Running is therapeutic. Running clears out cobwebs in my spirit. Running makes me more patient with my children. I turn on the U2 Pandora station, ESPN radio or my 90’s rap / rock iTunes running mix and feel the sunshine for an hour or two. I enjoy the exertion of my body and the accomplishment of pushing myself for a distance.
As someone who enjoys running and shares workouts over social media, I have many conversations with friends about running: “Training for any races?” or “I saw you on Jefferson the other day. How far did you go?” or “I can’t stand running. I don’t know how you enjoy such a miserable activity.” For other runners, we share a bond similar to motorcyclists on the highway. For some non-runners, running is a curious punishment. For others, they are curious about starting. In response to a handful of friends interested buying new shoes, how to train or just beginning, here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Start with a manageable running distance. For some folks, going around the block non-stop is an accomplishment. For others, a mile or two is a good beginning. Whatever the mileage is, start with a manageable running distance. After a few weeks, increase the distance at least once a week. For example, if you run 1 mile, 3 days a week, add a second mile for your 3rd run that week. Scaling distances like this is easy to do and feels non-threatening. You don’t need to run 10 miles every time that you walk out of the door with your running shoes on. Some days are easier than others. Increasing time or distance is easier to do once you get going.
- Pay attention to clothing / shoe technology but don’t let it stop you from running. My former running equipment consisted of shoes from Wal-Mart, swimming trunks, cotton tee-shirts and whatever socks that I could find. I now run in a decent pair of very light shoes ($70 Saucony Kinvara, pictured here), thin and light shorts (but not short shorts), and cushioned running socks. While I cannot say that it has impacted my speed or endurance performance but it has made me more comfortable while running. Light clothes weigh less and have less friction. Running is already an uncomfortable activity. Don’t make it more uncomfortable by wearing heavy clothes and shoes. My latest purchase was a pair of compression socks. They are like sports bras for your shins and worn by people with cranky legs. Not wanting to be confused for a cranky old man running, my socks are lime green. The jury is still out on their effectiveness with leg cramping. Having said all of this, don’t NOT run because you don’t have ideal shoes and clothes. Start running in what you have. The more time spent running, the easier it is to dip into your monthly budget to support your habit.
- About running shoes, go for comfort and fit. Some running stores will watch you run and give you feedback regarding pronation (foot angles inward) or supination (foot angles outward). I have never been fitted for shoes to correct either concern. In my opinion, I don’t know if it matters after you have run for a few miles and your form breaks down. When you run on a treadmill for a minute in front of a shoe person, your body is on its best behavior. It may take a few shoes and many miles to find some that are comfortable. Once you find a good pair, you can easily shop around online to find the best deal.
- Keep track of your miles. There are a number of apps and online sites that Google can provide. I use Map My Run on my iPhone. With GPS, I can keep real-time track of miles run or the monthly / annual number of miles. As you keep track of hours, minutes and miles run, you can be encouraged by how far you’ve gone over a period of time. For example, to date, I’ve run 575.92 miles over 126 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds. From my home, that is equivalent to running to eastern Pennsylvania; western Tennessee; and almost to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Even if you’ve only run 30 miles in a month or two, that’s at least equivalent to somewhere that you drive that you would not have considered running to before. Also, with Map My Run, there is the option of a voiceover on your music for mile splits. No longer do you need to have a course mapped out ahead of time. You can walk out the door, start running and not be concerned at how far you’ve gone or when to return home. Keeping track of miles and time will also help you keep track of your per mile pace.
- Post your workouts on social media. Posting your workouts is a way to connect and be encouraged by others. No matter your experience, it is greater than someone else’s and your workout can be an encouragement to others. Many people will approach me about my running that I would otherwise not speak to. It has opened doors of communication with many people. Some people have asked me, “Isn’t that a big arrogant to post a workout?” Perhaps but as long as it is common for people to post pictures of what they’re eating, I’m going to post pictures of what I’m running.
