If you answered yes, read on.
If you answered no, I might have you convinced otherwise by the end of this post.
In the two-and-a-half years since I began running, I’ve learned a lot. Honestly, I still learn something new every
week day. I am very much a newbie when it comes to this sport.
Running is incredibly rewarding; I’ve written a million times in a million different ways about how such a simple sport has given me the ability to completely turn my life around. However, for the majority of people, it’s not always easy. (Between you and me, that’s why the majority of people don’t even bother trying.)
Running is a great thing to pick up if you’re thinking of adding some physical activity in to your life. It’s not for everyone, but it’s getting more and more popular for a reason. I like to promote it because all you need is minimal gear, some sort of route, and about 30 minutes of spare time a day. It’s great for introverts, busy moms, people who are intimidated by gyms, poor university students, and people who have bad hand-eye coordination like me.
While I don’t consider myself an expert, I do spend a lot of time thinking, talking and learning about running. I also get asked every so often how someone who is starting from scratch (like I did on March 17, 2011) can become a runner.
All of this to say: I thought I’d share just a few of my thoughts on learning to run. Without further adieu … five tips for becoming a runner … from a non-expert:
1. Get a good pair of sneakers
Trained for my first half-marathon in these babies.
I had terrible shin splints during my Learn to Run program, and I hear the same from a lot of new runners. Most of the time, the problem is their sneakers. I finally replaced mine just in time for my first 5K and I haven’t had shin splints since.
A lot of experts have different philosophies on what type of sneakers are best, so you’ll have to take that up with them, but do yourself a favour and have yourself fitted at a good sneaker store. They won’t be cheap, but I always justify running purchases by saying it’s an investment in my health
2. Start gradually
March 17, 2011: My first day learning to run!
Some people can fall victim to “all or nothing” thinking. They think “if I can’t run 5K, I shouldn’t even bother running,” or “I’m super slow, so I’m not even going to try training for a race.”
Basically, that’s a terrible way to think, because it prevents you from ever trying something new. If you break things down into baby steps, and you feel the success of completing each small step, it suddenly makes the goal seem a lot more doable.
Those baby steps in running speak are called intervals. I used an interval timer app on my iPod touch for about the first year of running. You could set it for any run/walk intervals you wanted and it said “Run for 4 minutes” or “Walk for 1 minute” in my ear when it was time to do so. Other people like to use the “telephone pole” method: running to one pole and then walking to the next.
When I started, I didn’t run more than three times a week, and the first week was running for one minute and walking for two minutes until we got to an accumulated 20 minutes. I still run most of my Sunday long runs with Running Room and we do them at 10 minutes running, one minute walking – no matter the calibre of the runner.
You can find a theme in most beginner running programs; there is usually a combination of running and walking, and it very slowly increases over time until you almost don’t even realize how much improvement you have made.
Also, if you start out doing too much, you could get burnt out and discouraged too easily. Being a beginner and deciding you’re going to run 5K a day for a year, or sign up for a half marathon before doing other distances, will probably make you swear off the sport very quickly. I’ve seen it happen many times.
3. Follow a plan
I followed the Running Room Learn to Run program, and it is also available for purchase online, but there a ton of free programs online for getting started. Unless you have iron-clad willpower, you need to have a plan or it will be very easy to make excuses to skip runs.
Having a well-thought-out plan means you don’t have to bother deciding whether you’re going to run or not that day, and for what distance. It will also help you from getting injured or doing too much too soon.
When I’m training for something specific, I keep track of my runs on a paper calendar, as well as online at dailymile.com and sometimes on this blog. It feels really rewarding to cross them off. It’s also a good way for me to keep most of my running talk away from my general Facebook and Twitter so I don’t annoy all my friends who don’t care about such things
4. Set a goal
Goal setting! I loooove this topic. I still don’t know how I watched so many years of Oprah after school and it never occurred to me how powerful a proper goal can be. Goal setting is one of the topics discussed early on in every Running Room clinic, and for good reason. You can accomplish a lot if you set a goal in the right way.
What is the right way to set a goal? Be specific, make it attainable, and follow through. There is no way in hell I could qualify for the Boston Marathon right now with these slow legs of mine – but I might be able to at least complete a full marathon soon if I stay healthy, work on my weaknesses and follow a plan. It’s all about picking the right goal for you.
Back in the day my goal was to be able to run for ten minutes straight. Getting to that point was harder than I could have ever imagined. Then the goal became to do a 5K, even if I had to take a lot of walk breaks. Then it was a 5K with no walk breaks.
You get the picture …
I also love the idea of setting mini goals – sometimes I just aim to complete all my scheduled runs for that week. A, B, and C goals are also great – A. would be achieving your dream time, and C. would be something extremely attainable, like just completing the run regardless of your time. That way you’ll never feel too discouraged!
5. Don’t forget to work on your mental strength, too!
I can’t tell you how many people have said to me: “Oh, but I could never run like you. I hate running.” Um, DUH, everyone hates running in the beginning. I used to publicly ridicule runners in my town because I thought they were insane. (Something I’m not proud of now, but it happened. A lot.) The truth is, focusing on the negative won’t get you anywhere.
As you start running more, you should also practise mental tips and tricks. My mild-mannered mother surprised me one day over a year ago by telling me she has three strong words she repeats in her head when she is tired on a run. I have a few mantras of my own I use, too. I don’t run with music so these come in handy.
Mental toughness takes practice. I used to spend a lot of time dreading the run I had to do that night – checking the weather, thinking about how cold/hot it was outside, how my legs were sore, etc. I found if I just didn’t think that way at all, I eliminated a lot of pain and stress leading up to the run, and before I knew it it would be over with anyway.
I remember in the summer of 2012 getting so uptight because I wanted to run a 5K in 30 minutes so badly, it was actually harder to breathe while running because I was so serious about that goal. It pays to push yourself, but you’ll get better results if you also find your zen.
Most of what I know about running I learned from chatting with other runners during clinics, group runs and at races. I’m also a nerd who loves reading stuff online (hence the reason I write this blog). Here are a few of my favourite online resources:
National Post Running
Hungry Runner Girl
Le Blog Du Rob
Ali On The Run
Twenty-Six and Then Some