So you've been running for weeks, maybe several months, and you've probably noticed some major changes. Your heart and leg muscles are stronger. Your body has gotten better at moving oxygen to your muscles and taking away the waste products they pump out as you run.
It gets even better from here. Fitness begins to increase dramatically around the tenth week of training and climbs steadily for another two or three months before leveling off. You will probably find this to be the most rewarding period of your new running career, with each week yielding greater achievements than the week before.
Still, be cautious and don't try to ramp up your mileage too fast. Because your muscles adapt faster than your bones and joints, this is a period when many beginners run into injuries. It is a good idea to level off your distance for a few weeks. Limit your runs to three miles and give your bones and connective tissues a chance to catch up. Then, if you wish, gradually increase your distance.
Building Up the MilesThe rule to live by is to limit increases of weekly mileage to no more than 10 percent every other week. Do this by lengthening just one of the runs. Two weeks later, you can increase one of the other runs as well, and so on. After a few weeks you should consider making one run per week your long run -- up to 50 percent longer than the others. Increase either the long run or the shorter runs, not both in the same week. Don't increase your mileage every week. In fact, consider doing less some weeks to give your body some extra recovery time.
After several months you will no longer be a beginner and will have to decide whether you wish to run simply for fitness or whether to start running for performance, too. A couple of miles, three of four times a week will keep you fit and healthy. Fifteen to 20 miles a week will give you better conditioning. Beyond that, you are running for performance. Congratulations, you're no longer a beginner, and you're certainly a runner.
Your First RaceOnce you have been running for a few months you may want to run a race. Your goal here should be to finish the distance, to try out the experience. The race shouldn't be more than 150 percent the distance that you normally run. Whether you intend to or not, you're likely to run faster than you normally do. Start at the back, and try not to get sucked into running too fast. If you can, start slowly--you can always speed up in the last mile.
You should check out our article on how to choose the right race strategy and have fun, soak up the atmosphere. For some reason this sport is peopled by very friendly, very social participants; enjoy the other runners and have a great race.
After you've been running for at least six months and you have one or two races under your belt, you'll be ready to start training to really race these events. Active Trainer has a variety of training programs to help you hit peak performance for the popular race distances.