- Sign up for a race. Here is where the rubber hits the road because now you’ve got skin in the game. No longer are you just running willy-nilly, fancy-pantsing around your cul-de-sac in your cute shorts. You switched from running to training. Do you know who else trains? Athletes train. Bo Jackson trains. You train. You have something in common with Bo Jackson: You both sweat, prepare and work hard for a chance at greatness (or at least, not dying) in a 1-miler, 5k, half-marathon or even more. These are all bucket list items. There are several online calendars for bigger races and it is difficult to go too many weeks in your region without some organization having a 5k. Soon, you’ll have obscure racing tee-shirts and be the envy of all of your non-running friends.
- You don’t need to win the race. Many people don’t sign up for a race because they won’t win the race. Chances are, if you are able to win a race, you aren’t reading these beginning running tips. Don’t worry about winning a race. Be concerned about trying hard and accomplishing goals. For your first goal, just finishing the race is an excellent goal. Or, not walking. Or, finishing in under 30 / 60 / 90 /120 minutes. My goals: To finish a half-marathon in under 1:40:00 and a full marathon in under 4:00:00. Right now, my best half-marathon is 1:44 and my best full marathon is 4:11:00. In each of the last 3 marathons that I’ve run, I cried each time that I crossed the line because I was in so much pain that I was relieved that I didn’t have to run any longer. I’ve got work to do.
- Speaking of friends, find a running group. Running is a community event. Runners like other runners. Runners speak runner. Find a group of like-paced runners at your church, work, Facebook or YMCA to meet a few times a week or month. Perhaps Saturday mornings are group runs while other runs are more solo-efforts. Friends can provide accountability and support. Even if the group is diverse in pace and experience, many experienced runners will run slower paces to run with the group. Perhaps you can train for a future race and run together. Honestly, this is advice that I don’t follow. I’m more of a solo runner because it is time for me to recreate. I would benefit more from taking advantage of my local running community.
- Don’t be afraid to walk. I enjoy running distances of over 4 miles. I don’t even leave my house without running 4-6 miles and many times, it is 8-12 miles. People often ask me, “How do you run for 12 miles without stopping?” My answer, “I don’t run non-stop. In a 12-mile run, I will walk at least 3 or 4 times for 30-60 seconds.” Walking helps to re-set your muscles all over your body. I am amazed at how refreshed I feel when I can walk for a short distance before picking up the pace again. The key, however, is to either know the time or distance that you will walk before you start walking so that you don’t walk indefinitely. I usually pick a street light or mailbox as a point at which I will regain my running pace.
- Some safety tips: Don’t run at night or with two ear buds in. In my town, many drivers are not paying attention to runners. I rarely run after dark because I am concerned about cars, dogs and the uneven ground surface. Moreover, I only use one ear bud (I just cut off the other ear bud) so that I can listen for cars and dogs. I take it upon myself to NOT get hit by a car or eaten by a dog. I hate being startled while running. My running takes balance and I am often lost in thought. A hard-charging Labrador or even a Poodle can make me wet myself so I’ve learned to be attentive to animals who believe me to be a giant chew toy. And, sometimes it is good to listen to your footfalls and heartbeat. Having too much musical distraction takes away from the opportunity to reflect on your insides and the rhythm of your breathing and stride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 breath, repeat).
- Drink what tastes good. I love Gatorade. After a long, hot run, there is nothing more refreshing than sitting on my front steps and drinking Gatorade that has been in the freezer for the length of my run. For longer runs, I keep drinks and snacks on my front porch and plan my course to go by my house often enough to eat or drink.
- Lastly, enjoy yourself. This is probably easier said than done. Some days you may even experience a runner’s high from the released endorphins. I have probably experienced this a few times but don’t chase after it. My enjoyment comes from knowing that I have pushed my body to do what I have told it to do (too often it is the other way around), I’ve accomplished running a designated distance (especially the long routes that go up the hill on Route 24), and the feeling of blood coursing through my legs, arms, chest and even my forehead as I sit still finally on my front steps with my Gatorade. That is satisfaction.