7 tips for aspiring crazy runners

Starting something new is hard.  There is no way around that.

Which is why I must commend everyone out there who is taking their first few strides as a runner in the first few days of 2011.  Awesome!  This post for you!

If you’re anything like me when I’m coming off of a hiatus, you probably kind of hate running right now.  Running sucks when you’re just starting out: I mean, running is hard.  But it’s also crazy, joyful, wonderful and fun.  You just have to invest a little time (and a little work) to get there.

So here are a few tips on navigating the road to running insanity.  Er – bliss.

1) Take it slow.

Don’t make the number-one rookie mistake: going too fast, too far, too soon.  Lungs feel like they’re about to explode in your chest?  Slow down. Shins starting to ache?  Back off the distance. The Ten Percent Rule is a good mileage guideline, and if you’re brand-brand-new to running, consider following a structured run-walk program, such as Couch to 5K, to help avoid injury and over-training.

Like any new activity, running might feel foreign to you, and it can be hard to gauge your effort.  And it’s tempting to be really hard on yourself if you feel like your pace is slow – especially if you’re coming back to running after a break.   But take it easy and give yourself a few weeks to get (re)acquainted with the motion of running. Your body will thank you.

And remember: no matter how slow you think you are, there’s always gonna be someone out there who is slower.  (And someone who is faster.)  You are running for you: don’t worry about what other people are doing.

2) Shoes matter.

You wouldn’t take a pair of water-skis down a mountain.  You wouldn’t use rollerblades on an ice rink.  And you shouldn’t wear those old dusty cross-trainers running!

Seriously, there is a lot of superfluous running gear out there (we’ll get to that in a minute), but if there is one item that’s worth investing in, it’s a pair of properly-fitting running shoes.  Go to a running specialty store and consult with the folks that work there: they will help you identify the type of shoe you should be running in (based on your feet and gait) and find a pair that fits well.  For free.

“But I don’t want to spend money on shoes, when I don’t even know if I like running!”  I hear that a lot.  And I get that running shoes are expensive, but you have a much better chance of liking running if you’re not jamming your feet in to broken-down, too-small cross-trainers or flopping around in clodhoppers that are meant for basketball.  Every major brand offers good shoes for under $100; if you’re on a budget, just let the person who is fitting you know that, and they can steer you toward the less-expensive models.

3) Select gadgets wisely.

So you’ve shelled out for the shoes; what else do you need?  The answer: honestly, when it comes down to it, nothing.  Good (non-cotton) socks are helpful.  As is a good sports bra, especially if you’re a well-endowed lady.  But beyond that, it’s all a matter of how much you are willing/able to spend.

Of course, wicking fabrics are nice, but until relatively recently people did just fine running in sweats and cotton tee-shirts.  Depending on your local climate, you may want to invest a little more or less in the clothing department.  Discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls are a great place to pick up technical shirts, pants and shorts.  Target has some good, budget-friendly stuff too.  And running races that offer tech shirts is a great way to stock up on tops!

As for the rest – the energy gels, fuel belts, self-massage tools, anti-chafing sticks, GPS watches and heart rate monitors – well, they’re icing on the cake.  Of course, goodies are fun and I’m not trying to discourage you from enjoying them!  But I don’t think they’re necessities.

4) Go play outside.

A lot of runners who are just starting out stick to the treadmill.  And that is understandable: it’s a controlled environment, less intimidating than taking it to the streets.

But if you don’t run outside, know this: you’re missing out, big time.  The fresh air.  The scenery.  It’s so much better than staring at an electronic display screen.  Seasoned runners who prefer the treadmill to running outdoors are few and far between.

“I don’t want to run outside, I feel like I’ll look too slow/fat/dumb out there.”  No, you won’t!  I promise!  Seriously, I am a pretty snarky person, but I’d never judge someone who’s out there running, no matter what they look like.  Other runners who see you will nod and give waves of encouragement.  And non-runners whose path you cross?  Well, they probably won’t even notice you, but if they do, who cares what they think?  You’re out running and they’re not.  You win.

Another bonus of getting outside: companionship.  Join up with a local running group a couple of times a week.  Runners are notoriously friendly folks.  Make running a part of your social life – rather than something you have to work your social life around – and it will always be easier to get your workouts in.

5) Eat well.

Yes, one of the great things about running is that it burns lots of calories.  And one of the perks of being a runner is having a little more latitude with your diet than the average schmo.  But you’ve gotta put good food in to get good workouts out. So although you may notice your appetite increase as you add miles, make sure you’re responding with high-quality foods and not just junk.  (You know the drill: whole grains, fruits and veggies, avoid highly-processed foods, yadda yadda yadda.)

Which isn’t to say that the beer is off limits.  Every running club I’ve ever been a part of has included plenty of eating and drinking in its activities, and that’s part of the fun!  So enjoy, but be sensible.  (Most of the time.)

6) Marathons are kinda overrated.

