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Getting started as a runner or walker

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By Ellen McDonell, ND and Julie Ennis, PhD. 

Keen to become a runner or walker?  
Here’s some tips to help you get started!

Before we get started, we want to highlight that these are general tips to get your running or walking training program off the ground. A common question is whether exercise is safe for people with cancer. In general, the answer is yes! The scientific literature suggests that exercise is not only safe during cancer treatment, it can have many benefits for quality of life and treatment outcomes. Exercise is recommended by the Canadian Cancer Society, but that patients undergoing cancer treatments should speak to a healthcare provider prior to initiating exercise plans to ensure safety. Occasionally, modifications in terms of the time, intensity and type of activity may be warranted. The OICC’s physiotherapist, Sarah Grant, has experience in developing and supporting exercise programs for various populations including people living with cancer.

Tips to help you enjoy and stick with your training

  • Make it social! Sticking to a training plan can be much easier if someone is counting on you to join them. See if a friend, family member or co-worker is up for being a training partner. Another great option is to check out running and walking groups in your community. The City of Ottawa advertises running and walking groups and options for personal trainers in the city. The very popular Running Room offers in-store and online clinics for a wide range of experience levels. Social media has many innovative ways to train with friends (even some that you’ve never actually met!). Stay tuned for a later blog post where we will review some options for training apps including the favourite one that we use here at the OICC.
  • What is your motivation? Think hard about why you wanted to do this in the first place. Having this in mind can make it much easier to resist the next time that some of the typical excuses (too tired, too cold, too dark) are tempting you to skip a run.
  • Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you! A common barrier to engaging in activity in public is fear of what others think. Keep in mind that given society’s smart phone obsession, the odds are people around you are preoccupied with their smartphones or other distractions. The running community in Ottawa is (in general) remarkably friendly. It is quite an experience to go out for a walk or run along the Rideau Canal on a Sunday morning, the typical long run day in training programs. You’ll be surprised at the number of waves, smiles, “good mornings” that you get. Our request to you as you get started running and walking is that you fully embrace this community spirit, resist being shy and wave to every runner or walker that you pass.
  • Start slow and build up gradually. Set reasonable goals. If you’re new to running, it is likely not a good idea to sign up for a marathon! Ease into things in terms of both distance and pace. Most beginner running programs start out by walking, and add short running intervals. Depending on your starting fitness, a 20-30 minute brisk walk might be enough of a challenge at first. If that feels easy, try walking for 4 minutes then jogging for 1 minute, and repeat this until you reach 30 minutes. Over subsequent weeks, slowly decrease your walking time and increase your jogging time until you are able to jog for 30 minutes. Once you are able to do this, you can slowly increase the length of your runs, until you are able to run your target distance!  To prevent overtraining, or injuries, a general rule of thumb is to increase the distance or time that you run by no more than 10% each week.
  • Mix it up! Just because you are training for a walking or a running event, doesn’t mean all of your time has to be spent on these activities. Engaging in other forms of exercise, or “cross training” as it is often called, is beneficial as it improves fitness, engages different muscles and helps to prevent injury. Yoga, pilates, swimming, cycling, organized sport and any other form of activity are all great ways to keep fit and have fun. While elite runners may run 6 days/week, running or walking 3 days per week is sufficient for most people to complete any distance from 1k-marathon.

Dr. Ellen McDonell, ND, began running as a way to stay fit after she stopped competitive swimming in her late teens. What started as a way to exercise, soon became a great source of enjoyment and fulfillment. Ellen also enjoys swimming and cycling, which provides great variation in her workouts. Ellen has competed in races ranging from 5k-half marathon, and has completed several triathlons both as an individual and as a relay team.  Exercise and running in particular have become a way to get away from everyday stressors, spend time in nature, and have time in solitude, or with friends.  

Dr. Julie Ennis, PhD, has been running since she can remember- but the real passion started when running became a way of managing the stressful years of her PhD degree. She found that lacing up her runners and getting outside was a great way to clear her head so she could tackle the work in the lab. Over the past few years, Julie has participated in many running events of different distances. Her favourite running moment has been completing the Boston Marathon in 2015 with her father, Bruce Mason.

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