It was sometime like Spring or Summer of maybe 2010 when I first decided I wanted to “become a runner.” I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember my husband met a woman through work who exercised fanatically like I did. He thought we would get along well. Long story short, we ended up deciding we would “become” runners together and the rest is history. Both of us had ran in the past, but we had never committed to running or completed a race. Keep in mind, you don’t have to do either of those things, nor do you have to be a exercise fanatic. If you just want to become a sporadic runner, that’s great too. But we went all in.
We got the shoes, we got the clothes, and we googled running related things incessantly. We never missed a running date, we nursed some injuries and mistakenly pushed through others. There was also a lot of special running gear purchased (really expensive socks and such). Then we traveled hours upon hours to participate in around 15 different races. We did all the running related things. So, even though I still don’t consider myself an expert runner by any means, I’ve got some experience under my belt and I’d love to help get all you beginner runners off to a great start. So here goes, happy running!
BECOMING A RUNNER
The first thing you should know is that all it takes to “become” a runner is for you to start running. Bam. You’re a runner. You don’t have to be good at it, you don’t have to reach a certain point before you can claim the runner label. You just need to incorporate running into the type of movement you employ to get from point A to point B. Ta-da. Look at you, now you’re a runner.
The running community, as I have experienced it, is one of the most welcoming communities ever. By community I just mean runners I have met here and there and everywhere that I’ve ran into runners (no pun intended). They are supportive, encouraging, and most of all excited that you have decided to try to love running like they do. So don’t worry that the man you see running in your neighborhood 7 days a week, 5 miles a day will roll his eyes at you. Don’t think that the advanced runners will scoff at your far inferior 5k time. There’s no need to worry if you don’t look like a runner. Anyone can be a runner, so what do runners even look like anyway?
With all that out of the way, let’s move into the practical things. There are things you need and things you don’t need. Some things you should do and some that you don’t need to worry about at all, or just yet. Just like anything new, making sure you’re focusing on the right things is important if you don’t want to end up overwhelmed, frustrated, and wanting to quit. Running can become so super technical. Trust me when I say that you do not what to go there yet. Let yourself be a beginner. Give your mind and, most importantly, your body time to get acclimated to the changes you’ll experience when you start running.
BENEFITS OF RUNNING
Whether running has any benefits at all in comparison to other forms of cardiovascular exercise has been long debated. You can find all sorts of conflicting information anywhere you look and from anyone you talk to. Here are some points that I think are important about running:
- Increases confidence and boosts mood (good for mental health)
- Impact exercise which increases bone density (amount of impact can be regulated by running on different surfaces and learning to land properly)
- Regular running results in a lower resting heart rate, lower bad cholesterol in your blood, and lower blood pressure
- Regular runners often experience better sleep which results in a clearer focus and a more productive life
THINGS BEGINNER RUNNERS NEED TO KNOW
HAVE A GOAL AND A PLAN
The first thing I did after I decided I was going to “become a runner” was a Google search for a beginner running plan. These days, with the world at our fingertips on the internet, I think most people’s first step in any new endeavor is to search for a how-to guide. We don’t have to go into anything blind anymore. I think that’s great. Take advantage of what those who have gone before you have learned.
Warning: there are literally millions (if not more) people offering up information on the internet about any given topic. Right now, at the beginning, don’t let yourself dig too deep into running. I’m telling you, it can become so technical and you can so easily become overwhelmed and frustrated. Keep it super simple in the beginning.
First decide on a goal. Do you want to occasionally incorporate running into your routine? Maybe you want to make it a goal to run your first 5K race. It could be that you strictly have a weight loss goal and you’re hoping running will boost your progress. Either way, you need a plan. Running is not something to go at full force from day one. Even if something like weight loss is your only goal, you’ll still need to build up your strength, endurance, and become acclimated to the different effects running will have on your body.
A running plan will help you build up to your goal at a safe and effective pace, which I cannot stress enough is imperative for your long term success as a runner.
SHOES DO MATTER
It’s no secret among those who know me that I love shoes. I’m down for new shoes for any occasion or no occasion at all. But when I say shoes matter in running I mean they actually matter. Running shoes should be specific to you. While the anatomy of running is the same for all of us, our weight, our stride, our gait, the way we land on our feet, the mileage we’ll be putting on our shoes, and all sorts of other things are different. There is no perfect running shoe, but having the wrong ones can definitely derail your experience, cause injury, or even make running harder.
So do running shoes that are specific to you sound expensive? They can be but they don’t have to be. Go to a running store and ask them to help you find the right shoes. Some will just watch you walk and some have a whole set up, treadmill and all, where they’ll evaluate the way you run. They will give you options at different price points (at least this has been my experience). Of course I really wanted the most expensive ones they recommended for me so I didn’t purchase any in the store. Pro money saving tip: buy online. I found the same shoes over $40 cheaper.
