Beginning Running

Al Kavadlo Running the Brooklyn HalfAs a kid, I got into working out because I wanted to put on muscle. Running had absolutely no appeal to me; runners were skinny guys and I wanted to get diesel.

And besides, running sucks! Who the hell would want to run around for hours for no reason? I was going to do pull-ups and get jacked.

Ironically, most people who begin running are drawn to it for the exact reason that I was turned off – they want to be skinny!

Turns out we’re both wrong.

In the Running
Running has seen a boom in recent years, but along with that explosion there has also been a backlash. Distance running has been called “chronic cardio” by members of the primal community and has been blamed for countless ailments and injuries. A lot of the backlash against running is aimed at those who are motivated primarily by a desire to lose weight (and those in the industry who pander to them). Truth is, while running can burn lots of calories, unless you change your eating habits, you’re unlikely to see any significant weight loss from beginning a running program. In spite of this, I believe that everyone should give running a shot as part of their fitness program. Especially those of you who hate it.

For the Love of Running
When most people (even fit people) begin running, there is an adaptation period that can be unpleasant and frustrating. Once you cross that threshold, however, the improvement that you will feel in your day to day life is significant. The increased aerobic capacity and cardiovascular function is just the beginning. You’ll also develop leg endurance that can carry over into walking, stair climbing and other everyday activities.

Of course, the best motivation to run is simply that it feels great (once you get accustomed to it). Simple pleasures make life worth living and few things rank higher on my list than a good run. Running can be an acquired taste, but just like riding a bike, once you get the mechanics down and start to build some endurance, it becomes a whole different experience.

Al and Grace Kavadlo RunningDesigning a Running Program
In the beginning, start out with run/walk intervals. You don’t need to follow a strict protocol, just run at a steady pace for as long as you can (which might be anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes). When you need to, take a break and walk until you catch your breath.

Repeat this process for 20 or 30 minutes, then stretch out and call it a day. In time, your walk breaks will get shorter and shorter until you can eventually go for 30 minutes without a break.

Once you can do that, you can try alternating between jogging and sprinting for your interval training.

LSD Running
Anyone who’d want to run a Marathon must be tripping, right?

Seriously though, if you’re crazy enough to want to do a Marathon or Half-Marathon, be smart about it – you’re going to need to run at a substantially slower pace and gradually build up your mileage. This type of running is usually referred to as long slow distance or “LSD” running.

LSD running is slow enough that you can maintain a conversation while running, so feel free to invite a workout partner. Take your time on LSD runs, it should feel almost like how walking feels to a non-runner.

Running is Fun-ctional
For those of you who still think strength training is all you need, keep in mind that in the wild, you’re either quick or you’re dead. For that reason, running is the most functional bodyweight exercise out there. I don’t care how strong you are, if you can’t run, you’re not fit. But perhaps more importantly, you’re missing out on a lot of fun!

Related Articles:
Forefoot Running
Exercise vs. Skill
Barefoot Running

50 thoughts on “Beginning Running

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  • By Jim Arkus -

    You’re 100% correct about the diet thing. I was up to 40+ miles a week and I was still overweight. It wasn’t until I started eating primally that the weight came off.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, Jim. Glad you got your eating in check now.

  • By Stefan -

    I’ve outrun a fairly poor diet together with my ex-girlfriend. But it does take a lot of effort that many aren’t willing to put in. We usually ran four times/week with at least one session of “quality”, meaning intervals or hill sprints, and one session long distance (over 10km, around an hour). The other two sessions were usually what we called “to get some kilometers to our legs”, typically 6-7 km each.

    After the long session in particular we would devour anything in sight for two days! We could easily go and buy a bunch of beers, cheese and crackers and chips and eat until we didn’t have anything left. We still lost weight!

    The above program is NOT for beginners though. It can completely ruin ones knees if not built up to gradually. When people start out running, they typically run for 20 minutes or so once or maybe even a few times a week. That’s not likely to get you slim anytime soon if not coupled with a great diet. Diet is the easier way to fat loss.

    Just IMO, YMMV and all of that ūüôā

    “For the love of running” is brilliant Al! Many of us get bit by the running bug and can’t think about anything else. These days I’m much more into strength training but I’m still running at least one race this year (in May).

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for sharing, Stefan. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  • By Patrick (MDA) -

    Gods of Bacon bless you, sir. This is very timely for me, as I’m looking to be able to hammer out 6km without issue by early May. Cheers!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Patrick. Keep training hard!

  • By Dragonmamma/Naomi -

    I hate, hate, hate running, but I got duped into signing up for a 5K last October. As preparation, I ran 5 miles twice a week for 6 weeks before the run. Wound up in 1st place in my age division. (Old-fart division, 50-59) (29:01, a 9:20 pace.)

