If you’ve ever thought about running, now’s the time to get started. You can, you can! Here’s my own two cents guide for beginning runners.
Getting a Running Start
So, you want to start running, eh? Well then, assuming this would be okay with your doctor, you’re hoping to run regularly (not just two times a year!), and you’ve actually seen other people running, let’s get started!
Under-Do It at First
Running, or jogging, can be strenuous and difficult at the beginning, but if you start off slow, challenge yourself little by little, allow your body time to build strength, and accomplish small goals first, you’re bound to get hooked!
Set yourself up for success by setting a one-mile goal at an easy pace rather than a five mile one, running as fast as you can. If you haven’t run in a long time, or if you’re completely new to running, you’ll end up quitting after day one if your mileage is too much and your pace is too fast. For the very beginners, during your first days of running, find your mile route, then jog a block, walk a block, jog a block…etc. After you find a comfortable pace where you’re not breathing too hard, jog two blocks at a time before fast walking, and keep adding blocks until you’re able to jog the whole mile. Download an app such as Map My Run or Nike to help you log your routes, miles, and progress.
When you’ve worked up to jogging an entire mile regularly, start adding mileage, one at a time, every week, until you’ve hit your goal or destination. It’s best to decide on a weekly running routine, in order for you to build endurance and keep it. Too much time in between runs will have you feeling like you’re starting over again. I suggest running at least 3 times a week, or every other day. I don’t recommend running on more than two consecutive days at a time, especially if you’re putting in 3 or more miles. If you want to keep running and lessen the possibility of injuries, it is crucial to give your body a recovery period in between runs. Use those off days to do other physical activity such as yoga, hiking, surfing, cycling- or whatever you enjoy doing.
Upping the Ante
When you’ve decided it’s time to up your mileage, set your site on a destination half way out. If you plan on running three miles, tell yourself that you’re not going to turn around or loop back until that 1.5 mile half point, NO MATTER WHAT. If you set your mind on four miles, cover those miles even if you have to walk most of it! You’ll feel more accomplished finishing your goal rather than whether or not you ran the whole thing. Working up to run for an entire 3 or more miles takes strength and grit, which both happen over the time your body needs to prepare for it. But hear me out on this: Finishing is everything. Avoid setting limitations or beating yourself up for not running the whole thing- just get there. Set your goal and whether you’re running, jogging, walking, or crawling, keeping telling yourself, I CAN!
Running is hard. It can be hard on your body, your lungs, and your psyche, especially if you don’t take it easy at first and build up strength and tolerance over time. Have you ever seen a runner bent over 45 degrees from the waist, catching air like a carp, and vibrating the earth with a Clydesdale stomp? Whether you have or haven’t, don’t let that be you. On the other hand, have you ever noticed upright runners cruising lightly on their feet, into their music or surroundings, mouths barely open, breathing inaudibly? This is how you want to be- more like the form of a long distance runner. Whatever your mileage might be, avoid power stomping, run smoothly, notice your surroundings, have fun, and smile. If you are running so hard that you can’t say “good morning (afternoon, evening)” to someone coming the opposite way, smile at a cute kid or puppy as you pass by, or notice the cool details along the route like the ocean waves or creative store fronts, then there’s a problem. You’re working too hard. Running can be a cathartic experience, leaving you feeling focused and energized for the rest of your day.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch!
Many sports injuries result from not stretching properly or regularly. Stretching your muscles during and after a run will help relieve soreness, prevent pulled muscles, keep your tendons from tensing up, and your hips open. Take a few minutes to stretch in the beginning of your run, once your body has warmed up a bit. After completing your run, spend a good 15-20 minutes stretching and perhaps even rolling on a hard foam roller. Many runners fail to do this and suffer from painfully tight muscles. Stretching will help muscles and tendons keep their elasticity, treat tendonitis, relieve muscle cramps, and feel great, but it isn’t the cure all. Common runner injuries such as shin splints, Plantar fasciitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), ankle sprains, and stress fractures are often caused by overdoing it.
I’m not a fan of gyms and treadmills, although I have used them at hotels while traveling during harsh winters, and at night during my son’s hockey practices. Where and when you run is your choice, however, I urge you to get outside! Cruise hills, run trails, jog the strand, tour the town, check out other front yards, and feel the sun or cold.