Marathons are all the rage these days.  And, of course, going 26.2 is an awesome accomplishment.  But don’t feel like you have to run a marathon in order to be a runner.

There are many advantages to running 5Ks and 10Ks.  They’re cheaper.  They’re usually closer to home – no travel hassle and cost!  The preparation is shorter and recovery is quicker.  Didn’t have a good race this weekend?  Try again next weekend!

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from running a marathon if that’s what they want to do.  I’m just sayin: give the shorter stuff some love, too. A well-executed 5K or 10K is a huge accomplishment!  Who cares if you don’t get a medal?  Keep working the short stuff and you might get your hands on an age-group award instead, which is cooler than a finisher medal anyway.

And by all means, if you’re a brand-spankin’-new runner and you have your sights on a marathon: sign up for a handful of shorter races as part of your training.  There’s already way too much happening on race day when you run a marathon: you don’t want it to be your first race on top of all of that.

7) It does get fun.

I promise.  It is fun.  And while every runner has good days and bad days, those first few weeks can be especially brutal: putting one foot in front of the other is a major chore, and it’s hard to imagine that elusive “runner’s high” or believe that people actually find this enjoyable.

The running bug isn’t like a mosquito, where you get the bite and feel the itch immediately.  It’s more like a brain-burrowing worm: it slowly works its way into your head, taking over the rational part of your mind a little more each time you lace up your running shoes.  Until one day you realize that you’re actually excited for that early-morning long run.  Or you’re bummed when you have to miss a workout.  Or you get giddy poring through the numbers in your training log, or plotting out your race schedule.  Or it dawns on you that your body is capable of doing things you never thought it could.

At which point you’ve officially gone crazy.  Welcome to the club!  We may be slightly insane, but the running community is amazingly supportive and friendly and – yes – we are even fun.  And we welcome you with open arms.

So stick with it.  You’re out there running: you’re already a crazy runner, you just don’t know it yet.

Question for my fellow experienced runners out there: what’s your go-to advice for new runners?

Note: This post is part of the Fresh Resolutions roundup over at Run Addicts.  Head over there for more tips and advice from other crazy runner-bloggers!

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35 responses to “7 tips for aspiring crazy runners

  1. I totally agree with #2. I used to work at a running store and when people complained about the price of a shoe, I used to tell them that if you run 400 miles on a shoe and it costs $100, that’s literally a penny (or less) a day (for some people; me, I like to buy new running shoes every few months!) But yeah, shoes matter!

    • 92MsNeverGoHungry

      400 miles / 1 mile a day = 400 days.
      $100.00 / 400 days = $0.25/Day

      You’d have to run just over a mile a month to get to a penny a day.

      Your point stands, a quarter a mile is definitely worth it, particularly if it helps prevent injury; but a penny a day is a bit of an exaggeration.

  2. I love your illustrations. Especially the marathon v. 5k one. You are hilarious

  3. I definitely need to be more cautious in my mileage build up. I ended up running too much, too soon when training for my marathon and it killed my knees. They are finally back to normal but now I know to take it easy and be smart about the 10% rule for my next half marathon.

  4. Runners are crazy aren’t we? I need to figure out a good outside path around where I am now, the treadmill makes me want to die these days. And I need new shoes, hooray for new shoes! Although, I’m thinking my unplanned almost 3 week break is going to make me want to cry for a little while.

  5. There’s a portly middle-aged fellow who I’ve see running in my neighborhood for the last four or five years. He doesn’t appear to have gotten any faster or to have lost any weight, but I’ll be damned if he’s not out there every.flippin.day, rain or shine, whether its 90 degrees or 7. He’s doesn’t have fancy gear – hoodie and sweat pants most days – but he’s dedicated and I admire the hell out of him.

  6. I’m going to super-ditto the marathons are overrated thing – I’ve run competitively my entire life and never had an injury completely sideline me until I started training for my first half marathon. Four attempts (and three limping finishes) later, I called it quits. 5Ks, 10Ks, and any fun runs I see out there – sure. But longer distances? I’m just not made for them.

    Also, many of my injuries have come from treadmill running. You get more balanced muscle development by running outside, around turns, on trails, etc. Speaking of, don’t stick with pavement! It’s bad for your joints – find some fun trails, dirt roads, run on the grass next to the sidewalk.

  7. Thank you for joining hands with RunAddicts in this New Year’s Resolution series! These are some great tips! Running is fun to do! (asl long as you do it for the right reasons)

    – Davy from RunAddicts

  8. My go-to advice for new runners is somewhat similar to point #5 above: If you are taking up running to lose weight, don’t be too hard on yourself with the dieting. Rather do the running well, enjoy your food and drink and the weight will come off.
    http://foodandsweatandbeers.com/2011/01/03/new-years-resolutions/
    (This is also part of the RunAddicts collaboration.)