    I hoped this would get all the runners to quit bugging me, but quite the opposite. Now they’re all saying things like “You did so great on your first run, you can’t stop now!” Yes I can, I still hate running! I much prefer to jump rope or do burpees alternated with lifting weights.

    Oh, and I did not lose any weight. On the contrary, running gives me a ravenous appetite and I wound up gaining a couple of pounds!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      C’mon, Naomi – even if you didn’t enjoy training for the race, it must have felt great when you crossed that finish line, right?

      • By Dragonmamma/Naomi -

        Yeah, but not enough to make me want to do it again! I am content to retire from my running career as an undefeated champion!

  • By Fern (MDA) -

    Just this week I decided to try to start running again! Thanks for this post Al! I am going to start my training tonight after work!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Sounds good, Fern. Have fun tonight! Spring is my favorite time of year for running!

  • By Jimmy -

    Thanks for the post. I couldn’t agree more that running is an integral part of overall fitness along with the other bodyweight skills. But I think the chronic cardio cases still exist. It seems easy to get fixated on longer runs as a first goal (e.g. I’m going to do a marathon or a half) with the predictable result of overtraining. I’m thinking 2-3 years of regular running with a long gradual gain in mileage to build to that point. Then, as you say, it’s not much different from a long walk for a non-runner. Can you talk a little about how long you would expect it to take for the average 40+ year old to get into shape where that 1/2 or full marathon is NOT chronic cardio?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Jimmy. I agree that lots of people are guilty of wanting to do too much too soon in the world of running. Two or three years seems like a good foundation before thinking about serious distances. I started dabbling in running in 2004 (5K), did my first half in ’08 and my first full in ’09. I go into this subject more in my book.

      • By Jimmy -

        Thanks for the timeline on your running. That gives me more confidence in taking this process slowly. Just ordered the book and can’t wait to dig in!

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Right on, Jimmy – can’t wait for you to read it!

  • By Paul -

    I got into running a few years ago in order to run a half-marathon as a way to raise money for charity. I needed that external motivation otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten through the training schedule going from 0-half marathon in 5 months. I’ve just sorta kept going since then. I still do a half marathon every year for charity but I see it more as a fun thing to do rather than central part of my fitness regime. Al, you’re right – it IS fun. Running alongside a river in the spring sunshine is just a great, great feeling. I go out 1 – 2 times a week for 5-7ks and generally do ‘fartlek’ to spice things up.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Paul. I’m guessing you’re a relatively young, healthy guy – to go from nothing to doing a Half Marathon in five months is quick! I’m glad you discovered the joy of running.

      As for Fartlek training – it’s a great concept, but an unfortunate name.

      • By Paul Kerr -

        Yeah, a very unfortunate name :). I like to think I’m still young(ish) – I’m 48 and still feel there’s loads of room for improvement and progress in terms of fitness. I’ve always stayed in decent shape – rugby when I was younger then many, many years of judo and various other martial arts. So, I had a base to work from when I started to build up the running, not least in terms of mindset. I started training for a full marathon a couple of years ago but had to scale back to a half because I picked up too may injuries (or woke up old ones). But I thought “What the heck, I need to at least give it a shot”. It’s a half again this year (Amsterdam) and as long as I can do it and continue to raise money for those less fortunate than me I’ll keep on doing it.
        Be well.

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Wow that’s very cool, Paul. It just goes to show how exercise/martial arts/etc can keep you young. Keep up the great work!

      • By Stefan -

        “As for Fartlek training – it’s a great concept, but an unfortunate name.”

        Only if you’re speaking english! I wonder why the guys and gals who first started using it on your side of the Atlantic simply didn’t translate it to “speed play” instead. Ah well, Swedens contribution to the english vocabulary: smorgasbord and fartlek. You guys must think we have the strangest language ever ūüôā

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Good point, Stefan. Speed play definitely has a better ring to it. I especially like the idea of calling it “play” instead of “training.”

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  • By KyleRW -


    Just recently looked into your website. I’ve been sold into the bodyweight exercises for a long time. Anyways, I was wondering if you had ever taken a look at something I started 4 or 5 weeks ago: a navy seal preparation fitness program(its not the navy seal training its just a good program to do if you want to be a seal). Anyways, what do you think of this work out? Have you ever tried it? I’ll post a quick link on it.

    Scroll down to the “Suggested Student Preparation”. Thats where it talks about the work out and the 2 “categories” it’s split into.

    As a personal note, I’m on week 4, relatively in good shape, and have noticed consistent weight loss.

    Just wondering, have you tried this, looked at it, or heard of it and what do you think?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Kyle – I have not seen this program before. It looks pretty intense, but I guess that’s the idea! I would not recommend it for a deconditioned individual, but for a fit guy who needs structure, it seems pretty solid. You have to be a good runner and swimmer to even start such a program though. Personally, I’d need more remedial time in the pool before I’m ready!

