Running can be pretty intimidating.
First of all, it's just plain hard. The uphills make your quads burn, the downhills make your knees ache, and sometimes you feel like you just cannot catch your breath. And just when you get the hang out it, a nagging ache turns your run into a limping walk home. Injuries not only hurt your body, but test your motivation to continue the sport at all.
But that's the bad stuff. Use the tips below to get through the rough patches that come with any new endeavor, so you can soak up that post-run adrenaline rush, cruise past the guy who sped by you only a month ago, and learn to love lacing up those shoes and heading out the door.
1. Start Slow
While you may think, "No kidding, slow's the only gear I got," what this means is to start so that you feel you are running slowly. The first five-plus minutes of your run - and runs in general for the first couple of weeks - should be at a pace where you feel as comfortable as possible. (And don't be alarmed if you are completely out of breath and feel pretty awkward at the beginning of the run. This is normal, as it takes the body a while to get rolling.)
Always start either chatting with a friend or with the ability to hold a conversation. This will help keep your body in check. The speed will come later as you get used to running or later in the run when you naturally pick up the pace. Just take your time and FEEL GOOD!
Amazingly True Story
It was 1976. Patti Catalono was 23 years old, 50 pounds overweight, and she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. She had never run a step in her life.
Patti had read that running was an easy way to lose weight, so one day Patti laced up her work shoes and took off down the road for the first time. Six months later, she won her first race. So began one of the most memorable careers in U.S. history.
At one point, Patti held every American record from the five mile to the marathon--including world records in the half-marathon and 30k--and from April 1980 to April 1981, she won 44 of the 48 races she entered. She was the first American woman to run under 2:30 for the marathon and the first to earn a corporate sponsorship (Nike). Patti is proof that it's never too late to lace 'em up and head out the door.
2. Walk, if Necessary
Many runners follow a run-walk-run pattern. If you are overwhelmed with the idea of running for 20 minutes straight, just break it up into segments: 4x3 minutes of running with 2 minutes of walking inbetween or something of that nature.
It's ok to walk! It's still moving forward and you are still a runner! If you find that the walking designated on your schedule day seems like too much or too little, just tweak it a bit to make it through the time or distance goal for the day. Eventually, the proportions will lean more towards running. Then before you know it, you will complete a full run without stopping.
3. Set Running Goals
Pick a race in the future that seems a little daunting, but not impossible. Use the upcoming event as motivation to get out the door each day.
Let's not forget (ever) that running is a sport. So no matter the reason for starting up now - weight loss, health, friends, athletic interest, etc. - it is always helpful to take advantage of our natural competitive spirit. Goals like "lose five pounds" are tough motivators, since progress may be slow and feel somewhat limited. But when it is dark, cold or lonely, having that race in the future will keep you honest and make it seem less like work and more like sport. And everyone likes sports!
Think of yourself as an athlete, first and foremost.
4. Find a Running Buddy
Find a running friend around your same ability (or willing to pick it up or slow it down occasionally) and choose a meeting time/place to run a few times each week. Not only will the run itself be enjoyable, but knowing that your friend will be waiting for you - sans cell phone - at your spot at 6:30 a.m. is a pretty good reason to drag yourself out of bed. You can share a goal (the July 4th 5k) or motivation (a healthy heart). Make sure the friend is dependable, not too competitive with you, and a good talker!
5. Learn to Listen to Your Body
You have to know when to push and when to rest. It is a precarious battle that both beginning and elite runners struggle to balance. However, the more honest and objective you can be in regards to your own body and training, the better of a runner you will become.
Signs of overtraining include a high morning heart rate (instead of getting lower like it should with increased fitness), frequent colds and minor illness, overall fatigue, and insomnia. But of course, all of these "symptoms" can be tied to aspects of life unrelated to running. The message? You have to figure out when rest is an excuse and when it is 100% necessary.
Most prefer to schedule rest to prevent the issue completely. Start off scheduling a few days of complete rest a week, see how your body responds, and plan accordingly. Talk to fellow runners and run your questions by them. They are probably dealing with concerns of their own and need an objective ear to help sort things out.
But running is not all about wariness and over-precaution either. If you feel unexpectedly amazing during a run, go for it! That is part of the fun.
6. Find the Right Running Shoes
Then never let them go…until you hit the 300-mile mark, that is. That is how long the average shoe lasts, and it is very important to change shoes to prevent injury. But once you find the shoe that works for you, stick with that style or generation (a generation is a series of shoes made by a certain company).
How do you find the right pair? The best thing to do is find a running store that does free gait-analysis. The store helpers are trained to watch how your foot plants during a run and have treadmills for real feedback on form, arch type, and what shoes may or may not work.
You can also figure out if you have a flat, normal, or high arch with a simple "Wet-Test" as seen in the run.iSport.com guide, "Getting the Right Pair of Shoes."
7. Run Against Traffic
Pretty straightforward. Always run so that you face the oncoming car. This goes a long way in avoiding accidents and helps both parties be more aware of the other.
8. Drink a Lot More
Water, that is (of course). The usual rule is that if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated, so this is another one of those times where you can avoid any problems just by thinking ahead and developing new habits.
There is no magic equation, but the general rule of thumb is about 500ml (1/2 Nalgiene), two hours before you run with a quick, 150ml within 30 minutes of running. After the run, make sure to drink at least 500ml right away. Keep fluids on hand so that you can drink consistantly throughout the day.
If you are running more than 30 minutes, if the heat is pretty extreme, or your effort was very high (a race or workout), add sports drinks to the mix to make sure your electrolytes are maintained.
9. Embrace the Running Community
One of the great things about running is that it is a great equalizer. Everyone runs the same distance and experiences many of the same ups and downs, regardless of whether you finish a 5k in 13 or 35 minutes.
The finish line at the end of the race is usually the picture of unmitigated emotions, as physical exhaustion and endorphins take over. So don't be self-conscious. Chances are, someone in front or behind you is thinking or doing the exact same thing and you never know when you might meet a new running buddy!
It's amazing what a good adrenaline rush will do for you.
10. Enjoy the Process
Ok, so Tip No. 3 was all about goals…but like anything in life, it is always a good idea to appreciate and enjoy the journey. Realize what a fantastic thing it is to run. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with each step, take a moment to look at the view, and keep track of your progress. It will be amazing to look back and see how far you've come and what might lie ahead!