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Running Workouts to Get You In Shape Fast By John Mora

A little too much R&R this offseason?  Here are a few ideas to help get your running legs back in no time.

Okay, you did it again, didn’t you?  You didn’t have the motivation to brave as many winter runs as you thought you might.  And that treadmill in the basement has a nice coat of dust on it.  Now it’s just about the threshold of spring, another running season upon you, and you’re out of shape… again. 

I know… I’ve been there (way too often).  But, if you’re determined to get back into shape and running strong for when the mercury begins to climb higher, there’s a few very specific types of workouts you can do to ramp up your progress safely. 

That last word is important—the tendency is to take a McDonald’s approach to fitness… everybody just wants it fast.   But doing too much or doing it too hard too quickly will only stall your progress even further.  After all, it’s hard to get back into shape when you hobbling around with a sore knee.  With that in mind, here are some suggested “quick-start to running fitness” workouts.

Walking/Running Workouts

Us runners sometimes take this running thing too far.  We seem to have this ingrained perception that walking is for wimps, and that stopping to walk during a running workout is equivalent to forgetting to call Mom on Mother’s Day.

There’s no limit to the combinations you can come up with.  Here are a few workouts I’ve done, progressing from those with equal parts running and walking, to sessions that incorporated less walking.

The Five Minute Workout

  • Five minutes of running balanced with five minutes of walking
  • Beginners, start with a total run/walk time of 20-30 minutes
  • More advanced runners can run/walk for 40-2 hours, depending on previous conditioning and current fitness

The 10/5 Workout

  • After every ten minutes of running, walk for five minutes
  • A good stepping stone after a few five-minute workouts

The 15/5 Workout

  • After every fifteen minutes of running, walk for five minutes
  • A good next step after a few 10/5 workouts

Keep Walking

These are just a few I’ve tried with some success.  If you prefer a less structured workout, you can simply take a walking break when you feel your body needs it.  Either way, eventually the goal is to minimize the walking once you’ve reached your fitness goal.  However, don’t hesitate to do a run/walk workout on easy days or when you’re tapering for an event.  Chances are you’ll find your legs a lot fresher on race day.


John M. Mora is a freelance writer and advertising copywriter living in Plainfield, Illinois.  He is co-author of Paula Newby-Fraser’s Peak Fitness for Women, available in bookstores everywhere. 


Side Stitches and How to Handle (And Possibly Avoid) Them by John Mora

There is nothing quite as upsetting as having to slow to a crawl on the first mile of a 10k simply because your side feels like it’s about to give birth to an alien, ala Sigourney Weaver. At least if it is your legs giving you the problem, you can take solace in the fact that they are simply poor, tired victims of overtraining or (God forbid) undertraining.

Although side stitches are a common difficulty, research in this area is uncommon, and most advice is largely anecdotal.  Still, a little common sense combined with physiology 101 suggests a few theories:

The Shake-n-Break Theory:  The jarring effect of running may cause the liver to pull against the diaphragm.  The diaphragm is a tough muscular sheet above the liver that forces your lungs to contract and expand.  The liver, the largest single organ in the body is situated on the right upper section of the abdomen

When you run and your right foot strikes the ground, your internal organs on the right side are jostled.  As a result, ligaments surrounding the liver may pull on the diaphragm and cause pressure.

The Frying Pan Theory:  If you run in hot weather and you haven’t been hydrating properly, high body temperature can cause side stitch pain.  Although it is commonly believed that stitches can be avoided by not drinking fluids, proper hydration is key.

Dehydration and high body temperature can cause several reactions that can combine to create a side stitch.  The abdomen is a very important area for temperature control.  Dehydration could cause a lack of blood flow to the area and an electrolyte imbalance, thus a stitch

The I-Can’t-Believe-I-Ate-the-Whole-Thing Theory:  If you experience pain on your left side, Anderson suggests it may be your stomach irritating the diaphragm, especially if full before a hard running effort.  Also, the presence of fatty foods that park for long periods of time in your stomach can cause distress.

The Couch Potato Theory:  Some suggest it may simply be a lack of proper training:  Many runners experience less or an elimination of side stitch problems as they go from a poor fitness level to a better one.  This would indicate stitches to be a function of fatigue.

These are the most prevalent theories; Other theories include the shunting of blood away from the diaphragm or liver, a lack of oxygen to internal organs, or an accumulation of gas in the colon.  Some say it may be a physiological reaction to anxiety and nervousness.

The truth: Like many simple bodily function (such as a yawn) nobody knows for sure.

Avoid the Stitch

Though the exact cause of these little pests is not known (and may never be) here are a few simple precautions:

  • Don’t take in excessive amounts of food or fluids prior to hard running, and avoid fatty foods.  Everybody digests at a different rate, but time your meals so that you don’t feel like a water balloon with legs.
  • Stay loose and relaxed.  If you’re nervous on the starting line of that PR-busting 5k, the added tension could hamper your breathing, or cause you to go out too fast.
  • Sit-ups will strengthen your abdominal muscles, which may help stabilize your internal organs.
  • Don’t race or train infinitely beyond your fitness level.  Unrealistic speeds may bring on stitches.

