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There are few athletic activities that offer substantial personal reward no matter how you finish. Running is one of them. Whether you are a beginner huffing and puffing to finish one mile or an accomplished runner flashing to a sub 15-minute 5K, every day of running is an opportunity. You can go farther, you can run faster, you can explore new trails or roads or you can just relax over a familiar route. Running is addictive, and contagious. My own experiences have taught me some lessons that can be valuable to any level of runner. First mistake. Never try to jump into running too fast, let alone trying to run too fast initially. It's a sport that is best eased into. I didn't run another road race for almost a year, and barely ran once a month after the half-marathon. Instead, start by slowly running a mile to three miles -- whatever you can handle initially without suffering intense pain after the run or the next day. Run this distance two or three times a week. Your running should be done at a comfortable, not painful pace. You can increase your mileage per run as you grow more accustomed to the length of your runs. Generally, your body adapts to a particular run after you have done it about 12 times. After that, your level of fitness will only improve if you either increase the mileage of each run or if you increase the intensity of each run. Don't increase either too rapidly. No pun intended, but you're not in a race. There are several roadblocks that you, especially if you are a beginner, may encounter. I'm happy to say that many of them are preventable. Here is a list of five of the most common problems beginners discover, and tips on how to solve them: 1. Cramps. They happen to almost everyone, but they are preventable. First of all, make sure you go to the bathroom before you run. Second, drink plenty of water before and during the run. Do sit-ups to tighten the stomach muscles. Some discomfort comes from your internal organs bouncing around. Last, but maybe most important is breathing right. Try to vary your breathing so you do not get in a pattern of exhaling each time the same foot hits the ground. But if you feel a cramp starting to come on, this becomes a way you can get rid of it. If the cramp is in your right side, per se, you should exhale exaggeratedly only when your left foot strikes the ground. 2. Heat, especially now that it is July. It causes dehydration, which can cause cramps, and even nausea. Make sure you drink plenty of water all day long, and plan your runs wisely. Try to run before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m. when it is coolest. 3. Safety. Don't run, particularly in Philadelphia, after dark or before sunrise. It's not safe for you, and in the event that someone else is out at that time, a person running from behind is not very pleasant either. Similarly, avoid isolated places. One of the best places to run in terms of safety in numbers is Kelly Drive beginning at Boathouse Row. 4. Soreness or stiffness. Make sure you stretch. There are mixed opinions on how much it helps. I don't stretch at all before I run, but I spend at least 10 minutes after a run stretch. Some people prefer to stretch before they run, and still others prefer both before and after. Also use ice when necessary. If your legs are very sore, try aiming a cold shower just on your legs. It works for racing horses, and it works for humans. Some runners may get a tingling sensation in one or both arms. That's just your heart adjusting to pumping more oxygen-carrying blood to your extremities. Slow down if you have to. 5. Boredom. Find a partner to run with if possible. Another solution is to vary your courses. When I first came to Philadelphia, I used running as a way to learn the streets and different sections of the city. Obviously, that has its limits. I still don't know a street north of SpringGarden. But nothing compares to telling people you ran to New Jersey (over the Ben Franklin Bridge) and seeing their reaction. From Center City, though, it's just a six-mile run to there and back. If you can, mix in days of easy cycling or maybe even lifting for a total body workout. If you follow a simple plan, you will find that running can be fun, plus it's great exercise, and it's addictive. In November, I finished my first marathon. My running prompted two friends to begin training for their first marathons. Furthermore, my fiancee who started running faithfully last September can now run eight miles comfortably, and is preparing to run in this year's half-marathon. The rewards to running are there, you just have to get started, be smart about it, and stay with it.

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