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How to start running to lose weight: 18 weeks, 3 stone loss, and a target of 30 minutes running

This time last year I couldn’t run.  I need to put that in a bit of context really, you see I was actually afraid of running.  So I started looking into how to start running to lose weight.

My particular heart problem means that sudden jolts cause my heart to start beating too fast – basically from a layman’s point of view the AV nodal re-entrant tachycardia which I suffer from means that instead of the strong dum, da-dum, da-dum beat of a heart, the shock of something like pavement pounding results in only the ‘da’ beat.  And then it overcompensates so you get a kind of da da da da rhythm up to about 210 per minute.

And I’ve had it since I was 2 years old, so you kind of get why I am scared of an attack.  It won’t kill me, but it can feel like someone has stuck a blunt instrument in my chest.  And if I have been exercising at the time then it takes ages to get rid of (squatting down, holding my breath and using stomach muscles to squeeze my chest upwards…don’t ask, it works!).  Then there is the drop in blood pressure which makes me dizzy and get tunnel vision.  hey ho!

But once I started cycling again, I had to ask myself, could I possibly run?  By this point I had lost about 6 pounds so I was down to 14 stone something, and for people considering running I would carefully ask about your previous level of activity, and actually how heavy you are.  Running puts huge pressures on joints and bones, and the heavier you are the greater the impact.  So you need to start off slowly, and let your body adjust to exercise.  But that is exactly what I did, I started really slow and built up for it.  Below are the steps I put myself through.

Run light shot
So the first step is get a medical.  Not just for the sake of your heart but also joints etc. to make sure that you are ready for that level of activity.  The chances are though that if you are looking to lose a significant amount then you won’t be ready, so don’t be fooled by some of the running magazines who make out that you should just strap on a pair of shoes and baggy clothes and then build up slowly.  If you are still at the waddling stage – you know who I mean, that’s not offensive, I’m just being honest – then don’t try jogging even.

So lets assume you got past your medical.  The basics of exercise are to put in the ground work to build up a foundation on which you can build.  That means increasing your heart/lung capacity; bone density; muscular strength and flexibility.  Depending on previous exercise, if you haven’t done anything serious for 6 months prior, then consider yourself a complete noob.

First steps in running…or rather walking

Your body takes around 3-4 weeks to adjust to any change in exercise, so you need to reconcile yourself to two things right at the beginning.  1) get your diet right – see my frequent references to the British heart foundation diet 2) start working on the aerobic capacity, and muscular attributes.  Bone density takes place over years, so just take it easy at first!

Start with walking at a pace at which you can hold an easy conversation for.  Make it last an hour, every day if you can.  As you lose weight and improve you will be able to move quicker.  Like cycling, you need to look at your technique rather than speed.  So walk for an hour, breath easy.

After your 4th week depending on your current fitness level you can start to walk more briskly.  Look to travel for the hour still, but try to get to a pace where you are able to talk in short sentences.  Also try and build in some hills to your walk.

Ok, another 4 weeks later you should have adapted to the exercise sufficiently to start learning to run.  i know that this has taken a while, but the basis you have built on is invaluable.  Move too quickly and you will have a shaky foundation that could lead to later injuries.  You are going to shorten the time down now to just 30 minutes.  If the cycle of walk/jog brings you under 30 minutes, continue to walk until you have completed the time.

First running steps!

Walk for 6 minutes, then jog for a further minute.  Keep a watch on you to do this!  As soon as you hit the 1 minute point go back to walking.  Try to hold a brisk pace doing this if you can, but you might need to slow down after the jog a bit.  The technique for running is to land with your foot under you and not in front of you,  which is the error I made when I started!  Don’t over reach with your stride either.  Repeat this 3 times in each session, and go out 3 times for week 1 with at least a day’s rest in between.

Week 2: Walk for 5 minutes, and jog for 2.  It’s going to hurt, but stick with it and look forward to the walk again – repeat 3 times in each session.  Get out 3 times in the week.

Week 3: Walk for 3 minutes, jog for 4 minutes.  But now you are going to step up a bit and do 4 repeats rather than 3.  Go out 3 times during the week.

Now it’s here that most people struggle a bit.  If you aren’t ready to move up to the next level, then don’t.  Give it a couple of weeks or more at this level, there’s time yet and your body is still adjusting.  Rather than a complete rest though every day, if you can’t increase your running just yet, go out on the non-run days for a gentle stroll for an hour.  You are aiming to burn a few more calories, and the extra work you are putting in will keep you in mind for doing more activity.

week 4: Walk for 2 minutes, jog for 5 minutes.  Try to do 4 repeats, getting out for 3 days as before.  Why not try gentle swimming on your off days?

Week 5: Walk for 2 minutes, then try to get in some 8 minute jogging sessions!  Now this might seem impossible at first but there are a couple of tricks you can do.  Firstly, when you are finding it a struggle, fix your eyes on a point some 20 yards ahead of you, run to that point and as you do so look for another point another 20 yards ahead, and keep doing it.  Secondly, don’t worry about how fast your legs are moving, that just makes you feel tired, instead concentrate on moving your arms.  Your legs miraculously look after themselves!  Thirdly, concentrate on your breathing and try not to make it so that you are gasping for air.  Take the pace slow enough so that you are breathing hard but not anaerobically, which means ‘without air’.  Fourthly, check your body at around the 2 minute mark: how’s your breathing, how do your legs feel?  After a couple of minutes do another mental check, do you feel worse, or about the same.  I usually think that I will feel worse, but discover I feel no different.  I will do the same again a couple of minutes later, and the same after that.  It’s surprising but you don’t feel any worse!  If you do, then just drop down to an earlier week.  Remember there is no rush to be super fit, you are laying the ground work!

Week 6: Walk for 1 minute, run for 6  minutes.  Repeat 4 times.  Go out 3 times that week.

Week 7: Walk for 1 minute, run for 8 minutes, repeat 3 times, 3 sessions that week.

You are nearly a runner!

Week 8:  Getting towards the big one now!  Walk for 2 minutes, run for 15 minutes, walk for 1 minute, run for 6 minutes, walk 1 minute, run for 6 minutes.  This differs from many people who tell you how to start running, but I personally found that after the 15 minutes run it was just too much to jump up to two sets of 15 mins.

Week 9: Warm up, then run for 15 minutes, walk for 2 minutes, run for 15 minutes.  Do this 3 times a week for the next two weeks.

Week 10:  there’s nothing like this week!  A non-runner suddenly running.  Watch your pace doesn’t go too fast and enjoy it.  If you get over puffed there is nothing wrong with dropping to a walk for a minute or so, just don’t stop otherwise you will get an injury.  Run for 30 minutes.  Use the tricks I suggested at week 5, particularly the mental self assessment as you realise that after about the 9th minute you don’t feel any worse!  Stay off the hills if you can, plenty of time for that later.

If you want to build up your speed, don’t lengthen your stride.  Instead, increase your running cadence – that is, the speed your legs go round.  And to do that, don’t try to think of how fast your legs are going, rather speed up how fast you are swinging your arms.  Start to lift your knees slightly higher, and push further behind you.

These days I can run for 50 minutes if I want to, or 30 minutes fell running for between 3 to 5 miles.  My heart still isn’t up to more, but I continue to build on what I can do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: angelocesare

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