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Tips for Getting Started

1. Buy the proper equipment.

What is the proper equipment? If you are running, buy good running shoes, $80-$120 at a specialty running store where they can tell you if you need stability shoes, neutral shoes, and so forth.

If you are biking, take your bike to the bike shop and get it tuned up. Buy some good bike shorts, a helmet of course, and I recommend gloves as well, even in the summer. I have found butterfly seats are the only way to prevent groin pain for me and my husband. They cost a little more, but are so worth it!

Swimmers need a goggles and a swim cap for women, and I recommend a kick board and paddles and fins you can buy online. Also, don't buy a swimsuit that has any lycra in it. Lycra is for racing and for sitting on the beach, but it doesn't last more than a few weeks if you swim a lot. I recommend www.swimoutlet.com for buying nylon suits and just about everything else. TYR goggles are the best!

I think a heart rate monitor is a wonderful thing, but I didn't get one until I'd been racing for a while.

What is really important is a log. You want to log what you did today in a book so you can see it and monitor progress or think about suggestions for improving in the future. If you do not have a heart rate monitor, write down how you feel on a scale from 1-10, 10 being the hardest. You'll get used to it in time.

Also, if you work out on a machine that tells you calories, write those down as well, as an objective measure of performance. It won't transfer to other machines, but when you use that one, you'll know if you've improved or not. Logs are truly the most important tool for you to see how you are doing. Keep good records and you will look back on it for years to come.

2. Prevent injuries

For injury prevention, I strongly recommend yoga. Yoga doesn't just stretch your muscles gently, although it does that. It also increases the strength in your balance muscles, which are those tiny muscles that help stabilize you during extreme exercise. Also yoga does a lot for core muscles.

Warming up and cooling down are good injury preventers, as well. Don't try to shave off time by skipping them.

Also, do not increase your volume more than 10% each week. I once ran a marathon without proper training and regretted it for the next four months as I couldn't run at all. Don't be stupid like I was.

3. Get plenty of rest.

And by rest, I mean sleep, but I also mean what is called "active recovery."

For example, if you are used to running a set amount each day, try to walk that amount one day as a recovery day. The next day, you should have enough energy to push yourself further.

One of the great mistakes of athletes (and I am in this group) is to try to push 100% every day. This will lead to burnout and injury. Some days should be scheduled as easy days, some as hard.

Many older athletes (over 30) need two days to recover from a truly challenging workout. They don't do nothing, but they do something a lot easier the other two days. I take a day completely off each week, and I think this has helped me a lot.

4. Eat properly.

This means do not diet.

Look, you're exercising to be in better shape, not to be skinny. I had to give up this idea myself and I still struggle a bit. The scale is not your friend at this point. You may even put on weight if you are putting on muscle. But are your pants getting tighter or looser? Are you stronger? Faster? Feel better about yourself? Enough said.

Eat before you exercise. Every time. Even on race days. I don't care how much you feel like puking. Eat anyway.

Do not be stingy with the gatorade. Drink lots of it while exercising. Do not drink it at other times.

Eat within thirty minutes of when you finish exercising. Ditto on the "I don't care how much you feel like puking." Eat anyway. Eat pretzels or something that you can stand, a banana. (Not chocolate cake). Take it with you to the gym if you're heading to work afterwards. Your body needs that fuel to repair the damage you've done. If you don't eat, you won't recover and all the work you've done will be for nothing.

5. Choose a race

I have seen this work countless times. If you pay for a race and people are expecting you at it, you are going to do the workouts necessary to get across the finish line.

How to do it?

If you look up "active.com" on your computer, and then type in 5k race and your city, you will undoubtedly come across a race on the coming weekend. But don't do that race! Train first, then race! And try to get a couple friends to race with you, if you can.

Then choose a race that will challenge you, whatever that distance is, and then choose a date that is in the future far enough away so that you have time, even if you are sick for a week or so, to prepare for the race.

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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2011 all rights reserved.
Last revised August 10, 2011.