traffic and other road and trail dangers.

If you’ve set goals and are hustling to reach them, getting a heart rate monitor and using it is a great way to speed up your progress and ensure that what limited training time you have is spent wisely. Prices range from £40 to £250 depending on features.

Many athletes overlook the importance of keeping a training diary. But there’s no better way to set and focus on your goals and workouts. You can make a diary from a notebook but commercial versions usually include inspirational quotes and photos rewarding you for each entry.


Any old wristwatch won’t do when you start logging quality miles and doing intervals. You’ll want one with a stopwatch to record results and track your progress. Watches are handy for events also because it’s not always possible to get your time at the end of the race unless you run with your own watch. Great sports watches are available for approximately £30 to £40.

Once you've run your first 5K, there's no reason why you can't continue to compete at that race distance. You may enjoy it so much, you may want to move up in distance and try the 10K. If you do decide to challenge yourself and sign up for an event, such as the Race For Life, post a message on our support boards to find out who else is taking part with you.

 Happy Training!


Kelli Calabrese is an exercise psychologist.


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