The Right Running Gear
Invest in getting the right gear to set you up for success. Comfort is important, as well as style. Running wear is kind of goofy and flamboyant, but I’ve embraced sporting the vibrant colors, water bottle belts, phone armbands, and sock booties.
Running shoes are sturdy, but not built to last. Depending on the style, brand, quality, runner gait, and distance, running shoes can last anywhere between 50-200 miles. I average between 25-40 miles a week throughout the year, and I change out my running shoes every couple of months.-Not because they’re cheap, but because they’re made to be light and airy, so they just don’t last. When buying running shoes, make sure they’re comfortable, heels and toes don’t rub or feel tight, get a half to a full size larger since feet swell during continuous impact, and don’t go cheap- you get what you pay for. So yeah, it sucks having to change out my expensive running shoes so often, but it’s worth it. Usually, shoes that are worn-in means comfort. In the running world, worn-in means less cushion, knee pain, and achy hips.
When you go to the shoe store, try on lots of different brands and ignore the crazy colors and designs. Remember, it’s all about comfort. Sometimes I luck out with a mellow color like black and gray, but other times, I end up with something ridiculous, like Barney purple and fluorescent green!
Wearing the right clothing is almost as important (if not equally) as wearing the right shoes. Avoid 100% cotton, baggy sweats, or anything that will make you over- heat or cause hypothermia by staying wet. Sweat wicking material is the best for all types of weather. Try different brands and styles since not all running shorts and tights fit the same. Explore until you find what’s best for you.
Runners cannot eat whatever they want- at least, they shouldn’t. Just because you ran, doesn’t mean you should eat half a pizza. What you put in your body is going to affect your performance whether you’re running one mile and looking to add on, or getting ready for a marathon. It’s always important, regardless of what activity you do or how hard you train, to eat wholesome, natural foods. Indulge in raw organic vegetables, lean proteins, fruits, and plenty of water. Try to stay away from fast food, sodas, fattening carbs, processed food- you know, the bad stuff. Whether you want to start running to stay healthy and fit, lose weight, or ward off stress and anxiety, what you put inside of your body will either enhance or negate your efforts.
When you’re running around town, keep this in mind: No one sees you. Of course guys and gals might be checking you out, duh! But, drivers don’t see you. Cyclists don’t see you. Heck, sometimes other runners don’t see you! Never assume that someone is going to stop, or that cars will halt at red lights. I have a lot of experience of almost getting run over- even by people who have made eye contact with me.
If you prefer to wear headphones while running, make sure your music is low enough that you can hear your surroundings. There’s a lot going on out there and the only one who will look out for you, is you.
I don’t recommend running at night or on dark early mornings, but if you must, wear reflective gear and carry pepper spray, no matter what area you’re running in. You want to see the skunk before it sees you, avoid twisting an ankle in a pothole, and have some protection against a dangerous encounter.
Keep it Up!
The most important thing about starting a running routine is sticking with it. Incorporate running into the active lifestyle you desire. You’re most likely to keep running if you don’t overdo it, listen to your body, wear the right gear, eat well, and pay attention to and enjoy your surroundings. When you start accomplishing your goals, one mile at a time, you might start thinking of signing up for a community 5K or 10K for fun, as a personal challenge, or both. Gaining mileage and a faster pace start with training, and the motivation for training usually begins with an event in mind. You may even decide to join a local running group. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll run a half or full marathon! With the right mindset, anything is possible.
Who Am I Anyway?
To sum it up, I’m a runner, teacher, mom, urban farmer, yogi, traveler, small wave surfer, writer, dog lover, and best friend. I ran cross-country and track in high school, and hated it. I didn’t make the dance team freshmen year, so I ran to avoid wearing a PE uniform- granted, the polyester running outfit wasn’t that cool either! I enjoyed the running part, but dreaded running meets, races, and competitions. I ran on and off during my 20’s, caught the running bug by age 30, and have been running consistently ever since. Between then and now, I have run (and completed) 15 full marathons, a couple of half-marathons, and multiple 5Ks, and 10Ks. In adulthood, I found that I enjoy setting my own goals and competing with myself. Although it’s a love-hate relationship, running has become a lifetime commitment, as long as I can stay on my feet!