I’ve been a beginner runner before. I used to hate running, actually. My best friend in college ran cross country, and all I could think about when she’d tell me her training schedule was how long a mile actually was. I started working out seriously in college, but I did things like BodyPump and TurboKick. I ran to run probably once a year during that time. Sure, I coached soccer, played intramural sports, ran a 5k or two just because, but I just couldn’t get into running for the sake of running.
Fast forward to graduation and moving to Atlanta. Soon after we moved, I signed Sean and I up for the Oakland Cemetery Annual Run Like Hell Halloween 5k. I did it because it had a funny name, and I was bored at home all day. I didn’t really train for it, and it was not fun. Even a “for fun” 5k stops being fun when you’re struggling through it.
Before I started running, I was still doing TurboKick at the YMCA. However, I wanted to expand my fitness ventures. Once I got a job, I discovered I worked with avid runners, and it was not hard for them to convince me to sign up for my first half marathon. They made running sound like fun, and I wanted to be able to talk about “training runs” with them. Even through a lazy half marathon training plan (seriously–the most I ran at one time was 6 miles), I struggled with “liking” running. I was barely putting in effort, so it wasn’t even hard. But I still wasn’t in love with it. A relationship with running takes time though. It takes a while to “feel good,” and some days are still just better than others.
I eventually got in tune with my body and running–and went on to complete 2 triathlons, another half marathon, and 1 full marathon (among other shorter races).
There are so many more milestones I want to reach with running. But now that I’m out of the game for a bit with this broken leg, I have a feeling I’ll be returning to the “beginner” stages of running when I am able to start again. So here are the tips I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out.
1. Increase your mileage slowly. I was a bad example of this during my first half marathon training, when I only ran 3 miles most days, and 6 miles on my longest training run. When I finished the half, I was in some wicked pain. My stomach hurt. I was starving but didn’t want to eat. My legs felt like they could collapse at any moment. It wasn’t a smart move. Now, I have a general formula for increasing race distance:
Start with the highest mileage you feel comfortable running. That may be 1 mile it may be 3 or 5. Whatever. For your “long run” days once a week, increase the mileage every other week by adding 2 miles to the week before. So, if x is your starting/base mileage:
- Week 1: x miles (say 5 miles, for example)
- Week 2: x + 2 miles (7 miles)
- Week 3: x miles (5 miles)
- Week 4: x + 4 miles (9 miles)
- Week 5: x + 2 miles (7 miles)
- Week 6: x + 6 miles (11 miles)
- Week 7: x + 4 miles (9 miles)
- Week 8: x + 8 miles (13 miles)
- Week 9: x + 6 miles (11 miles)
It’s a simple increasing interval model once you get the hang of it. If you’re super new, just add 1 (or even a half) mile every other week. Meanwhile, your weeknight runs are more steady. Programs like Couch 2 5k have been really helpful for people I’ve spoken with. If only apps had existed when I started running…
2. Invest in good shoes and socks. If you’re determined to make running your “thing,” having correctly fitted shoes and some nice, cushy socks can go a long way. Before we decided we were serious runners and wanted to run our half marathon, Sean and I went to a specialty running store and were fitted for our running shoes. They video taped our feet while we ran on a treadmill and recommended shoes based on how our feet hit the ground with each stride. They were definitely expensive, but well worth the investment. I also found some great running socks with special padding to prevent blisters and help wick away foot sweat on long runs. Your feet (and knees and back) will be better off because of it.
3. Vary your running scene. When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to burn out quickly, especially if you’re running in the same place or the same route over and over. Try different routes and terrains. Run roads, trails, parks, neighborhoods, etc. I’ve talked to my other runner friends, and we all agree that new runners often find a route & stick to it. Well, when running starts getting boring or difficult, the lack of new scenery is just another reason to fall off the wagon. Mixing it up can help break up difficult training sessions and keep you focused on the scenery instead of the discomfort, even if only for a little while.
4. Give yourself race goals. It’s all great to start running just to start running, but having an “end goal” is much more motivating. Even now, after I’ve been running a few years, I find that having a training or race goal motivates me on those days I’d rather fold myself up into the couch. Knowing that I need to at least get miles in to prepare for a race keeps me from doing the old, “I’ll just run 3 miles and be done” habit that I fall into when I get bored with running.
5. Find a running buddy. Ask around on Facebook, put a flyer up in your neighborhood, or commit to helping your dog get back in shape. Whatever method you choose, having someone to hold you accountable goes a long way. It’s easy to bail when you’re the only one counting on you, but when someone else’s health & running goals depend on your participation, you’ll be less likely to choose rest over running. Also, you can commiserate together on how you would have much rather been watching TV.
6. Take rest days! This is another way to burn out quickly. Beginner runners can be really gung-ho when they first start–running every day of the week with no rest. But your body needs those minimal activity days to heal itself, build muscle, and make you a better runner, ultimately. Try taking a leisurely walk twice a week or signing up for a deep stretch yoga class. Giving your body time to recover makes running easier in the long run (pun intended).
7. Do other fitness activities. In short, cross train. You use a lot of the same muscles over and over while running, which can build them up while throwing the others off balance. Lift weights once or twice a week, take yoga, or a cardio dance class. Doing movements other than putting one foot in front of the other can help you become stronger overall and a well-rounded runner. [Edit: Just don’t break your leg playing soccer…]
Other runners–experienced or newbies–what tips do you have for those just starting out?