I know some of you might live in town where there are no running stores. This was actually the case for me at the time. So the next time I went out of town I planned ahead to make time to stop by a running store. If this isn’t an option for you either, a last resort might be to find one of those Dr. Scholls Kiosks (I think a lot of Walmart stores still have them) and get yourself fitted for some excellent inserts. That will at least give you the support you need. I would suggest just using this as a means to get by until you can get fitted for the right shoes. There are a lot more factors than support to consider such as weight of the shoe, sizing, breathability, etc.
FANCY RUNNING CLOTHES DO NOT MATTER
When it comes to running, function is king. Running won’t be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, it’s quite challenging. The last thing you need is to be worried about constantly having to pull your pants up, pull your shorts or your shirt down, or not have a nice and free range of motion. Of course, some of those cute and fancy workout clothes can be functional too. But my suggestion (from experience) is that you don’t go out and spend a bunch of money on “running” clothes until you figure out what you’re most comfortable running in.
Some people find a lot of motivation in buying new clothes. I actually do too sometimes. It makes it more fun. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to dump more money into what you wear just because you’re doing a new/different activity. If you’re comfortable, as warm or cool as you need to be according to the weather, and your movement is not restricted then it doesn’t matter if you want to run in your pajamas.
Without going too deep into the anatomy of running, I want to touch on the importance of cross-training. Balance, stability, and strength will make running much easier and safer. Balance and stability are vital for keeping you on your feet each time your foot strikes the ground. Strength will help you run longer with less fatigue. But even though it seems like the only strength we need for running is in our lower body, our upper body actually needs some attention too. So much of your power for movement comes from your core but, most importantly, your core supports your spine and should keep your body in alignment while you’re running. If you’re upper body strength just isn’t quite there yet, you’ll notice some slumping when you get into your run and start getting tired quickly. You’ll probably feel your shoulders and upper back start to tense up too.
Start your cross-training from the very beginning, this will prevent injury and speed up your progress. Cross-training should include things like plyometrics and functional training. Plyometrics are meant to increase power and speed and will involve a lot of jumping. Make sure you ease your way into plyo with small jumps, it will take some getting used to to prevent injury. Functional training is motion against resistance. It’s basically the idea that we should strengthen our bodies in the movements we do on a daily basis. So instead of focusing on one muscle or muscle group, standing still and lifting a heavy weight, we want to add resistance to a full body movement that mimics the functionality we need to have in our regular, every day life. This kind of strength also increases muscle endurance, which will give you a boost while running.
You can find some good plyometric exercises for runners here.
You can find some good functional training exercises here.
STRETCHING REGULARLY IS IMPORTANT
Runner or not, I am a huge advocate for stretching. Especially if you work sitting at a desk all day. Stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility. Some studies say that stretching regular does not improve how you run, but I’m a firm believer that stretching prevents injuries and the simple fact is that tight muscles = discomfort + limited movement.
There are different opinions about when you should stretch. Some say stretch before a run, some say after. I say get a good dynamic warm up routine to do before your run and do a solid stretching routine to finish out your run and you’ll be golden. Sometimes I add in extra stretching while I’m watching TV or listening to an audio book.
TREADMILL VS OUTSIDE RUNNING
This is a highly debated topic and for some people with very specific needs or past injuries it is important. But if you are in good shape injury-wise, I would say don’t sweat this one too much. Still, there are pros and cons to treadmill running so let’s run (pun intended that time) through them real quick.
TREADMILL RUNNING PROS
- You don’t have to worry about weather or temperature
- It makes a high impact exercise a little less impactful because the treadmill’s surface gives a little when you land
- You have easy access to restrooms
- You can stop whenever you want to (can also be a con if you are giving up too easily)
- It’s a safe place to run if you don’t have sidewalks in your neighborhood
TREADMILL RUNNING CONS
- It’s easy to slump over the console of the treadmill and create poor posture habits
- The treadmill propels you forward so you aren’t engaging your hamstrings and glutes the way you would be if you were running outside
- If you’re training for a race the treadmill will not prepare you for the wind and uneven surfaces that your body needs in order to learn to navigate those physical variations
- Treadmills are boring (at least I think so)
While a treadmill can be more convenient, outdoor running really gives you the full experience. It’s my opinion that if you’re running regularly, you should do most of your running outside and supplement with the treadmill on rainy/cold days or throughout the Winter if you don’t want to tough out the weather. You can always find a local high school track or a dirt trail to run on for a little less impact if that’s what you need. You’ll find your ideal surface with time and experience. Just don’t get too attached to that treadmill.
EXPECT RUNNING TO BE HARD
For me, running has been hard since day one. Yes, it’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten better. But it is always a mental and physical challenge for me. I used to coach a running group for beginners and the hardest part was getting people to stick with it through the first week. So many people decided that it was too hard after the first run. They didn’t give themselves the chance to feel the benefits, mentally and/or psychically. If I could get people to finish the first week then they were hooked.
It will be hard. Go ahead and tell yourself now, the first run is going to suck. The second and third might suck too. The fourth, fifth, and six might also suck. But what comes with finishing each of those difficult runs is a little more confidence, a little more energy, a little more victory, and a little more of a sense of accomplishment each time. You will get better, it will get easier, and you will always feel like you’ve conquered something big every time you finish a run.