  9. This was such a good post!!! I’m emailing it to all of my coworkers (as manager of Health and Wellness haha). Also, I thought I was the only one who knew about the awesome gear at T.J. Maxx, it’s definitely the way to go for purchasing workout gear. $45.00 tech tee? No thank you. $15 dri-fit? Yes please!

  10. After starting running/racing in 2008 and suffering hip & butt issues from the start, I’m adamant about working hips/back/core since most people don’t do that at all, let alone if they’re going to run. I try to do something every day even if it’s just mustering up 50 crunches, 10 single leg squats, etc.

    And since I loved Shelby’s post about not calling yourself slow for any number of reasons, I like to say I am a front-of-the-back-of-the-packer. So my 2nd advice is what took my year’s average pace down over a minute from 2009 to 2010 — speedwork. It made a big physical and mental difference for me, but I would only do it after building a good base/routine. I’m coming off a month+ layoff and won’t get into any until mid-February.

  11. I wish that I had gotten fitted for running shoes at the beginning. I waited until I was starting to have some pain in my feet and hips and finally got fitted. Makes a huge difference!

  12. Amen to the shorter distances thing. Yes, I’m working up to my first half this year – but for the last year I’ve been a strictly 5k & 10k girl. My non-running friends are simply AMAZED when I tell them I ran a 5k earlier in the day. They ask if I need to eat protein or have a massage.

    It’s a good boost for the ego. 🙂

  13. I just recently started following your blog and I have to say that this post has solidified my commitment to reading! This was so encouraging, but not at all cheesy or condescending (I’ve found that to be the case with a lot of other newbie runner guides out there). I am getting back to running regularly (after being super inconsistent for a few months) and have been beating myself up for being so SLOW. You have just made me feel loads better knowing that this is normal, and I’ll find my groove again eventually. Thanks so much!

  14. Cute post! Your advice about marathons is dead-on. I love the marathon, but I feel like new runners think they have to do one and just train for that one race when they should be focusing on lifelong fitness and enjoyment of running instead.

  15. I thought I would add something not-helpful (“it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster”), but instead, here’s my piece: everyone looks silly running. Don’t (or try your hardest not to) let self-consciousness get in your way. So you’re overweight, duck-footed, get out of breath easily? I assure you there are weirder-looking runners out there.

  16. I like this and agree with everything! I think signing up for a race, even if it’s a few months down the road, is a good motivator for a new runner. And once they experience it, they will love it (hopefully!) and the momentum will build!

  17. Great posting. I always think that the first run is always the hardest. It all gets easier from there. Sure, some days are worse than others, but once you get started its easier to keep going!

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  19. I totally agree about starting small when it comes to races. Some people set their eyes on a big goal like a marathon and are burned out not even 2 weeks into training and start to get overwhelmed.
    Besides… the overall environment around smaller races is much more fun and personable in my opinion.

  20. I really enjoyed this post. I’m one of the people who runs on the treadmill because I’m worried about how I might look to others outside. It’s reassuring to hear that I am not alone with this fear. I am going to be a little more braver and take it outside. Thanks for the inspiring words!

  21. Bravo; well said Shelby! My go-to advice echos a lot of yours. If I had to add something it would probably be that chocolate milk is my go-to drink and snack after a run. During a longer run I’m all about Gatorade, but afterward milk is a necessity.

  22. Love it, I’m forwarding this to a few friends that have said over the past year “I wish I could run” in response to my adventures of running. Good shoes and running outside are probably the best pieces of advice. And don’t be afraid to take walking breaks!

  23. Love the list and the pics are super cute! About #5 though – that is one that people need to be careful about. If someone is running 5-6 days a week, including a pretty long run, then yes, there’s room to wiggle on the calorie intake, but if someone (who I still consider a runner) is running only 2 or 3 times a week and 4 miles each time at most, they’re really not torching enough calories to be able to have more leway with what they eat, especially if they’re hoping to lose weight. Running doesn’t automatically = weight loss, and I think that’s a misconception that some new runners might have.

  24. I started running in July with the help of Couch to 5k. The program really does work. Take it from a person who HATED to run. And now I love it. Especially running outside.

    Thank you so much for saying marathons are all the rage right now. Yes, I would love to run one some day, but I am sticking to 5k’s this year

  25. this may be slightly narcisstic of me, but #7 looks an awful lot like me. :p jk. great list! So very true on all accounts.

  26. Shorter races are definitely the right kind of goal, and I’d like to put in a plug for “Fun Runs” – these tend to be local, they bring out the “woggers” (jogging & walking, as needed) and are often not even chip timed. For newbies, and definitely for truly slow runners (ME!) it is so much fun to run with other people who are going at about your pace! This is less likely to happen in races with lots of “serious” runners, and it can do quite a number on your self esteem.

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  28. I love this post. I wanted to write a similar one, geared towards those who want to get ‘into it’ but won’t bother as this one says it so well.

  29. you know what, after reading this… now i’m totally into run.. 🙂
    yeah 2011 is time for (newbie) runner!
    thankyou

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