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!