Jean-Yves Cloutier is the official trainer of the Montreal Oasis Marathon and co-author of volumes 1 and 2 of Courir au bon rythme, Quebec’s top-selling books on running. He suggests five golden rules for introducing running into your routine while keeping your motivation up.
1. Set a realistic goal
Trainer Cloutier says, right off the bat: “Whether you want to run to get back in shape or to lose weight, the important thing is to have an achievable goal.”
To be achievable, a goal should ideally be spread out over the short term (one month), middle term (halfway) and long term (several months). But most of all, it must be set according to your level of physical fitness.
If you have been sedentary for several years, Jean-Yves Cloutier suggests you get a checkup from your doctor, who will determine whether you need a stress test before you start a training program. This is even more strongly recommended for those nearing forty.
Once you get the green light from your doctor, Cloutier suggests you take it step by step, or start training at an appropriate point for your fitness level.
- Walk quickly for 45 minutes a session, three times a week. This step can be stretched out over several weeks.
- Alternate walking and running. “For example, do one minute of running, one minute of walking. Gradually lengthen the amount of time in each interval.”
- Run continuously for 10 to 20 minutes, three times a week.
Cloutier emphasizes how important it is to train regularly (approximately every second day) and to run at least three times a week, but no more than four.
Trying to do too much, too quickly is a sure way to lose motivation or even injure yourself, reminds the trainer.
2. Follow a program tailored to you
“Most of all, avoid improvising,” says Cloutier. “Whether you’re a beginner or are resuming training, a program will ensure you do enough without overdoing it.” Having a structured training approach adapted to your fitness level and your goal increases your chances of sticking to it.
You can find online or paper versions of training programs developed by various experts. The two volumes of Courir au bon rythme offer several formulas adapted to different running levels.
“The most frequent error made by beginners is to run too fast, too long and too often,” points out Cloutier. “In fact I would say that in terms of the amount of running, the first three months are critical.” In other words, an activity should remain enjoyable if we want to integrate it into our lives in a sustainable way.
If you want more support, it may be advisable to use the services of a personal coach. Several kinesiologists, for instance, offer this type of service, and can help you determine which program best meets your needs and physical fitness level.
What are the signs of a good trainer? “Certification from the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and solid experience in the field are generally a good indicator,” says Cloutier. “However it’s important to note that there are some good coaches who haven’t followed this training.”
3. Enter a competition
If your goal is to get back in shape, Jean-Yves Cloutier strongly recommends you register for a race. “For example, if you start training in the winter or spring, you can register for a 5 km run at the end of the summer. That way, if you slack off a little in May, for example, your goal is still there and still reachable.”
4. Invest in a good pair of shoes
“Shoes are the runner’s most important equipment,” Cloutier says without hesitation. “Even more important than clothing. And shoes are definitely a worthwhile investment.” Comfortable and well-fitted shoes will make running easier and more enjoyable, as well as prevent injuries.
Expert Cloutier is adamant about choosing shoes: “You have to get advice from an expert in a specialized store, taking into account your foot shape, your technique and the way your put your foot down on the ground.”
If you already have running shoes, you should make sure they haven’t lost their support, even if you only use them for running—although many use them on a day-to-day basis, which makes them wear out much faster. “A shoe’s lifespan is about 800 km. A relatively new pair will be more effective, and more importantly, it will help prevent injuries.”
5. Run with friends
According to our expert, this is the best way to make running fun. “It goes so much faster when you’re chatting. It’s also an excellent source of motivation.”
The only danger here is that one of you may run too fast. “You have to make sure the faster runner adapts to the slower one, and not the other way around,” he warns. “And especially, never aim for an average speed between the two.”
If the faster runner wants to run at their own pace, and your training sessions are about the same length, try running together for the first few minutes, and then meeting up later at a predefined spot. That way, you can enjoy the benefits of running with a partner without any of the downsides.
If you don’t have any friends who run, consider joining a club or running group. These are organized by many specialized running stores, as well as independent organizations, coaches and athletes. These groups also let you benefit from the support and advice of skilled people such as trainers or experienced athletes.
It’s a great way to combine training and pleasure all in one.