Running 1,000 miles over a four-year period can seem like a tall order, especially for people who haven’t put on their sneakers for a workout in a while. But fitness experts say it’s totally doable.
To inspire people to adopt healthier lifestyles — and to celebrate America’s upcoming 250th birthday — Independence Blue Cross has created a new fitness challenge, “Road to 2026.” It asks participants to walk, hike, run or cycle 1,000 miles by July 4, 2026. Participants can also choose to cycle 10,000 miles.
The challenge is divided into four 250-mile segments (or 2,500-mile segments for cyclists). People who track their miles online and complete each of the four milestones will receive medals and be entered to win various prizes. Anyone aged 18 or over can register.
Fitness experts advise people who are not currently adhering to exercise routines to start slow and gradually increase the mileage of their workouts. Here’s what it should look like.
How to start training
The goal for people who are just starting to exercise regularly is gradual progression, according to Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a Philadelphia-based physician with certifications in obesity and internal medicine.
“You can’t make significant progress in a day, but you can get significantly injured in a day,” Seltzer explained.
For people interested in participating in the “Road to 2026” challenge, it’s important to figure out what kind of exercise they want to do and set specific but realistic goals, Seltzer said. When people push too hard too quickly, they increase the risk of overuse injuries like stress fractures, shin splints, and Achilles tendonitis.
People who enjoy walking should initially set a 10-minute walk bar three times a week, Seltzer said. Then they should add five minutes every two weeks.
Whatever timeline one sets, it has to be realistic, Seltzer said. Being able to exercise regularly twice a week for 20 minutes is better than planning five-hour workouts every week, but being unable to stick with them.
“Have a program written instead of just driven,” he added. “You can always change it. You have to know what you’re doing to know if it’s working.”
Chris Beck, head trainer at B3 Fitness in Philadelphia, recommended following the 10-15% rule. “If you walk four miles the first week, increase your mileage by 10-15% each week. You want to gradually increase your mileage so you don’t stress the body too much.”
Beck advised people to focus on increasing their endurance first before increasing the intensity of their workouts.
“Don’t go one to two miles more and increase your speed,” he explained. “If you feel tired, you can take a day off, especially at the beginning. … If you feel constantly tired and achy, stay at your current mileage until your body feels comfortable or take a week off, where you still train, but scale it down.”
Fitness experts say it’s a good idea to get evaluated by a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen or at least have a personal trainer review the plan. exercise to ensure that it does not increase the risk of injury, especially for people who have never done anything like this before.
Include appropriate recovery time
Some soreness is expected when people start exercising, although it should go away as people exercise regularly, Seltzer said. But if people are experiencing joint pain or signs of overtraining — illness, trouble sleeping, fatigue and chronic injuries — they should back off.
“The pain after the run is OK, but your ankle exploding after the run is not,” he explained. He added that proper nutrition is important for the body’s recovery, so people should consume adequate amounts of protein and vegetables.
When adding mileage, people need to make sure they’re eating enough whole grains, carbs and protein, Beck said. He also advised people to stretch for 10-15 minutes every day. He suggested foam rolling, light yoga and breathing.
To build muscle, people should also incorporate a day or two of full-body strength training into their exercise routines, he said.
Building a workout routine that includes cardio and strength training adds variety to one’s exercise regimen. It also allows people to target multiple areas of the body throughout the week. Fitness experts advise people to work up to exercising four to five days a week. Rest days should be built in to allow the body to recover.
Michael Shellenberger, personal trainer at The Edge Fitness Clubs in Deptford, New Jersey, said one of the first things he does when working with new clients is to see how well they move and identify the movements they could do without pain.
To build confidence, he starts people off with exercises they can already do well, whether it’s squats, lunges, push-ups or pull-ups, and progresses from there. He generally recommends that people who are just starting to exercise start out by doing two or three workouts of 30 minutes each. But they should still avoid a sedentary lifestyle on other days of the week.
“You have to move every day,” he stressed. And he urged people to listen to their bodies to avoid injury.
“If you have pain in your joints or lower back, stop and assess,” he said. “You may be using the wrong form or it may just be an exercise you can’t do yet.”
The best way to prevent injuries is to stretch before exercising, said Theresa Gabriella-Frey, a former yoga teacher from Croydon, Bucks County. Swimming and sitting in a hot tub to relax your muscles can also help.
Gabriella-Frey, who encourages others on their health and wellness journeys through her Facebook page, No Yo-Yo Effect, Yoga Lift Breathe, said people looking to get back to exercising should consider to start with yoga or Tai Chi, as these will help the body get used to moving again.