A good friend of mine recently asked me for a few tips on how to get started running. At first I was a little surprised because I was unaware that I had any “street cred” as a runner, but I was also a little flattered so I went ahead and wrote down the first few things that came to mind. Then I realized that I actually did have something to say about running. After all, I have been running for about ten years now, so it’s not unlikely that I would have picked up a few pointers along the way. As I wrote I remembered all the pitfalls I ran into when I first took up running, and I thought to myself, “it sure would have been nice to have had a little guidance when I laced up my first pair of running boots (I’ll explain later)” So I thought I might as well share some of this knowledge. I am not a professional athlete and I have had no formal training with anything related to running. I am just a regular joe who decided pounding out a few miles on the asphalt every other day would be a good way to kill some time.
First off, running is awesome… you can do it anywhere, it’s free and all you need is your feet. I’ll tell you how i started. The first time I got it in my head to run I weighed about 230 lbs and I hadn’t done anything more strenuous than trying to carry in all the groceries in one trip since I quit wrestling five years earlier. Most people are probably in better shape than that, but I still wouldn’t recommend doing what I did, and just heading out the door to run four miles with nothing but high hopes and broken dreams… Those were the most miserable four miles of my life and I walked all of them.
After my first failed attempt, I reevaluated my reality and decided maybe I should only run one to two miles instead, so that’s what I did. However, I was still dead set on running that four mile loop, so I decided that every day I would run a little farther than the day before, even if it was only by a few extra feet. I also tried to get my running done in the morning before my day had a chance to get messed up, and that seemed to work well for me. I’ve been running ever since, but it’s been a rocky road. I started running in steel toed boots and ended up tearing my achilles tendon from my heel. That was quite painful and took a while to get better. I learned the hard way that it pays to take good care of your feet. The other thing I had a tough time figuring out was what pace to keep. Run too fast, and you’re gassed the whole time. Run too slow, and you won’t get a good workout. As it turns out, it was much easier for me to worry about my breathing rather than how fast I was running, which is important because breathing is a big deal. Most people will tell you that you should run at a pace which just barely allows you to hold a conversation if you wanted to, but they don’t tell you how to breathe, which is also important. I’ve found the best way to time my breathing is with my stride. So I pick a foot, and every time it hits the ground I alternate my breath. So the first time it hits the ground I breathe in, then the next time it hits the ground I breathe out. When you’re running it would go like this…
breathe in > right > left
breathe out > right > left
It sounds silly, but breathing is a very important part, It was a little weird at first because I was not used to paying attention to my breathing. Eventually I got used to it and now I don’t even think about it. After I got over those few basic hurdles I was literally off and running, but I continued to pick things up along the way and learned a general set of dos and don’ts when it comes to running. The top ten most important things I’ve discovered are as follows:
- pick a realistic goal to start with and work toward an ultimate goal – it can be really discouraging to fall short of your goals. This doesn’t mean don’t aim high, but rather it’s better to take baby steps toward achieving a main goal rather than trying to overreach and falling short. What works for me, is to pick a main goal that is just out of reach. then I devise a plan of attack in order to attain that goal. This plan of attack consists of smaller, readily achievable goals that if done successfully and consistently will inevitably allow me to gain the strength necessary to achieve my main goal. I just use common sense when setting these goals as well. I didn’t have to be a running coach or an athlete to realize that while I wasn’t able to run four miles, if I just ran what I could and then added to it every day, eventually the extra feet would add up to four miles.
- get a good pair of shoes - I learned this lesson the hard way. Your feet are the most important equipment to maintain if you’re going to be a runner. Blisters, sprains, and torn tendons are obviously very debilitating when depending on your feet to carry you that extra mile. Injuries can be very frustrating. They need time to heal which usually means time off running, which equates to lost conditioning. This can be a very costly set back and it hurts to know all of your hard work and progress is slowly degrading. So in order to keep injuries to a minimum it pays to invest in a good pair of running shoes. There are guides all over the net to help you pick the right shoes for you, and some running stores will even examine your gate and running style on a treadmill in order to help you find the perfect pair of shoes.
- breathe - This one sounds obvious, but it wasn’t to me. You can live for a little over a month with out food, three days with out water, but after three minutes without oxygen, your brain will start to suffer irreversible damage and most likely you’ll die. So I would say that breathing is the foundation of life and everything we do. The best way I’ve found to breath is to alternate my breath with each stride.
- work out in the mornings - Morning workouts kick start your metabolism for the day, and if you’re aim is to lose weight you should also run on an empty stomach. this will force your body to access it’s stubborn fat stores for energy. Also, I found that I can always plan my mornings to go the way I want. If I wait until the evening it’s much more likely that something will come up which will keep me from running. Plus, no matter how crappy your day goes if you ran in the morning, at least you accomplished something, and that you can feel good about.
- stay accountable – If you can keep yourself accountable great, but I can’t. Tell as many people as you can that you’re going to start running. Then if you start to slack off you’ll have to answer to somebody. If you’ve been slacking, whenever your friends ask you how your running is going you can lie and tell them its great or tell them that you’re a poser and haven’t been doing it. Either way you’ll feel like a douche bag, and hopefully the avoidance of such douche baggery will be a good incentive to keep running.
- reward yourself – It has been proven that positive reineforcment is much more effective at altering behavior than anything else. So every time you reach a new goal give yourself a little treat (not food) so when you finally get to that four mile mark or whatever your personal goal is, go ahead and get the full wax and interior shampoo at the car wash next time… you earned it!
- dont over do it – In order for your new regimen to be effective you should run at least three days a week, but no more than six. Your body needs time to rest. If you do run six days a week don’t go full bore everyday. If you go hard one day take it a little easy the next day and let your body recover. Honestly, working out hard is traumatic and damaging to your body. If it wasn’t your body would have no need to adapt or grow stronger. Your performance will improve a lot faster if you give your body has a chance to heal. If you are only running three days a week try to go every other day. Spread it out, and don’t take more than two days in a row off or you’ll start to loose conditioning
- stretch – This is nobody’s favorite part and it’s the easiest to skip, but it’s still important. Stretching helps keep you limber, which can prevent pulled muscles that can keep you off your feet for a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the severity. I always stretch after my run, some people say to do it before and after, but i just do it after and i haven’t had any problems. Muscles stretch better when they’re warm anyway (like after a run) and stretching helps to work out toxins that have built up in your overworked muscles, as well as preventing the muscles from tightening up as they recover.
- watch what you eat – All the running in the world wont help you if you down a dozen glazed donuts after every mini marathon Plus, eating crappy just makes you feel crappy which will make your run crappy. You don’t have to count calories and all that, just use some common sense when you make your food choices.
- keep a log – It’s easier to get where you’re going if you know where you’ve been. Your log doesn’t have to be fancy, just get a notebook and write down when, how long, and how far you ran, along with any notes on how you felt and maybe why you think you felt that way. Then you’ll have some way to gauge your progress.
One thing I forgot to mention, is that the hardest thing is going to be making a habit out of running. you need to make it a part of your routine. So try to plan the same days and times to run every week. Set aside a half hour, and no matter what, if nothing else, be present for your workout. Showing up is half the battle, even if you don’t want to run and your all pissed off, when that half hour comes around put your shoes on and at least walk around or just stand there in your shoes and bitch about how much you don’t want to run. What’s important is that you’ll get in a the habit of setting aside some time to workout. The biggest excuse I hear when people don’t want to work out is “I don’t have the time.” If you develop a habit of setting aside a half hour to workout 3 to 6 times a week you’ll be ahead of the game because the truth is you always have time you just have to make it.
good luck, and happy trails