Over the past few weeks and months you have been reading various stories on running long distances, whether it is about running in the streets of Chennai or the hills of Perungalathur, Yercaud and Kolli or the accomplishments of India’s youngest finisher in the just-concluded Comrades Ultramarathon (90km run) in South Africa — considered one of the toughest races in the world! In fact, long-distance running is getting so popular that this month alone there are three half marathon races happening in Namma Chennai!!

I am here to let you in on a secret — You don’t have to run such long distances to get the full benefits of running! I know I am going to get a lot of flak from my running friends for this article! Recently, I started running real long distances (say half marathons/full marathons). But for a number of years prior, I used to be a lunch-time/weekend runner doing a max of 5 km/run. There are a number of benefits to keeping to this distance:

1. Time – Running long distances takes a lot of ones time. To do a practice run of say 10K, depending on your pace, one would have to spend an average of 90 minutes to 120 minutes counting the time taken to warm up before the run, stretch after the run. This assumes that you just start running from your home. If you meet up with a group of friends at a common point, you have to factor time spent on that as well. In contrast to this a 5K run may not take more thank 60 minutes of your time. So if your objective is not to train for a long race but just be active and mobile you may be better of settling for a short distance run!

2. Injuries — Let us be honest — “Running causes running injuries”. Of course, this is true for any form of extreme physical activity. The more intense and more frequent you are with any activity the greater risk of injuries related to the activity. For example, can you name an athlete in any field who has not nurtured injuries during the course of his career? By running shorter distances you reduce the risk of developing running-related injuries.

3. Enabler — In general, running is a great enabler for one to realise the benefits of staying fit. It is easier for one to start from a shorter distance and then migrate to either a longer distance or take up other forms of activities. And by sticking to a shorter distance goal, one stands a better chance of pursuing the activity in the long term.

So how does a beginner get started?

1. Find a friend, spouse or neighbour to join you. Or connect with a Chennai Runners chapter in your neighbourhood. There are runners from various parts of the city who run various distances through the week. A lot of research has shown that you tend to stick to a training regimen when you have company.

2. Keep simple goals. If you have never run before, start walking 30 minutes every other day. Then slowly start adding small periods of a slow jog within those 30 minutes. Then slowly increase your total time. Believe it or not, 8-12 weeks later you will end up jogging continuously and run a distance of 5K.

3. Participate in a neighbourhood event — In Chennai, currently, thanks to increased awareness of fitness there are running events every month all through the year. Keep an eye out for these events. Many of these events also support charitable causes. So you get to meet great like-minded people, share experiences and at the same time support a worthy cause!!