I once heard that the best advice for becoming a runner is: Step one, run. Step two, run further. It kind of is that simple. And yet that hard. To this day, I still get half a block into a run and start mentally whining that I don’t want to do it. But if you keep at it, you keep getting better.
Here’s some other things I did along my learning-to-run journey that may help you.
Sign up for a race. For me, this is numbers one through five. My favorite part of running is races. In addition to giving me a goal to keep running, the race-day environment is awesome. It’s full of excited crowds, other runners to use as rabbits (i.e., someone to chase), plus lots of free stuff. I dare you to pick a 5K or 10K to see for yourself how much fun race day is (especially America’s Best 10K). 5Ks are EVERYWHERE! Lots of races tend to be on Sunday, but I’ve already found six happening in my state today – a Saturday. Sometimes you get to support a great cause, sometimes you get to run with your dog, sometimes you get to dive through mud, and remember that all of these things are more fun when wearing a costume.
On race day, I always have two goals: finish, and do better than my last race of the same distance. The first meant not pushing myself too hard for the first few races by doing things like stopping to thank the volunteers at aid stations. The latter I’ve been able to do so far though I know I’ll reach a plateau; may have to try new distance then!
Hang on to your race mementos. Wear your race t-shirts with pride when you go grocery shopping. Display your race bibs and medals somewhere they can inspire you. And always check the professional race photos to see if you can get a dorky picture to post to your Facebook wall, like this:
Get lost. Once you’re able to log a couple miles on the track, treadmill, or in your familiar environment, head out on a run with no particular place to go. Take a street you’ve never taken. Discover that house with weird architecture in the middle of a block of 80s houses. Find out, “Hmm, I thought there was a stoplight here so I could cross the street, but apparently not. Let’s find another way.” When you get home, go to mapmyrun.com and plug in where you ran, how far, and the elevation profile. You may be shocked to discover that you added an extra mile and didn’t know it! You may also discover a fun new route to take.
Be a smart pedestrian. Whether getting lost on city streets or traveling a well-worn route, keep your head about you. Keep right so that bikes can pass you. Look both ways before crossing the street. Wait for the ‘walk’ signal (think of it as a 30 second break from running). Keep your head up if cars are near. Especially be mindful of those turning cars at intersections that are watching traffic in one direction while you approach from the other. If we all do this, then none of us will have the heart attacks when a runner appears out of nowhere when we’re behind the wheel. Remember that it’s better to be alive than assert your right of way.
Find a challenge. There’s a steep road nearby that runs up the side of the foothills to a research station. My “yes woman” suggested we run up it. Seriously? That steep road? When I drive past the bikers huffing and puffing up it, I mutter something about then being insane. I gulped hard, but for some reason agreed. We did it and it was hard, but I didn’t die. And afterwards I was amazed that I done something I thought was too far out of my league. Now she gets texts from me every few weeks saying, “Let’s go run up that hill!” and probably rolls her eyes.
Shoes. If you haven’t gotten good shoes yet, go to a store that does video gait analysis and has employees that KNOW their products. Ask for their shoe recommendations. Don’t accept pushy sales people, though. There’s plenty of running stores out there. Find one that you’re comfortable with.
Music while running. People have differing opinions on this. Personally, I’ve found that I love podcasts while running as they make me think (that is, distract me from running) and not just mindlessly sing along (though I do that on occasion, too – to music, not podcasts). Specifically, I like to listen to sermons. For one thing, they’re a perfect length – usually 35-50 minutes – and they also provide me with an opportunity to connect with God.
If you get injured, slow down but don’t stop. I struggle with shin splints, the nasty buggers. Ice, ibuprofen, therabands, and walking. If you think about it, walking is almost the same thing as running, just slower. If the doc says stay down, then for goodness sakes stay down. But otherwise keep trying to walk as much as you can.
