One of my favorite aspects of running is that anyone can do it, from the couch potato who wants to slim down, to the high schooler who has never done a sport before, to the olympian athlete aspiring to win hardware. Anyone can do it. That is beautiful to me. Runners have many different reasons as to why they do it, but it can be a lifelong sport all the same. I have been a track and cross country coach for a total of sixteen seasons, and over the years I have been asked many questions posed from a wide variety of runners, of a wide range of ages, fitness levels, and abilities. I decided to start this blog to motivate, inspire, and assist anyone interested in running, whether a newcomer to the running community or an avid running enthusiast, no matter the age or reason for running.
I feel that an appropriate theme for my first post is getting started. I have noticed that individuals who wish to start running for the very first time or maybe wanting to take their running to the next level are often missing a few key tools to success. Many of you have possibly attempted to become a runner, but your running regimen has fizzled out quickly. Maybe you’ve done a few 5k’s but haven’t seen much improvement with your times. Maybe you are a high school runner, and you want to go from junior varsity to top 7. Maybe you’ve never run a step in your life but want to give running a try. Here are some tips that will get you started with your summer training that will ensure successful results.
Tip #1: Set Long-Term and Short-Term Goals
The most important step in getting started is setting a long-term goal. I consider a long-term goal an event anywhere from 4 weeks to years from now, depending on how long you’ve been running and how lofty your aspirations are. For most runners, signing up for a race is the perfect long-term goal. If you are new to running, sign up for a 5k race 6-8 weeks from now. If you’ve been a runner for awhile, find a race that excites you. Maybe you’ve dabbled in 5k’s but you want to train more seriously this time, and your goal is to run a faster time in your next race. Or maybe you are tired of 5k’s and want to train for a 10k or a half marathon for the first time. Give yourself a reasonable time to train and get in shape for the race. Long term goals will give you a reason to run when you don’t feel like it. If you just jog for the sake of staying in shape, you are less likely to stick with it. Signing up for a race will help keep you focused and keep you moving. As much as I love running, it’s not always fun for me. Without a long-term goal, you will find excuses not to run, day after day. For example, in November 2011, I signed up for a the Rock CF half marathon the following March. The winter training season is the hardest for me. This long-term goal kept me running consistently during the winter months, when I struggle with my training the most. I ended up running a personal best time at that race because I had the best winter training season of my life.
As I mentioned earlier, people have different reasons for why they run. Short term and long term goals will keep you motivated. Set short term goals every 1-7 days. Short term goals can be a simple as “I’m going to run 2 minutes longer today than yesterday,” or “I’m going to beat my time from the previous time I ran this loop.” No matter the reason, you have to set short-term goals to get you thinking more deliberately about your running and keep you progressing toward your long-term goals.
Tip #2: Keep a running log
It is imperative that you log your miles. I am a big believer in the running log. This is the best way to monitor your daily progress, trends with your training, and progress with short-term goals. Keeping a log may seem silly or too simple of an idea, but over time it is very effective. My cross country athletes keep mileage logs every summer. They get addicted to it. One runner recently told me he couldn’t wait until his next run, just so he could add it to his log. Logs build self-confidence by documenting your hard work. Some people prefer hand-written running journals while others prefer online running logs. My Garmin has been an excellent tool in keeping track of my mileage and pacing. I can upload each run from my watch to my personal running calendar and view my different routes. Web sites like running2win.com have many options on the running log such as documenting how you felt, aches and pains, weather, attitude, effort level, hours of sleep previous to the run, and so forth. Keeping track of these additional items can help you assess various factors that effect your training. You might notice that you don’t feel as good on days that you run after work or on days that you’ve gotten less than 6 hours of sleep. Everyone is different, so make adjustments based on trends that you see in your log. Celebrate when you hit certain marks in your log, such as going out for ice cream when you hit your next 100 miles.
