People who are new to the sport of running aren’t always so intrigued after their first run or two. In fact, it’s often the first few runs that turn on or turn off would-be runners, says Carol Virga, co-owner of Runner’s Edge in Boca Raton.

(Carol Virga)

Virga, a running coach and 1992 women’s Olympic marathon trials participant, and Lynn University women’s cross country coach Niki Alvarez, offer these tips to help you find your stride and excel.

(Niki Alvarez)

Ego out; common sense in

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is going out too long and too fast. The result might be sore muscles, an injury or disdain for the sport. The solution, Virga says, is to start with a light run and walk.

She suggests running by time. Let’s say 20 minutes, every other day for the first week or two or three. Another option: jog two minutes and walk for a minute, for a total of 20 minutes.

“That’s a safer way to begin because it’s not so jarring for your body,” Virga says. “It’s safer to begin in small increments.”

Start with 30-minute run-walks, using increments of six minutes. So, you’d start for the first week or so running a minute, followed by a five-minute walk. Do that five times.

When you feel ready, up your running a minute and decrease walking a minute--for two minutes of running and four of walking. It’s a slow build, which gives you a solid aerobic workout without too much strain. Keep going, by adding only a minute of running at a time, until you reach your desired running goal.

Change is good

Add a longer run (or run-walk), once you have a base. That might mean challenging yourself with a once-a-week 35- or 40-minute run, if you’ve built a 30-minute base. The idea is to get some of those endorphins going. The exhilaration of accomplishment helps fuel your desire to run.

Pick up the pace

Another way to keep running from becoming mundane: throw in a day of speed. You’ll need a base for speed work, and speed means different things to different people.

“Introduce the speed slowly … sprint for a minute, then jog a minute, and do that for 30 minutes,” Virga says. “That will give you a feeling of accomplishment.”

A great place for testing your speed is the local track. Most are 400-meter tracks, meaning you have to run the track four times for a mile. And many have the benefit of a grassy center — a football field — which is great for warm ups.

Virga recommends this warm up: jog a mile; then do about six striders across the middle of the field. A strider is a slow run, which accelerates to speed in the middle and ends on a slow run. It’s only 20 seconds, or so, but it helps your body adjust to speed on a soft surface. 

For your actual track workout, use your running watch to time yourself for one lap. Follow that with a two-minute recovery, which can be a slow jog or simply standing. Try four of those, for a mile of speed.

Don’t forget your cool down. Virga says four times around the track is a good cool down.

Warm up dynamically

Alvarez says runners are less likely to get injured running if they warm up dynamically, versus statically.

“A static warm up would be touching your toes or holding your quads [and being still during the stretch],” Alvarez says. “A dynamic warm up would be incorporate movement. Let’s say leg swings, or what we call Frankensteins, where you hold your hands out and try to touch your toes while walking. Or you could walk and pull your leg into your chest while walking.”

Spice things up with a little competition

You’ve changed your distance and added speed. Sounds like you might be ready for a five-kilometer race.

I’ve mentioned this before in the Fit Life column: Races add a dimension to your running. They’re exciting and give you the chance to test your skill among other runners.

If the 3.1-mile distance isn’t satisfying enough, you might try a 10K (6.2 miles) or even a half marathon. Virga, recommends runners join local running groups, especially if they’re training for the longer distances, to get the camaraderie and advice they need to excel.

Think beyond running fitness

One way to improve your running, without actually running, is by strengthening your upper body and core, Virga says.

“Lifting upper body weights--light weights and lots of repetition--is good for the runner,” she says. “And, of course, everything comes from the core, so you should also do core exercises, which help you to lift your legs and help every aspect of your fitness.”