As the days lengthen and the weather warms and novice runners cast an eye outdoors, fitness experts suggest they take a slow start to find their outdoor rhythm and pace to avoid injuries.
Jen Van Allen, a certified running coach and co-author of "The Runner's World Big Book of Running for Beginners" said the first time outdoors everyone else seems like a real runner. And new runners often fear getting hurt, or that they will find running unpleasant or boring.
"Certainly when someone pushes body and mind farther there is going to be some discomfort," said Van Allen, who has completed 48 marathons. "But a lot of people make the mistake of running as fast as they can and they get hurt."
She suggests that even if the goal is to run, newbies should
walk and use the first four to six weeks to establish the habit.
"If you're just starting out, focus on rhythm, on finding the most convenient times and the safest routes, and deciding if you'd rather work out alone or with others," Van Allen said.
She added that the correct form for most people means eyes on the horizon, arms moving alongside, not crossing, the torso, shoulders and brows relaxed.
"Starting at the top of your head, periodically check in with your body to release areas of tension," she advised.
David Siik, a Los Angeles-based running coach for Equinox, the national chain of upscale fitness centers, said when running for fitness the first goal is consistency.
"It's actually one of the hardest goals, and more immediately important than mileage and calories," he said. "People fall out of the habit, often afraid that it's too difficult or too hard on their body."
If running is physically very demanding, Siik said, the benefits can be extraordinary.
"A great indicator of how fit running can actually make you is that you can lose it so quickly," he said. "People who take long periods of time off from running see their aerobic strength go away very quickly."
Running takes time, so he suggests taking it slow, keeping a log, and seeing how it goes.
"You'll learn something new about yourself every time you run," he added.
Siik said much improper form is a lack of strength that sometimes, but not always, auto-corrects with practice.
"Run with the runner's tilt, making sure your weight is barely over your hips, never back on your hips, except during a decline," he said. "That slight tilt forward engages your back muscles."
Jacque Ratliff , an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, said cardiovascular activity (such as running) increases the strength and efficiency of the heart muscle, which is important in warding off heart disease, lowering blood pressure and improving HDL (good) cholesterol.
But she said any fitness regime should include strength, flexibility and mind-body components as well.
"If somebody is just running all the time, that's when injuries can occur," Ratliff cautioned.
Whether the goal is marathon glory or losing love handles, Van Allen urges new runners to start at their current level of fitness, not where they were in high school.
"Get good shoes, start slow, find your pace," she said. "It's great to have dreams but in order to get there you have to start where you are."