A few of you have recently asked me for advice for a runner just starting out. I want to first congratulate you on your decision to kick some asphalt. The following tips should get you well on your way to becoming a smelly, sweaty, running fanatic.
1. Get a move on. The hardest thing about running is lacing up your shoes and heading out the door. Some tricks I use to actually start: I lay out my running clothes and shoes before I go to bed. I also go to bed earlier than usual. Now, if you are not a morning person, but want/need to run in the mornings, I recommend gradually waking up earlier—don’t try to pull a hardcore, 5:30am 6 mile run before work at 8am if you normally don’t get up until 7am. Instead, start with a short, 30 minute run at 6:30 (or even a 20 minute run, as I like to sneak in sometimes when I just need to snooze a little more). For those of you who don't do morning anything, I find any run after work to be highly beneficial in stress relief. You will always feel better after a run, even a quick one.
2. Fuel before you fly. Running is one of those activities that you don’t want to skip out on your carbs and protein before your run. You don’t have to eat a giant breakfast, but you do need SOMETHING in your stomach 30 minutes prior, and sorry carb-o-phobes, you DO need your carbs for running. Why? Because your body goes through different energy stores throughout the duration of your run, and that bowl of oatmeal is going to break you out of the 30-40 minute crash zone and give you a second wind when you need it most. Now, if you don’t ever have any intention of running for longer than 10-20 minutes at a time, fine, do what you want. But if you don’t eat enough for a long run, don’t blame me if you end up pulling over to the side of the sidewalk because of that nauseous feeling you’ll get. Try a banana and some oatmeal, or yogurt and granola with a piece of fruit, or cereal with strawberries, etc. A little bite before you stride, and you can (and should) eat more when you finish your run.
3. Don’t worry about how fast you are running. Instead, make a goal based on time intervals that you know you can reach. For example, a lot of runners start off walking for five minutes, running for two, walking again, running again, etc. This is an effective way to build up those running legs. Many people can do this on-off routine for at least 10-20 minutes. This is how I started. Gradually build up on the amount of total running time until you can run (at whatever pace) for a straight 20 minutes. Then, young grasshopper, you can work on speed.
4. Again, set a time goal as opposed to a distance goal, like, today, I will run for 30 minutes at an easy pace. When you start running, you are building up cardiovascular strength, so even if your goal is one mile, that mile can be daunting for your heart if you didn’t do ANY cardiovascular activity prior to deciding to run (of course, this will vary according to fitness level, but it is important to keep in mind so you don’t get discouraged). You are doing something new for your body! Congratulations! You will get better and faster in time, so don’t worry if you feel slow; we all had to start somewhere.
5. You will always feel better after a run, even an imperfect one. This is my favorite things about running. Even if you have to stop and walk for a minute, remember that professional athletes need to do this sometimes during their training. There are so many potential hang-ups in running—side stitches and cramping, unexpected weather, foot cramps, blisters, etc. Expect to experience all of these eventually in your running lifespan. You must not worry about them, as they happen to every runner, and sometimes one or more of these issues can be so painful you will have to stop and walk for a bit. Don’t sweat it; think of it as injury prevention. It happens to the best of us, and it will make you a stronger runner.
5. Proper shoes for your feet are worth it. Go to a specialty shop and get your stride tested. A good running store will video your stride, and put you in a pair of shoes appropriate for your feet. Expect to spend around 80-100 bucks for a good pair of running shoes, but trust that they will treat your feet like the bee’s knees, and a reputable running shop will let you return them after a week if for whatever reason your feet don’t take with the shoe (Note: poor running shoes can lead to pain in not only your feet, but your calves, knees, shins, joints, etc.).
Last Words: After my first race, I had an intense desire to know about what the heck I was doing to my body. READ about what you are DOING; you will do it better, and, your desire to do it will increase because you have a better understanding of what your body is doing. It’s a win-win situation.
When I started running, I didn’t think of it the way I do now. I actually didn't think too much about it at all, except that I just kept setting small goals for myself. After I reached several small goals, I set one giant one--running the NYC Marathon--and I did it! You can do it, too.