[This is part 2 of 2 of my “how do I get started and stick with running?” response to the various feedback and solicitations for advice I’ve been getting about my first year of running. I have a loaded response to these quandaries, and am amazed and feel so awesome that my friends are entrusting me with these kinds of questions. I am NO EXPERT. I am still very much a beginning, novice runner running at a medium to slow pace. But I do have quite a lot to say in praise of running, and about how it’s changed my life, so I’m happy to provide any and all thoughts on the subject! See part 1, for a thoughts on finding your why and why you should stick with it, here.]
I have lost count with how many people, all year but mainly in the last few months, have contacted me asking me to run with them (“you gotta get me running”), for advice on how to stick with running (“I really want to be a runner/do a race/like running but I just don’t/keep giving up/never stick with it”), or telling me I inspire them to want to run but they don’t know where to start. Like I said in my last post, the first step is really wanting it. Finding your why.
For me, it started out as a challenge to my stubborn self to see if I could do a little bit more than I initially thought I could. After that, I had to find a way to lace up when I really didn’t feel like it. I was unhappy in so many aspects of my life, often I just wanted to sleep it away, but after a run I would be on a crazy runner’s high. It’s what kept me finding ways to motivate myself to get out there the next day.
So here is a list of all the things I will tell you if you come to me asking for advice on “how to be a runner.” Here it is:
- Be stubborn. You want this. You want to want this. So believe you can and you will. Don’t spend your life wondering what if? Decide you’re not going to be a quitter. This is not something you’re going to quit. Be stubborn. Believe you can so you will.
- Accept it will be hard. The moment that running becomes easy is the moment you’re staying in your comfort zone. It’s okay to be in your comfort zone – we all need comfort – just not all the time. Accept that at first, running is gonna suck A WHOLE LOT. Curse if you have to. Curse as your tying your shoelaces, curse as the cold air hits you when you walk outside, curse as your body creaks in the first few hundred meters. It’s complaining because it’s doing something it’s not used to. Tell it to suck it up and get used to it, because see #1.
- Get fitted for good shoes. For the first few months I was running, I was wearing an old pair of sneakers I’d had for years. No WONDER I had killer shin splints! Part of beginning running will come with shin splints and normal runner aches and pains, but eventually your body should get used to it. If it’s not, get your gait checked for free at your local running store. (Not Sports Authority or Payless. A store that specializes in running shoes is critical.) You could be a pronator, you could have worn your soles down to nothing, or it could be something bigger, in which case, consult a physician.
- Find community. Maybe it’s joining a training program at your local running store or county road runners (Google “[your county] road runners”). Maybe you have a friend you know runs 5K’s for charity. Maybe join a Meetup group that does local group fun runs.
- Get virtual. If the above sounds too scary for now, or maybe you’re more of a one-runner wolfpack like I am, moral support is still super critical. The online running community is freaking amazing. Join in on Sunday night #runchat on Twitter (think Twitter is stupid? Set up a Twitter account just for running, trust me on this one). Join a Facebook running group that posts the otherwise average person’s not so average triumphs, or motivational images and quotes. Follow runners on Instagram for a steady stream of image motivation (beautiful trails, fun race outfit ideas, shiny bling)!
- Get a trainer app on your phone. I recommend Exercise for Pink C25K and beyond. It’s what I started with and I’ve used the same company’s apps from 5K through half marathon to make every day’s workout feel doable. Just listen to the lady in your ear, she will be your
crackrunning spirit guide.
- Know it’s okay to run slow, or walk. INTERVALS! This was crucial for me. I think many people give up running because they start out too ambitious and think they should be able to run a 9 minute mile without stopping right away. If your heart rate and legs aren’t used to that yet of course you’re going to mentally run away from physically running. When somebody told me, when I was having trouble running for more than 20 minutes at a time, that the trick to running for a longer time is to run slower, I literally began shuffling in an effort to keep moving until my allotted walk break. It wasn’t fast but it was faster than stopping to walk sooner. And very successful running coaches will teach run/walk intervals, many at least advocating for walking through aid stations during races. INTERVALS! They’re your new best friends.
