Coach Mike Mead

Starting a Running Program - Part I - October 2004
(NOTE: This is the second of a four-part series of articles for the beginning runner. I originally wrote the articles in 1996 for a now defunct monthly publication.)

The story goes that a man some years ago was experiencing a miserable period in his life. Out of desperation, he decided one night to take his own life by trying to run himself to death. The distraught man went to a local park and took off running. “Surely,” he thought, “if I run hard enough and long enough, my heart will burst from exertion.” He ran himself so hard that he eventually collapsed from exhaustion. He truly believed he would shortly die.

To his disbelief he survived. Having failed, he decided to return the next night to attempt once again to take his life. On the next evening, he repeated his suicide run. He ran again to exhaustion, collapsing to the ground. But this time he ran a little longer.

The man was so convinced at ending his life he returned a third night to the park. This time he ran even longer; however, he did not collapse from this run. He began to realize that he was actually beginning to feel physically better and emotionally began to feel better about life. From that moment on he became a lifetime runner.


This gentleman had a peculiar motive for running. His was to end his life. For those who begin an individualized running program, the motivation is not as extreme. For most individuals, motivation is health-related: losing weight, improve fitness, etc. Choosing running as a manner of improving health is noble, but can lead some on a road to failure.

The key to a successful and healthy running program for the beginning runner is to have realistic and attainable goals. To lose 15 pounds or “look better” are vague goals when it relates to running. More realistic running goals would be to run a seven-minute mile, or run 20 miles a week for a year. By focusing on these types of goals, losing weight or looking better will be an additional benefit.

When you have attained said goals, the key to remaining motivated, as a runner is to adjust your goals once they have been reached. Come up with new goals and make them realistic but challenging.


Running is perhaps the most misunderstood and misused form of exercise, yet it is the simplest and provides the greatest benefits and health package that beats any top-notch company plan. To receive the maximum benefits, running must be incorporated into one’s daily routine. Most folks want the easy way out when it comes to exercise. However, there are no easy ways or shortcuts when it comes to running. But the benefits are plentiful for those who become persistent runners.

A consistent running program results in steady weight control for those who run regularly. Running provides a healthier, prolonged life. Medical research over the last 30 years has extolled the benefits running provides by reducing the incident of such health risks such as high cholesterol, heart disease, stress, strokes, and high blood pressure.

In addition, running regularly improves the body’s immune system, which reduces incident of catching colds, flu, and the like. Regular running lowers the resting heart rate and provides runners with more restful sleeping.

Runners are emotionally more “up” than most folks. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “runner’s high?” Running provides the emotional benefit of being upbeat, energetic, or perky – that feeling that life is worth living. If you’ve ever been around many runners, chances are you will not find many who are depressed.

Another, yet obvious, benefit that most folks overlook regarding health is no dieting woes. Granted, you will still want to watch those fatty, high cholesterol foods, but for the most part one can eat guilt-free. Interestingly, running sometimes curbs appetite. After long, hard runs, I do not have much of an appetite for some time afterwards.

As you transform into a runner, you likely will become more conscientious and selective of the food you consume. You may still eat the French fries or chocolate chip cookies, but will less frequency.


For those who get beyond the first few months of running’s rigors, most come to realize that it is NOT an exercise, but a way of life. If one does it long enough, running becomes part of a daily routine like brushing teeth. It may be an activity that is sometimes dreaded, but most often it is looked forward to with anticipation. Some runners have been known to get so caught up in their running, they feel guilty when missing just one day.

For folks who do not do much in the way of physical exertion on a regular basis, they equate “exercise” as torture. Thus, running is torture. But until the novice gains running experience, he or she does not fully understand the psyche of the runner until they “run a mile in their shoes.”

Running is misused by not being fully appreciated. With a few exceptions (golf and bowling come to mind), running is a major component of just about every sport that is played today. I have met and known many athletes from all abilities, backgrounds, and walks of life. If there was any common flaw that most shared, it was their lack of aerobic, or running fitness.

I’ve always believed that speed and endurance can compensate for a lack of skill and talent in athletics. I’ve seen plenty of athletes and teams who had plenty of skill and strength, but failed to get to that “next level” because they failed to work on the basics like running fitness. Most of the time, running or aerobic fitness lacked. To be a mediocre athlete means you seldom run. For those seeking a competitive edge, running is the ticket!

Next month…. “How to get started”