A friend of mine recently finished her very first all-running 5k. This is a tremendous step for her. She’s been on a journey that started as, “I’d like to get to a healthier weight” and is progressing towards some serious athletic endeavors. Her dedication is amazing, and what impresses me even more is how smart she’s been about the whole process. No “magic pill” here. She’s partnered with a local hospital to get help setting training goals and establishing a healthy eating plan. That was well over a year ago. One of her long-term goals is competing in a sprint triathlon, but while she’s had no problems training on a bike or in a pool, running has given her some difficulties. This is why finishing a 5k without walking is such a fantastic accomplishment. She’s overcoming her demons one by one, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
When she started running, this friend came to me for advice. She occasionally calls me her “running coach,” a title I don’t claim because I’m not at all responsible for the success she’s enjoyed. That’s all due to her dedication and her hard work. I did, however, give her a few tips. It’s the same advice I’ve given dozens of times to anyone who begins a conversation with “so I was thinking about running…”
- Start slow. Don’t expect to go from zero to marathons overnight. In fact, when you first start running it’s best not to expect anything at all. It’s not going to be very comfortable, and you won’t be able to go very far. That’s ok! When you start, it may be helpful to mix lots of walking with a little running for each session. Gradually increase the running time and decrease the walking time and you’ll find yourself becoming more and more fit.
- Getting in shape takes a long time. This builds on the first tip, but it’s something you can’t remind yourself of too much. In this day of “lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks!” and “I ate whatever I wanted and I still lost weight!” it’s sometimes hard to comprehend how slow the process of getting in shape actually is. I usually think of training as a pyramid—I have to do a lot of groundwork laying the foundation before I get to take that next step up. Or, I may have several days/weeks/months of thankless, discouraging, fatiguing, uncomfortable plodding before I notice any real changes at all. It’s natural and unavoidable, but don’t get too discouraged. Consistent training conquers all. Well, almost all.
- Listen to your body, but not too much. The most common question I get asked by beginning runners is, “My ____ started hurting. Should I stop running?” The answer is…maybe. I have a rule that generally works for me. If everything hurts in a “dull ache” or “yeah, I’m sore” kind of way, it’s likely a consequence of Tip #2…GETTING IN SHAPE. Gasp! New runners need to understand that sometimes you’re just going to be sore. This is normal. (Sorry!) If something very specific (knee, hip, ankle) hurts in a very sharp, specific way, however, it’s possible that it’s something more serious. The most common running injuries are due to the stress put on the body as feet repeatedly hit pavement. As you continue to run, you’ll learn where your weaknesses and strengths are and will be better able to self-diagnose. This is a hard one to explain. It might be better said as, “don’t look for excuses, but take an extra day off when you need it.”
- Everything balances out. This one’s my favorite. For every uphill, there’s a downhill. For every day that you absolutely feel like trash for no reason whatsoever, you’ll later have a fantastic day that equally lacks an explanation. And if you’re a pessimist, you can reverse those. 🙂
- Find a buddy. If possible, find someone to run with. Chatting will make the time go by faster with seemingly less effort, and it also makes sure that you’re running at a comfortable pace. When you get out of your “talking” zone, that’s usually a sign that you’re going to fast.
- Set a goal. You may hit a stretch where you feel unmotivated, and this is what road races are for. It’ll be easier to train if you’re running for something, and it doesn’t particularly matter what that something is. Just make sure that you’re setting an attainable goal. Start with a “fun run” or a 5k and work your way up.