I’ve never been a runner. Growing up, I always admired the people lapping me as I slowly dragged my feet on yet another requisite mile run in PE class. Recently, while sitting on my couch in some kind of food coma (I clearly didn’t have all my faculties when I made this decision), I decided I was going to run a half marathon.
The marathon would be in February. I had this genius idea in April, which left me roughly ten months to progress from winded-after-a-flight-of-stairs fit to running-13-miles-at-5am-like-a-crazy-person fit.
I went out for my first run feeling pretty great about myself and then quickly realized that I had made a very, very large mistake. Did I mention I had already signed up for the race at this point? Once I realized what I had gotten myself into, I discovered I had a long road ahead of me.
I’ve now been running for a little over four months and throughout this process I think I’ve picked up a little wisdom and information (the hard way) which I can share with you all. If you haven’t started running yet and are looking for info or encouragement, the best advice I can give you is this:
Don’t start running.
No really, don’t.
I hear swimming is pretty great. Or maybe take up bowling?
But I guess if you are 100% determined or, like me, you’ve signed yourself up for a race and are in way over your head, here are the things you need to know.
1. Get fitted for running shoes.
This sounds like a gigantic pain in the ass (and I’m not going to tell you it’s not, because it can be) but there are a thousand different kinds of running shoes out there for a thousand different kinds of gaits, arches, foot shapes, and body weights. Go to a real running store and let them do their thing. You’ll end up with a pair of shoes that will reduce fatigue, keep you from getting injured, and make running just a little bit more bearable.
2. Accept that you will feel like shit for a while.
Running isn’t magical and fun right away. I’m still not at the point where it is magical and fun yet, but I hear it’s coming. Occasionally you will hit your stride and feel awesome and then you will chase that feeling forever.
3. Slow. Down.
Aim for length of time, rather than a specific distance or pace. Run at your slowest comfortable pace, and if you feel your heart rate getting too high, slow down more. Need a walking break? Go for it. There’s really no such thing as too slow, and this will keep you from getting injured or pushing yourself too hard.
4. Fuel yourself correctly.
I hate bananas. So much. There is no fruit with a more disgusting texture than a banana. But if you don’t enjoy feeling like your calves are on fire, bananas (potassium) are going to be your best friend.
Drink water. Drink more water than you think you need. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. Sound like a lot? You’re probably dehydrated. Once you get used to it you’ll stop peeing every ten minutes, I promise.
I know you were waiting to hear me say this: CARBS. Yes, you can eat a bagel. Pasta is cool too. Fruits and vegetables also count. Eat those carbs, because carbs –> glucose –> glycogen and glycogen will make your muscles very very happy. Here’s a cool guide on balancing your carb intake based on your body weight and amount of exercise.
5. There is no such thing as “too fat/old/young/busy/out of shape to run.”
Tell yourself this. Then tell yourself again. No matter your age, weight, size, workweek, or other excuse, you are able to run. Trust me.
6. Figure out what motivates you.
Chasing that elusive ‘runner’s high’? Well, I am unfortunately here to tell you that that doesn’t kick in for a while. You’re going to have to figure out your own ways to keep yourself motivated and on track.
I’m a super competitive person, so keeping track of my runs and trying to beat my own time/pace/distance is the thing that gets me excited to get out the door and run again. Signing up for races like 5ks and 10ks can be a fun goal to work toward and comparing your performance from race to race can be super motivating.
I know of people that download audiobooks and only let themselves listen while they run. If you want to figure out what happens next, you have to get out there and granny slog, at the very least. I’ve tried this and discovered that while it did motivate me to prolong my workouts because I didn’t want to stop ‘reading’, I run much better listening to music with a strong beat I can follow. So figure your thing out, then do it.
7. Find a training plan and stick to it.
I love Runkeeper for tracking my runs, and luckily they have built in workout programs that can ease you into running 5k/10k/half/full marathon distances, increasing your speed, or running for weight loss. Staying accountable (if only to an app on your phone) can be really helpful in keeping you consistent.
8. Don’t take time off.
Unless you’re injured, a week off can be a huge setback in your progress and you’ll find yourself behind, annoyed, and wishing you hadn’t spent a week binge drinking. Case in point: me last week. I got married, and somewhere between drinking sangria with my out of town friends, running to In-N-Out at midnight, and actually saying my vows, I think something like this was running through my head: “I’M GETTING MARRIED I DON’T NEED TO RUN, HAHAHA”. Biggest mistake ever, because this week I am slow and everything hurts and I am really angry at my last-week-self.
Even if you only run for 10 minutes, you’re keeping your muscles primed and your body used to your normal activity level. You’ll thank yourself later!