      • By KyleRW -

        Yea, I use a stationary bike instead of swimming. Not too good of a swimmer:). Thanks for the response.

  • By Angelos -

    Hi Al

    Thank you for your blog and your honest and down to earth advice on fitness..i enjoy jogging and running but nowdays alot of people warn against jogging and running‚Ķthey say that ‚Äúcardio‚ÄĚ exercise is a waste of time and effort.It lowers testosterone and growth hormone, boostsdestructive cortisol levels and robs you of muscle, bone andinternal organ mass and strength.(see P.A.C.E. by dr.Al SEARS). What do you think of that?..thank you again…angelos

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for your comment, Angelos! I think running is one of the best forms of exercise out there. The only potential problem is when people just run for exercise and don’t do anything else. It’s important to be well rounded, and strength training is a must for anyone who wants to be healthy and fit. There will always be naysayers, but I’m gonna keep doing my thing.

  • By DTX -

    One of the things I’ve heard about running is that it’s mainly HOW you run that causes the problems.

    Running like a marathoner regularly, at low intensity for long durations (around an hour or more) promotes “muscle wasting” because your body channels more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles being used and sends less to the muscles not being used, which over time, causes them to shrink.

    Running in intervals like a sprinter does strengthens your cardiovascular system AND allows you to maintain your musculature because the muscles aren’t being “starved” for long durations.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I’ve heard this theory before but in my experience it has not been the case.¬† Look at that picture of me running the NYC Marathon – do I look like I dropped muscle training for that race?

      Sprints definitely have merit, but I believe a well rounded fitness routine should include some longer distances as well. 

      • By DTX -

        Yeah, I think it also makes a difference if you’re also regularly working those other muscle groups rather than ONLY running, which I guess is what some marathoners do which is why they end up being so skinny.

        But you also might be one of those “genetic exceptions” who can do just about everything and maintain muscle. I saw this article about
        Manny Pacquiao awhile ago that called him a “physical outlier” because of his ability to do an incredible amount of cardio exercises AND put on muscle. I thought it was pretty interesting to read about.

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          I absolutely agree that just running without strength training is not a well rounded program.  During my marathon training I still did at least 2 days a week of strength work.

          As for Manny Pacquiao, I’ve often said the best combination for making a successful athlete is natural talent + serious work ethic.¬† Good genetics alone does not make for an athlete – you still have to train your ass off.¬† It seems unnecessary for him to be doing all those crunches though.

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  • By Myles Hamilton -

    i’m doing a lot of fast, power lifting to go a long with my MMA training however i have started to¬†incorporate¬†a high intensity 15¬†minute run which i aim to reduce the time as much as possible (It used to be 20¬†minutes) however I don’t think i want it to reduce my weight¬†dramatically¬†i’m just doing it for cardio purposes

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Sounds good, Myles!

  • By Craig Riches -

    Any opinions on sprint training Al? I have just started to incorporate it into my training and found it very useful to compliment Kettlebell & Bodyweight Conditioning.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Sprint training is fantastic!  Perhaps I will do a post on this topic in 2012.

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  • By Diana Renata -

    Fantastic seeing a post in favor of running with so much of the Paleo/Primal world against it. Pre-Primal I dutifully ran 7 miles a day, 6 days a week. Probably wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. Quitting running completely is second to that. 2 years later I really miss running and would like to incorporate it back into my workouts. I figure 30 minutes, 2x a week is plenty. If I want to do more distance, I have to go faster. My concern is that this type of routine, will I see results more like sprinters or marathoners?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Glad you liked this post, Diana.¬† As for your training, you will see results like YOU!¬† Enjoy the ride and don’t get hung up on results.

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  • By Dlauranceb225 -

    Just discovered you blog bwo your t-nation article on dragon flags. Just read your piece on running. It was great. I used run extensively, along with strength training, to prepare as a basketball player. I ran anywhere from 3 to 8 miles. Used a lot of fartlek on trails. Also used repeat sprints up to 100 yds (telling my age). Sadly I fell for the dogma when I finished my college ball career. I wanted to muscle up and all “experts” said kick runnIng to the curb, which like a lamb, I did. But now years later, I am working my way back into running and loving it, even though I haven’t adapted fully yet. Props to you Mr. Kavadlo for getting peeps back to the real.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for the comment!  Glad you found my blog!

  • By Revend -

    Running is best cardio exercise and has many benefits. I am happy to read this blog and i am happy to read your starting of running. I am also a runner and i am doing running from many years.

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  • By Dustin Martorano -

    Amazing blog post in favor of running.I’ve bookmarked your blog and gonna check it on daily basis to see more updates from you.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Dustin! ¬†I hope you aren’t a spammer!

  • By Jaimie -

    Running was never for skinny once and for losing weight. It is about being active and healthy. I really appreciate your words.

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