- Never trust the first mile. I have a rule. If I can just get my shoes on and start putting my feet in front of the other, that’s a start. But the first mile is always the hardest. There are going to be days when your body just is not up for the 8 miles you have scheduled. Then there are going to be days where you THINK “nope, not today,” in that first mile, or maybe as your “warm up” turns from a five minute brisk walk to a 1 mile jog, the first two or three miles. Don’t trust it. My rule is get past that first chunk of time where it is always hard. Get past the warm up. 9 times out of 10, once you’re past that (I think there’s some technical term for it, some heart rate zone or something you have to push past), you’ll feel great and do your whole run. So don’t quit just yet. You’re in charge of that body, it doesn’t control you.
- Sign up for a race. When I spent the money on my first 5K, then 10K, then ten miler, then half marathon, it wasn’t just getting the bang for the registration fee that kept me training. It was knowing my name was on something saying I was gonna do it, and if I didn’t show, the only person I was accountable to was myself. Nobody assigned me this particular race but myself. And even though I was afraid of coming in last or not being able to finish at all (even just for my first 5K, which plenty of people walk the entirety of), I was more afraid of being a quitter, or worse, a never-started.
- Listen to yourself and stay positive. If you hear someone complaining they had to stop to walk, tune it out. If you hear someone complain they weren’t happy with their pace, tune it out. I don’t care if that pace they’re unhappy with is faster or slower than you. Tune it out. If you hear someone complaining about their race time, tune it out. If you feel your knee is a little tweaky or your hips are a little sore, tune in. Listen to yourself and your body, tune out the negative.
- Strength train. The trick to becoming a better runner, for me, was – believe it or not – not running as much. What?! Yes. Instead of all my exercise being running, I started doing strength training. I decided to go back to my Body Pump class when I felt soreness in my hips at my leg joints. Ever since getting in major squats and lunges and building serious leg muscle, I’ve been (knock on wood) completely pain free, and (knock on wood) I’ve never been injured. (Like with running, start small. It’s okay to run slow just like it’s okay to lift small. Your time is your own. You can build up when you’re ready.)
- Surround yourself with POSITIVE motivation. I’m not talking fitspiration blogs that tell you to “stop when you’re proud” or “puke if you have to just don’t quit” or “sweat is fat crying.” Take those pins on Pinterest or posts on Tumblr and virtually tear them to shreds.Fuck that noise. You took steps today as a runner, you can be proud of that. Stop when you feel you need to. As a runner, especially if you run alone some, most, or all of the time (I can’t tell you enough how much I encourage running solo at least once in a while, with proper safety precautions of course), you’ll learn to listen to your body in a way you never heard it before.So ignore the meatheads and fitches (guess what I made that portmanteau up to mean) that make you think you’re not enough if you’re not puking. Surround yourself with quotes from people who know how to say it eloquently, responsibly, and realistically, like Pre (“to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”), Bart Yasso, John Bingham (“the miracle isn’t that I finished, it’s that I had the courage to start”), Kara Goucher (“NOT AFRAID”), Wilma Rudolph (“I ran and ran every day, and I acquired a sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never, give up, no matter what else happened“).
And last but not least – LACE UP. Get out there. Take the first step. Then another. If you want to be a runner, you are a runner. There is no speed or distance you have to hit to join the club. Nike may have said it to make a gold mine off a brand, but “just do it” is the best advice I can give you. Curse if you have to, sing Mumford and Sons through your huffing to keep your spirits up in the last two minutes of your interval if you have to, fill your Instagram feed up with 75 running accounts if you have to – soon you’ll find instead of selfies, drama, and food porn, you’ll have found yourself in one of the most positive places in the world – in the community of runners.