Congratulations and welcome! You’ve decided to try running. Perhaps sometime after January 1, as part of a New Year's resolution, you went out and got some new running-specific shoes and some running socks, in addition to some technical clothing to wick away the sweat. Your gear is set. What’s next?
Whatever your motivation –– wanting to get healthier, a friend’s invitation, it looked like fun –– there are a few basic pointers that can be helpful for every new runner. These are some things that I wish I had known when I started.
My first piece of advice: Listen to your body, but not too much. Or, as a colleague explained, “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Does this sound somewhat counterintuitive? Perhaps. Let me explain.
When you first start running, there will be some soreness and fatigue as your body adjusts to the new demands you’re placing upon it. Is your breathing a bit labored, even haggard? Are your legs throbbing? Some new runners might interpret this feeling as a sign that their body wants to stop. (True, it does.) Don’t listen!
Instead of shutting down the running program and going for a big rewarding pint of fro-yo, slowly commit to building your endurance. Walk-run is perfectly ok -- recommended, in fact -- but you just can’t stop at the first feeling of discomfort because then you’ll start to associate running with failure, struggle, and physical distress. Just be patient and keep at it; we’ve all been there and gotten through it and you will too. It will get easier. Your body will adapt and eventually you’ll be able to run while carrying on a conversation.
“Listen to your body, but not too much” also holds true when you are monitoring your muscular-skeletal system. Your muscles are going to feel stressed. There might be some muscle fatigue and mild pain. Most of this comes with the territory of putting new stresses on your body. However, if you feel acute, intense pain, you need to stop and assess. Stretch it out, take the day off, or in the case of acute pain that interferes with the enjoyment of your daily routines, consult with a doctor.
In general, though, practice mind over matter. There is some truth to that mantra of the super tough: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
My second piece of advice: run for a set amount of time rather than for a set distance – 30 minutes rather than 2 miles, for example. There are many good reasons to set time goals rather than distance checkpoints.
As a beginning runner, you need to build an endurance base for long-term fitness gains. You don’t have to worry that you’re going too slowly. Slower running helps develop capillaries, builds your aerobic and muscle endurance, and prevents injuries. Running too fast in an effort to check the distance off your daily to-do list will get you into a “I’m running the same route at the same time of day and I am bored out of my mind” rut. Take your half hour and actually experience the run.
So, slow and steady. Right now, you are the tortoise. It is important to remember how that fable turned out.
My last piece of advice: train patiently and with intention. Improving as a runner –– no matter how you define improvement –– depends on patience.
It’s easy to get super-enthusiastic and believe that if ten miles a week is good, twenty miles a week is twice as good. Not necessarily! Pile on too much mileage too quickly and you will get injured. Rule of thumb: the maximum you should add to your mileage every week is ten percent of your previous week’s mileage.
Set reasonable long-term goals based on your current fitness level. If you haven’t completed a 5K and want to participate in a race, it might be best to tackle that distance before you try a marathon. A gradual plan to go up the distance ladder –– racking up thousands of miles along the way –– will lead you to a healthier and more enjoyable experience.
In running as in life, you will define your own path to success. Success for you might mean “I ran three times during a busy stressful week.” It might mean “I completed a training program and lost a few pounds.” It might mean “I finished that race” or “I set a new personal best.” There are many miles ahead –– the point is to enjoy them.
To recap: Listen to your body, but not too much (get comfortable being uncomfortable); run for time, rather than distance (slow and steady wins the race); and, finally, run with patience (to progress, you need to build up those miles). Along the way, you might find out that running transforms from “what you do” to “who you are.”