If you get a side stitch, here are a few ways to cope:

  • Slow down or walk it off.  You may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Breathe deeply.  Concentrate on forceful exhalations.  Try changing your breath pattern.  Most people exhale and inhale as their right foot strikes the ground, so try breathing as your left foot strikes.  Grunting, coughing or other obnoxious noises may help.
  • Massage the area that hurts.  If your internal organs are not getting enough blood, or if your diaphragm is being irritated, this may help relieve the tension.
  • Stop, lie down and put your feet up in the air.  Though this may be the last thing you want to do in a race, sidestitches sometimes mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.  If the pain doesn’t go away, seek medical attention immediately.


John M. Mora is a freelance writer and advertising copywriter living in Plainfield, Illinois.  He is author of Triathlon 101 and  co-author of Paula Newby-Fraser’s Peak Fitness for Women, available at

Eight Fitness Myths Debunked by John Mora

There’s plenty of fitness fodder out there… untruths and half-truths… here’s the real skinny

Getting and staying fit has its own inherent challenges without having to navigate the choppy waters of the many fitness myths out there. From “no pain, no gain” to the life-threatening perils of swimming within an hour of eating, some myths become social mantras that resonate the doorways of gyms and health clubs everywhere, causing confusion and, worse, injury.

To help set the record straight, here are eight popular fitness myths debunked. They are, by no means, a complete list of the fitness fodder out there, but may help you separate fact from fiction in structuring your own workout program.

“You have to workout hard and frequently to get fit.”

You don’t need to have the workout regimen of a marine boot camp drill sergeant to get in good shape. Moderate exercise frequency can be effective in increasing and maintaining your fitness level. Running, cycling, walking, swimming or performing any sustained aerobic activity three or four times a week at a moderate intensity for 30-45 will do the trick. Or, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) you can shoot for three 20-minute sessions at vigorous intensity.

“If it’s fun, it can’t be that good for me.”

No matter what sport or exercise floats your boat, there are plenty of benefits to be found in any physical activity. In fact, doing something that you find fun will likely translate into consistent workouts because you’ll have the motivation to do it. The trick is to find the sport or activity that you enjoy and stick with it. There’s something for every body out there. That said, it’s always a good ideal to add a little variety to your fitness routine so that you target seldom-used muscle groups.

“Eating protein supplements will make me muscular.”

This falls under the overarching fitness mythology category of a “magic bullet” that pervades our culture on the sports nutrition front and through infomercials products that promise everything from instant washboard abs to unlimited energy. This is obviously a myth driven by product marketing. Simply put, complex carbohydrates are the best, most instantly accessible source for exercise energy and moderate protein helps rebuild and repair muscle tissue. While moderate protein is beneficial for recovery, it is a progressive strength training program that builds muscle, not protein shakes.

“No pain, no gain.”

There’s nothing wrong with a moderate amount of muscular soreness within 48 hours of a good workout, as long as it isn’t centered on joints. That just means that you have a bit of inflammation and microscopic tears in the elastic tissues that surround muscle fibers—a completely normal and desirable effect of exercise that ultimately results in stronger muscles. But sharp pain or high discomfort during exercise is usually a sign that you’re overdoing it and need to back off. Just as there are no “magic bullets,” there are also no shortcuts, so back off and listen to your body.

“I can eat anything I want because I exercise.”

Nice try. That’s like saying I can put beer in my car’s gas tank as long as the motor is working fine. According to the American Dietetic Association, good nutrition in the form of carbohydrate and protein intake helps maintain body weight, replenishes glycogen stores, and builds and repairs tissue. Plenty of natural foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains—and moderate meats, fish and dairy, as well as a ban on junk, processed and fast foods is the diet your body needs to really leverage the benefits of exercise.

“You can never exercise too much.”

While moderate exercise can boost your immune system, overtraining has the opposite effect of lowering your immunity. That’s the body’s way of telling you that you can have too much of a good thing. While marathoners, Ironman triathletes and ultra-distance athletes exercise often, even these hardy warriors respect that fine line that they may be crossing with every workout and temper their workouts to avoid injury and illness.

“You should exercise at a low intensity to lose weight.”

The low-intensity “fat burning zone” is a myth no doubt orchestrated by heart rate monitor companies, but the truth is that it’s calories burned (and ingested) on a daily basis that determines whether you lose weight or not. Nevertheless, the myth was likely perpetuated by the scientific fact that, at lower intensity, a greater amount of fat is burned than carbohydrate. But the fat/carbohydrate mixture you burn comes from the same calorie pool. So, if your goal is weight loss, better to focus on how many calories you burn, not on how you burn them. If anything, a recent study from the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine concluded that short, higher intensity aerobic exercise can help you lose weight quicker than longer, low-intensity workout.

“Strength training bulks you up; aerobic exercise is for weight loss.”

This is a case of half-truths, particularly for women. While many women deprive themselves of the benefits of strength training because of fear of looking like Governor Arnold, the female body has 10-30 times less of the hormone that causes muscular bulk than men. And, while aerobic exercise is certainly a good choice for burning calories, strength training increases your metabolism when you’re not exercising. Consistent strength training will result in some muscle gain, but it will also result in up to 50 calories burned for each pound of muscle gained. The net-net is that for every two pounds of muscle you might gain, you’ll lose about 3.5 pounds of fat. Not a bad deal. (That’s what you call getting toned.)


John M. Mora is a writer and freelance copywriter living in Plainfield, Illinois. He is author of Triathlon 101 and co-author of Paula Newby-Fraser’s Peak Fitness for Women. His new book, Triathlon Workout Planner, has just been released and is available at and bookstores everywhere.



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