Guest post: Tips for New Runners

With it being HLS weekend, I am currently running amuck (amuck amuck a la SJP in Hocus Pocus) in Philly. Since this weekend is all about the blends (blog friends) new and old, the fantabulous Dawn from Running at Dawn is “taking over” for today’s post.


Tips for New Runners

About eight years ago, I got into running. I wish I had some inspiring story about it, but really? I was mostly just bored. I’d been out of college for a few years and was working an uninspiring desk job. When I saw a sign in the mall for a local 5k, I decided that I was going to do it, despite the fact that I’d spent most of my life desperately avoiding running in all its many forms. I still can’t tell you what came over me, but somehow? It stuck. That 5k turned into another which turned into a half marathon and then a marathon and I’m still going strong, despite a rough patch of several injuries. I’ve recently had the unique opportunity to get back to my beginning running roots as I had knee surgery earlier this year. Between the injury which required the surgery and the recovery from the procedure itself, I’ve basically had to start over. However, I’ve learned a thing or two over the past several years, and I’m here to share that with you. Whether you’ve already found your running groove or are still working up to it, here’s a few tips to help you down that road.

Don’t overdo it. It’s tempting to jump in full-throttle and say you’re going to run every day, but start with just 30 minutes, three times a week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but, believe it or not, it’s enough to get you in shape to run a 5k. If you want to work out more often than three times a week, mix running up with something like strength training, yoga, swimming, or biking. That’ll keep your body moving but give you some time to recover in between runs.

Also on that note, don’t jump in and try to run for 30 minutes solid your first time out. Partly because this is harder than it sounds, even if you’re in fantastic shape. However, the biggest problem here is that running can be very hard on your joints, especially if your body isn’t used to it. Starting with a walk/run program (I really like this one from CoolRunning) lets your body gradually adapt to the stresses of running while you improve your aerobic fitness.

Have a plan. OK, so you’re going to run three times a week. You’ve got your run/walk program picked out. Instead of winging it, pick your three “run” days ahead of time and mark them on your calendar. If you can, go one step further and decide what time you’ll go running on those days and put that in your calendar as well. Ideally, you’ll be able to run the same three days every week around the same time. That sort of consistency will make it that much easier to incorporate running into your life and make it part of your routine. However, when you’re looking at your schedule and trying to figure out where running fits in….

Be realistic. Getting up at 5 a.m. to run before work may be the easiest way to add it to your schedule, but if you’re the sort of person who is hitting the snooze button and dragging yourself out of bed 10 minutes before you have to leave the house? Early morning running is probably not going to be something that you’re going to enjoy. Or stick with. Try running right after work or on your lunch hour. Unless you’re a super-heavy sweater, a quick wipe down with some baby wipes and a fresh application of deodorant will get you clean enough to return to the office for the afternoon. (You can also buy wipes specially made for this purpose, if you so desire. That said, I’ve never tried them, so I don’t know if they’re worth the extra cost over generic wipes.)

Celebrate your successes (i.e., bribe yourself). Reward yourself for sticking to your program. Treat yourself to a pedicure or a cute new piece of workout gear after your first couple of weeks. Been sticking with it for a month or two? Invest in some good running shoes or sign up for that local 5k you’ve been eyeing. You don’t even have to be able to run the whole thing to participate. Every 5k I’ve ever done has had a healthy dose of walkers. Run what you can, walk when you need to, and enjoy the experience.

A quick note on running shoes: I firmly believe that if you’re going to be running or walking on a regular basis, it’s worth it to invest in a good pair of shoes. However, as most pairs of running or walking shoes can set you back $100, it doesn’t always fit into the budget. Feel free to run in whatever you have to get started, but once it becomes clear that this is something you’re going to stick with? Head to a specialty running store (not a big-box general sports store) and get yourself fitted in something designed for running. Not only will your feet thank you, but running in the right shoes can also reduce the risk of injuries to your knees, hips and back.

But don’t get discouraged by your failures. Everyone has bad weeks. Sometimes life, work, illness or some unholy combination of all of them can get in the way and throw you off your new routine. Don’t sweat it. Whether you’ve missed a day or a week (or more….. seriously, it happens to all of us), jump back into it as soon as you can. Maybe you need to go back and repeat a week or two of your run/walk program. That’s fine. Maybe you’ve got a super-busy day and you can only get out for 15 minutes instead of 30. That’s fine, too. Really, the only failure is giving up completely. As long as you can get back into the swing of things – even if it means starting your program over from step 1 – you’re doing awesome.

Expect it to suck sometimes. I know, I’m supposed to be helping you, not scaring you, but this is a very important lesson we all have to learn. Whether you’ve been running for 2 days or 20 years, there are always going to be runs that just flat out suck. Maybe you’re tired or hungover, or maybe the yardwork you did yesterday just zapped everything out of your legs, or maybe there’s absolutely no reason for it but, man, you are just NOT feeling it today. It’s fine. It doesn’t mean that running isn’t for you or that it’s never going to get better. It’s just one of those things, and as cheesy as it sounds, the bad runs make the good ones seem that much better.

However, if you’ve had a string of bad runs for several days in a row, it’s a sign that you’re overdoing it. Take a few extra days of rest and re-examine your routine. If you’re working out on your non-running days, make one or two of those days a total rest day. If you are resting on those non-running days, either step back a week or repeat the current week of your run/walk plan until your body catches up. Lastly, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and that you’re not coming down with anything. I’ve discovered that the first sign of an impending cold is a series of really crappy runs. (For the ladies: I’ve also discovered that Aunt Flo can make you feel like complete crap during any sort of exercise. Don’t be afraid to take a week off and let it pass.)

Give your body time to recover. I talked a bit about this above, but making sure your body has enough time and rest to recover in between runs is so important, I’m going to mention it again. It’s also the hardest thing to get beginners to do, because they’re afraid that they’ll either lose all the fitness they’ve worked so hard for or that their entire routine will fall apart if they stop for some reason. Relax. Taking a week off because you have a cold will not make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Besides, would you rather spend a week not running and resting while the cold passes through quickly, or three weeks having really bad runs while the cold lingers?

You’re already a “real” runner. It doesn’t matter if you do a million races in your life or none. It doesn’t matter if you can run for 20 miles without stopping or if you always take a walk break every 3 minutes. If you have the desire and motivation to lace up those shoes and get your body moving? You’re a runner. Welcome to the club.

Dawn is a certified triathlon coach and physical therapy student living just outside of Seattle. When she’s not running or studying, she can be found hanging out with her husband and their two cats. She blogs about balancing school, life and everything else and offers coaching services at her site Running at Dawn. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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