Tip #3: Be Smart
Don’t overdo it. Some people start their training like maniacs and quickly injure themselves. A common guideline in the running world is to increase mileage no more than 10% per week. There are variations to this guideline, depending on your ability and experience, but this is a safe guideline to follow. If you’ve never run before in your life, I recommend going up approximately 10% every 2 weeks. Start with a timed 15-minute session. If you are unable to run for the full 15 minutes, then do a combination run/walk, and measure it when you are done so you know the distance. Log how much of the session you ran/walked. Start to transition over the first few weeks from walking more than running during a single session to running more than walking. Once you are able to run continuously for the full 15 minutes, then you can start bumping up the mileage. If you’ve been running awhile, you can also try staying at the same mileage for 2 weeks, going up 15-20% for 2 weeks, then back off 5-10% for 2 weeks, and so forth. The 15-20% jump is often too much for beginners. Allow at least 4 weeks to train for a 5k, and at least 8-10 weeks if you’ve never run before.
Another aspect of being “smart” about running is taking care of your body. Stretching is crucial. A common injury that I’ve experienced with beginning runners is shin splints, which is painful inflammation in the front, lower part of the legs. Shin splints are most often caused by improper shoes and/or calf tightness. Make sure you have proper footwear. You must wear training shoes that are specifically designed for running; don’t wear cross trainers, walking shoes, basketball shoes, and so forth. The brand doesn’t matter. Make sure you run around the store when trying them on. Base the decision on how they feel, not looks. I know that the newest hot pink Nike shoe with the metallic swoosh might be tempting, but unless it feels amazing, opt for the one that feels the most comfortable to you. Running shoes last about 500 miles This is another reason to keep your running log. Note in your log when you get a new pair of shoes. Another reason your shins may hurt is calf tightness. Make sure to stretch your calves really well before and after each run. “The Stick” rollers (check out thestick.com) are great for rolling out knots in the calves. Another common ache for beginner runners is knee pain. This is usually due to hip tightness or overuse. Make sure to stretch the hips, IT band, hamstrings, and quads to take stress off of the knees. Foam rollers are a must for rolling out all of those areas. I highly recommend getting one. With these rollers, you use your own body weight to massage your muscles and keep them loose. If you have been diligent about stretching and rolling, then knee pain might not be from lack of stretching but from overuse, meaning, you may have bumped up too quickly in mileage.
Another aspect of being “smart” is properly planning your running routine. Be consistent. Commit to at least 4 days a week, if not more. If you run less than that, you probably won’t see your desired results. Also, be smart about your stress-recovery routine. Never go up in mileage and intensity from one day to the next. Pick one. For example, if you run an easy 2 miles one day, you have two options for the next day: either run a harder 2 miles, or run an easy 3 miles. Don’t run a hard 3 miles. This will make you more prone to injury.
Tip #4: Stay Positive!
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Acknowledge achievements of your long-term goals as well as your short-term goals. Don’t compare your progress with anyone else. The beauty of running is you often see the best results when you compete with yourself. Be realistic with your expectations, but make sure to push yourself. Don’t let negativity or doubts take over.
During my first half marathon I started slowing down around mile 8. I started doubting myself and my mileage. “I should have maxed out at 12 miles, not 11. My legs feel heavy. My calves are cramping. What if my IT band starts hurting again?” Just as I was about to give in to the negative thoughts, I saw a fan in the crowd holding up a sign with big, block lettering that read, “RUN BECAUSE YOU CAN.” My eyes welled up, and I was surprised how overwhelmed I was with emotion. My mindset quickly changed. I thought, “I CAN do this. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to run in this race. Some people aren’t as lucky and wish that they could do what I’m doing right now.” The power of the mind is incredible. All of a sudden, my legs didn’t feel as heavy, I picked up the pace, and finished strong.
On days when I don’t feel like running, I tell myself, “Run because you can.” It’s simple, but it works for me. Follow the tips above, and find a saying that motivates you to get those running shoes on, even on days when you don’t feel like it. It’s easy to run when you feel good. The real runners are those that recognize how lucky they are to be able to run anytime, anywhere, rain, sleet, snow, or shine, even when they don’t really feel like it. Once you get those shoes on and get it done, you feel proud. You do it because you can. It’s a beautiful thing.