Running to improve my fitness mirrors writing in this sense: essentially, without practice every time you start feels like the first time. Additionally, building up one’s ability to withstand the rigors of the discipline always begins from the bottom. Rarely do people write a full novel after years of inactivity, and similarly, you’d be hard pressed to finish a 10k fresh off the sofa.

But the scariest part of beginning anything rests in the doubt and uncertainty that you’re going in the right direction. Do I just start running or do I need to begin with a brisk walk?

Researchers with the Bioenergetics and Human Performance Research Group at the University of Exeter in England feel they may have come up with a clue that may help you answer the question of how to proceed with your running regimen after a lay-off.

In a study published in the September issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, research suggests that the best way to proceed when embarking on a new running program is to pay attention to your body’s reaction to the surface, remain at a pace suitable for yourself, and be consistent and then your body will naturally adjust to mitigate any deficiency in your stride.

According to The New York Times, the study, which only tested a small sample group of healthy, novice women in their 20s and early 30s, implied that most people should improve their running economy — their body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently at a given pace — if they just, well, run:

[O]ver the course of the 10-week program, they did become better runners, as subsequent laboratory testing showed. Their speed and endurance increased — not into national-class range, but most were able to run for 30 minutes at a pace of about 12 or 13 minutes per mile. And they became notably more economical, with their ability to use oxygen increasing by about 8.5 percent.

All of the women adjusted to the stringency of running, overcoming obstacles such as wobbly legs, poor stance, and rear-foot striking — which, as of recently, has been shunned by running coaches who feel that is the root of most discomfort and injuries in runners.

Interestingly, the study underscores the inherent damage running does one’s body. However small the injuries are, runners will feel the pain from pounding the surface, eventually. Much like building muscle — where gaining mass requires ripping through muscles then repairing said muscles, only do it all again a week later — runners have to consistently put up with the awkwardness and drudgery until they figure out to optimize their gait naturally.

Runners, what were your first steps when beginning your regimen? How long did it take you to build up to where you’re at now?

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