Find running friends. All of my running friends are faster than me – which isn’t hard because I’m slower than molasses. A month ago a girl in my Bible study turned to me and said, “Want to do a half marathon in California? We need one more person to get a team discount.” After considering it for a day, I said, “Why not?” It was a crazy weekend of busy travel that flew by, but also so much fun. I was the slowest on our team (by about 50 minutes) but that didn’t matter. We were all there to support each other and have fun. And we did. I’m already wondering where we should go for our next race.
Over the last 18 months as I’ve mentioned training for a race or completing a race or being sore from running, I’ve had people comment, “Oh, you’re a runner?” Um, wow, me? A runner? No. When I think runner I think of those people that do marathons, or Jenny Barringer Simpson (love her!), or those people that actually LIKE running. But somewhere over the course of time my mindset changed and I realized that, yes, I am a runner now.
You’ll know you’re a runner when:
- You are proud of and respect all runners of all abilities.
- You hesitate to spend $100 on tickets to see your favorite team play but quickly find the money when your shoes need replacing.
- Your two-week laundry schedule becomes a one-week laundry schedule because all your running clothes are dirty.
- After a race, those around you are comparing their sub-nine-minute mile times, but you’re just ecstatic because you got a new personal record of twelve-and-a-half-minute miles.
- You finish a race in pain saying, “Never again!” and three days later are ready to sign up for the next one.
- You realize if you were to make up a Christmas list it would include things like compression socks and a Road ID bracelet.
- You think everyone else should take up running, and try to convince them to do so by writing about it on your blog.
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A note about endorphins:
Ugh. Endorphins. This “runners high” thing I hear people talk about? Maybe it doesn’t exist for everyone.
I have had exactly one moment in the past 18 months that I’ve liked running. It was running up a canyon near my home at sunset. The light was orange, and the autumn leaves were golden. There was a break in the traffic going by and a break between podcasts, so the only sound was the crunch of my feet on the gravel. And I thought, “Wow. Running is pretty awesome.” That lasted about five seconds before I was again questioning why I was doing this. Especially later, as I was running down the canyon in the almost-dark.
When I run, I don’t feel a “I feel good! I feel great! I feel wonderful!” (name that movie) feeling. However, after I finish, I do feel a big sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s a training run (“Look, I got off my butt and did something active!”) or it’s a race (“Wow, I just stumbled my way through a whole half marathon?”). It’s that sense of accomplishment that keeps me going. That, and discovering that I can do things I didn’t think I could do before.
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A note about weight loss:
Ugh. In my ideal world, scales wouldn’t have numbers. They’d have some sort of dial indicating your healthiness. Instead, so many people are looking to lose X pounds, or reach a target weight of X.
I’m skinny. (See dorky race picture above for proof.) And 18 months ago I was skinny. I didn’t start running to lose weight, and I didn’t lose weight. Even though my activity level went from sedentary to pretty active, I still fluctuate somewhere between 130 and 140. I completed a health form last week that asked my weight, and I didn’t know.
Weight is just one of MANY measurements used to help assess overall health. I was smack dab in the middle of “healthy” weight for my height, but was not healthy at all – spending each weekend in front of the TV cramming my face full of sugar.
So made it a goal to get healthy by starting to run. And I started feeling healthier. Surprisingly, I started eating better, too – as my body hated running with a stomach full of ice cream and Wendy’s. I still hang out in front of the TV a lot and love my sugar, but my intake of both has decreased dramatically in my overall goal to become healthier. Along the way I’ve also gained more self-confidence, discovered a new hobby, made new friends, and expanded my interests – all of which are healthier but can’t be measured by a gauge. I’m traveling to Europe next summer, and I’m actually wondering if I can find a 10K to do while I’m there.
If you need to use a scale or a tape measure to help you track where you are and where you’re going, that’s your choice. I guess everyone needs their own motivator. But please don’t become fixated on the numbers and seek overall health instead. Personally, I think a great way to do that is by giving running a try.
Bonus points if you do it in a silly costume.