Last updated: April 08. 2014 5:23PM - 721 Views

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The famous Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” While Lao-Tsu may have been looking at a deeper, more metaphorical interpretation about reaching your goals one small victory at a time, in our own lives, we can take a more literal approach to using his inspiration.

Sunday was the first-ever Scranton Half Marathon, an event my colleagues and I at the Geisinger Heart and Vascular Institute were pleased to sponsor.

Here’s some food for thought: Such a 13-plus-mile feat is not out of reach for the average person looking to get into better shape. But don’t get me wrong, it won’t happen overnight.

Every runner who participated in the Scranton Half Marathon at some point started with a half mile or a quarter mile or maybe a slow Sunday stroll – their first single steps in their own thousand-mile journey. Now I’m not suggesting you gear up for the Boston Marathon, but look around for some local 5K races – and there are plenty – and set a goal of running in one of those. For many people who aren’t trained long-distance runners, a 5K is a realistic goal that yields a great deal of fitness and health benefits if prepared for (key word, here) properly.

When you’re checking the calendar for a 5K this summer, give yourself a seven- to eight-week cushion for training. And in that time frame, don’t be concerned with speed or time or a running partner’s pace. Start with 30 minutes of running or walking three days a week mixed with 30 minutes of walking twice a week and two days of rest –you can keep your weekends to yourself!

As you progress and build up stamina, try running for 15 seconds, then walking for 45 seconds and rinse and repeat for your 30 minutes. As your body allows, increase your running segments and your intensity, but never forget your rest period. Especially if you’re on the couch potato to race-runner accelerated program, rest is important. Your body will take time to acclimate to the new fitness activity.

Then there’s your diet. In training, a good rule of thumb is for athletes to get 60 percent to 70 percent of their calories from wholesome carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and some fruits. Some good pre-training or pre-race foods can be bananas, potatoes and nutrition bars.

Just like a regimented training schedule can help the body recuperate from training sessions and races, so can a strict diet that is high in the proper nutrients. The wrong foods can be difficult to digest, therefore not restoring the carbohydrates burned during a workout and not providing your body the protein it needs to enhance endurance. And when your workout is over, there is just a small window of time when your body is ripe for replenishment. Within the first 30 to 60 minutes after a workout, unleash your hunger on some carbs and proteins.

I could write for pages about the physiological benefits of a simple plan like this: the benefits to cardiovascular health, joint strength or lung function. But take my word when I tell you that the best benefit of a road-race training program will simply be how you feel – more energetic, more aware and overall happier and more relaxed.

If you watch an elite runner in action, it can be easy to set your goals too high. But remember the words of the wise Lao Tsu and take a small step toward fitness that is a giant leap for your overall wellness. OK, that one was Neil Armstrong, but you get my point.

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