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Run for Your Life

Ever had the urge to run? Go for it! You’ll feel better than your couch potato friends and will probably be healthier too. Best of all, running is an activity you can do for a lifetime. Anyone can compete in track. All it takes is determination, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work hard.

Why work so hard? Exercise brings these benefits: a strong heart, lower risk of high blood pressure and disease–plus toned muscles, more energy, and easier weight control. Exercise firms your muscles and gives them their shape. What’s more, people who exercise have less body fat than those who do not. Running on the track team is a great way to get a head start on these healthful benefits. But beware: Once you start running, you may never want to give it up. That’s because running feels good. It not only keeps body fat levels in check, but also makes you more alert and helps control stress. Take up track and both your health and your mood will improve. You may even do better in school.

Running Right

Although track and field consists of more than 20 events, running is basic to all of them. All athletes need strong legs, and running is one of the best ways to get them. Tall or short, thin or stocky? Track is for everyone. While sprinters need lightning-quick reflexes to react instantaneously to the starter’s pistol, middle- and long-distance runners have to be able to sustain speed over the long haul. This depends on the ability of the heart and bloodstream to deliver enough oxygen to keep the muscles going strong. The more oxygen delivered to your muscles, the further and faster you’ll be able to go. Luckily, the more you run, the more efficient your body becomes at transporting oxygen and using it effectively. As your endurance improves, you’ll find you don’t get out of breath as easily and are less likely to get rundown or sick. Your body also gets firmer, stronger, and more flexible.

R Is for Relaxation

Whatever distance you decide to run, strive for a smooth, relaxed stride, and learn to pace yourself and have fun. Every runner has his or her own natural style. By focusing on what you’re doing, you let go of tension and replace it with quiet confidence.

Meanwhile, your stamina and strength will improve the more you run, provided you don’t overdo it. Your body gets stronger when it’s stressed in small increments, but breaks down if you try to do too much. That’s why it’s important to alternate days of hard runs with easy ones. Take a day off, or ride a bike, or run at a slower than normal pace. Have easy days follow hard days. Run through woods, fields, or around a park for a change of scenery–and to keep from getting bored. Or challenge yourself by running up hills or by sprinting in quick bursts of speed, just for a little fun. Once or twice a week, go for a long, slow run to complement your regular training runs around the track.

If you’re just beginning to run, jog for a while. Gradually, your circulation will improve and your body will become more efficient, requiring less oxygen to do the same amount of work. Wait until you can run a mile easily before increasing your speed or distance, however. And don’t try sprinting until you’ve been running regularly for about a month.

Warming Up (and Down)

Whether you choose sprinting or long-distance events, warming up your muscles by jogging or doing jumping jacks is essential to prevent injury. A pulled muscle can keep you out of action for a long time. Likewise, a slow cooldown afterward removes lactic acid that may have accumulated in the muscles, and helps you recover quickly. Stopping abruptly without cooling down shocks the body and can lead to unnecessary pain and fatigue. Gentle stretches of the Achilles tendon, calves, hamstrings, and lower back help prevent pulled muscles as well.

Continuously running in the wrong kind of shoes can lead to serious problems, especially in the joints. Sneakers are fine for playing a pick-up game of football or basketball, but not for running. Take your time, and get the advice of an expert before choosing shoes. A good training shoe should cushion the foot and provide support and stability.

Winning Ways

To succeed at track you have to be tough, both mentally and physically. That means watching what you eat, working out every day, and keeping your muscles toned, stretched, and in peak condition. In track (as in life), the winner of the race is usually the one who wants it more, and is willing to push him- or herself harder than the competitor running alongside. It’s important to keep winning and losing in perspective. Because track is both an individual and a team sport, you can win a race and not be on the team that wins the meet. Win or lose, the lessons learned about teamwork and dedication to achieve individual goals are worth the effort. Constantly striving to improve, both as an individual and as a member of a team, is good practice in learning how to zero in on your goal-whether it be to conquer the math quiz or win the quarter-mile event.

Why Try Track?

  • It strengthens the heart and lungs.
  • It’s a great stepping stone to other activities.
  • It improves strength, speed, and endurance.
  • It brings kids from all kinds of backgrounds together.
  • It lets you be part of a team.
  • It requires no fancy equipment.
  • It’s flexible; it can be competitive or recreational.
  • It’s fun.