I am not certain I was born to be a runner, but I am stubborn and decided to challenge nature anyway. Instead, I made the choice to become a runner regardless of lack of natural-born talent, albeit after I basically kicked and screamed and said there was no way I was ever putting on a pair of running shoes. Deep down, though, I always wanted to know what the wind would feel like on my face if my feet could pass effortlessly over the trails. I imagined a point where my body moved so fluidly that my mind found a blissful void of conscious thought as my silhouette practically flew at a seven-minute mile pace amidst the backdrop of a dramatic sunset. Reality has a funny way of grounding one's thoughts, though. Running was never something that felt natural to me until last year, and as for effortless or being capable of shutting off my brain, well, let's just say that's a work in progress and will likely always be part of the challenge that I love about running.
After much trial and error over the last few years, I have definitely learned some lessons that I think are worth sharing.
- Get professionally fitted for the right pair of shoes. The correct shoes for your foot shape, arch length, pronation style, foot strike, etc., can make all the difference between a good run vs. a bad one, and they can significantly reduce strain and even injury. The random cute shoes you find on the sale rack or the pair your friend runs in likely will not work for you. Ignore the obnoxious bright yellow color, accept that you probably need to wear a running shoe in a larger size than your street shoe, and get the one that feels amazing on your feet when you actually run - not just walk - in them. Sometimes running shoes are kind of ugly, and you might just be the person who gets fitted two sizes larger than your street shoe. It's okay. It doesn't mean you have big feet. Trust the person fitting that big ugly shoe to your foot.
- Start slower than you want and don't be in a hurry to speed up. My daughter ran a couple miles without stopping the first time I took her running with me. She was only nine years old. On the other hand, It took me weeks of consistently switching off between walking and jogging before I was able to slowly jog one mile, and I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I thought I was going to die every step of that jog. Four weeks later I barely survived a three-mile run at nearly a 13-minute/mile pace, but darn it I did it. Now I can run 13.1 miles at a consistent 9:45 pace and still smile for the camera. Moral of the story? My kid's natural gift is probably not the norm. Don't be afraid to be like me and snail your way to becoming a decent runner. Speed comes with time. Or maybe not at all, and that's okay, too.
- Focus on being a strong runner, not a fast one. I cannot stress how helpful this mindset is for me. Familiarize yourself with proper running technique; learn about posture, cadence, breathing methods, and arm swing, and learn how to avoid over-striding, hunching forward, and looking down. If something hurts, slow down and reassess your form. Keep it slow and build endurance using proper form. Eventually, you will likely speed up naturally.
- Hydrate properly before, during, and after a run. Water probably isn't enough to keep you hydrated if you run long distances - your body needs salt, too. Drink something with electrolytes, and remember to hydrate the day before a long run. If you plan to run six or more miles, bring water with you or make sure you have a reliable water source along the way (if it's hot out, just play it safe and bring water even for a short run). Don't forget to rehydrate after the run, lest you be paid a visit by the horribly painful charlie horse wizard in the middle of the night. If you forget this tip, don't worry; after waking up with your calf cramping and screaming omgimgonnadie! one time after a long run, you'll remember this for next time.
- Don't let the weather stop you, dress appropriately instead. If I let every cold and rainy Seattle day stop me from getting outside, I never would have stuck with running. It is so easy to convince yourself to stay inside when the temperatures drop or the forecast calls for rain. It's a little more difficult to justify that temptation if you have all the appropriate gear. If you're not sure what to wear in bad weather, check out one of my previous posts about running in the cooler temperatures and rain here.
- Cross training can be fun. If you're like me, you automatically think, "Ugh, weights and spending time at the gym ... kill me now," when you hear the term "cross training." Cross training doesn't just need to be cursing through squats and lunges next to some dude who's farting and grunting while bench pressing twice his weight, though. Instead, consider trying out something new: hip-hop dance, Zumba, barre classes, swimming, Cross Fit, cycling, hiking, aerial arts, yoga, etc. Try a combination of things; whatever you need to keep active when you're not running.
- Sign up for a race or running event. Paying for a race or other running event gives you a goal that helps get your lazy bum out the door in a pair of running shoes when you would rather be on the couch eating Oreos. Once your goal is set, find a good training program and follow it religiously. When that race is over, sign up for another one. Always have something to work toward.
- Trade excuses to skip a run with the 10-minute rule. On the difficult days, I combat my inner whining (I don't wanna run because I have a sniffly nose and a bit of a headache, or I'm just so exhausted and I already ran yesterday...) with a simple rule: I can quit if I want to, but not until I have been running for ten minutes. Ten minutes is a minimal commitment; it's probably not going to kill me, and those sore muscles or stomachache can handle ten minutes of movement. Interestingly enough, I have never stopped at ten minutes; instead, I have always managed to run at least twice that amount of time even on the worst days.
- Join a running group or find a reliable running buddy. Misery loves company, and company can make an activity that could be miserable into a fun and enjoyable time. Not sure where to start? Do a quick internet search for running groups near you. Give them a call and ask about it. When you show up, walk your nervous self over to the group and introduce yourself. Tell them you're new and that it's totally intimidating trying this for the first time. People like honesty, and I'm willing to bet that most were scared the first time they showed up to that running group as well. I was borderline terrified the first time I showed up to my running group, and I'm pretty sure I was shaking when I walked in and introduced myself. I wasn't a strong runner, and I was certain I was going to poop out at mile one when I started at a pace quicker than usual. Six miles later, I finished with the store owner on one side and one of the employees on the other side of me. I'd run faster than I ever had, managed to throw a few words into the conversation between gasping breaths, and was told that I was a much better runner than I gave myself credit for. I was hooked after that, and now my running buddies are like a second family.
- Know when to give yourself a break. Look - sometimes you legitimately need a break. Most of the time, that voice inside is just encouraging you to be lazy when you really need to get out the door, but sometimes you do need a break. If you're running a fever or expelling liquid out of either end, stay in bed. If your knee is bothering you, your lower back hurts when you walk, or you have a blister the size of the moon on your foot, it's okay to take a rest day. If you feel bad about skipping a run, go for a walk or do some yoga instead.
- Occasionally treat yourself. A treat doesn't need to be a donut; rather, think of it as a reward for hard work. Treat yourself to a massage when everything hurts, buy yourself that shiny new running shirt, or allow yourself a day of lounging in your pajamas while soaking your feet in a pot of hot water and epsom salt as you watch a movie after a big race. Don't overdo the treats, though. Save them for the days you really need them, such as after you reach a goal.
I'd love to know if you have any favorite running tips. Please don't be shy and feel free to share in the comments.