Exercise Q&A

Q. I am a recreational runner, and I occasionally race. Whenever I'm training, I struggle through the first 20 minutes. My muscles get tired, and I feel out of breath. After 20-30 minutes, I get into a zone and feel like I could run all day. Any ideas to make it easier?

A. Sorry if I sound like a fortune cookie, but to make your runs easier, go easier on yourself. Ken Mierke, the head coach of Evolution Running in Fairfax, Va., says that you'll reach that happier place much more quickly if you let your body warm up gradually.

"For the first 10 minutes, you should be going ridiculously slowly" compared with the top speed you'll hit, he says.

Once your body realizes it's going to be working for a while, it'll begin to transition: Your breathing will become deeper, your joints will become looser, and you'll get that "in the zone" sensation as feel-good endorphins rush through.

On race days, you've probably seen the top runners giving their sneakers quite a pounding before they even get to the starting line. An advanced athlete might warm up for a 10K with a 40-minute trot, notes Mierke, and if that'll tire you out so much you can't actually race, he recommends at least a 20-minute walk to get ready.

Still feeling sluggish? Blame your parents. Mierke says there's a genetic component to how you experience the so-called runner's high, which is why some folks are drawn to quick sprints and other prefer long, slower slogs.

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