What running advice would you give your younger self? I'll go first.
One day it hits you. “I could be a runner.”
Your friends are posting their runs on social media. You are flipping through TV channels when you land on a road race. You see someone effortlessly bouncing down a running path and think, “I could do that.” But how do you start?
It happened to me in 2001. A friend of mine was going on daily runs. One day, I asked her if I could tag along. Weeks later, I signed up for my first 5K. Bam! I was smitten.
That was 22 years ago. What would I say if I could go back in time and talk to myself as a beginning runner? What advice would I give my younger self?
Here are twelve truths I wish someone would have told me before I started running.
1. Know Your Why
Why do you run?
- For your mental health, or to relieve stress?
- To get healthy or stay healthy?
- Complete a goal race?
- Find community?
- Lose weight?
- Have fun?
To begin, select one goal and chart your progress.
Your goal will probably change as you run. But if you don’t know why you’re running, you’ll be unable to sustain the effort in the long run (pun intended).
2. Run and Have Fun
Play is the essence of running. If your running is not play, you’re probably not doing it right. That is not to say that running is always easy! Sometimes during a long run or a hard workout, you feel like your head will explode.
I remember as a child coming in from play wholly exhausted. But, because I had been playing, it was fun.
Sometimes, before a race, I remind myself, “Just run and have fun.” It makes a real difference.
3. Become a Member of the Running Community
Running buddies are essential for consistency. If you know that your buddy is going to show up for a workout, you’ll feel obliged to show up too. Of course, your buddy only shows up because they know YOU will be there. A simple Google search will probably reveal a running group near you. I run with the Twin Cities Running Club. I’m also a member of Run Minnesota. There are many other running groups. Find one that works for you.
You’ll also need expert advice on running gear. Find a local running store and build a relationship.
The running community is an opportunity to be supported. Take advantage of all that the community has to give. Also, find chances to give back by volunteering.
4. Start by Building a Base
It is better, in the beginning, to walk rather than run. Then it is better to run for a particular amount of time before worrying about the distance you cover. Later you can worry about your distance, pace, form, etc.
Around 70-80% of your training should be at an “easy” pace. Easy means, on a scale of 1 – 10, it feels like 3 or 4. You can tell you’re running, but it feels like you can do this all day. It’s also called a conversational pace because it is the pace at which you can hold a conversation.
5. Write it Down
Nothing will inspire you more than keeping a running journal. Online systems like Garmin Connect or Strava make it easy. Every day, record what you have done. Then from time to time, look back at what you have accomplished. You will inspire yourself.
6. Pick a Training Plan and Stick With It
I had no idea what I was doing the first time I trained for a marathon. I was winging it. Every weekend, I would drive 22 miles away from home, park my car, and run home on a running path. Given what I know now, I would not recommend it.
I read books on how to train and found training plans online. Eventually, I became a certified coach through the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).
There are lots of sources for a training plan. I would suggest you join a running group and learn from experienced runners.
Once you commit to a training plan, remain consistent. Consistency is the key to improvement.
7. Listen to Your Body
It is easier to recover from an ache than an injury. Sometimes, the stress of training your body will cause you to be sore or ache. But there is a difference between an ache and a pain. If your ache becomes a pain, stop running.
8. Be Willing NOT to Train if You Need a Rest
Most training plans have one or more rest days built-in. It may seem like an oxymoron, but recovery is training. You stress your body, then you rest your body. Rest builds your body back so you can improve to the next level. Sometimes the best training you can do is not to train.
9. Keep Your Ambition in Check
Eventually, you may want to run a race. Make your goal for your first race just to experience the race. Later, you can set goals for time, pace, and finish place.
10. Find a Coach
Virtual coaches are almost as good as live coaches. I’ve never met my first coach, nor have I ever spoken with him. It is Hal Higdon. I read his coaching advice in “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.” I did eventually hook up with a live coach. I joined a marathon-training group. Because of the training, I dropped my Personal Record (PR) in the Marathon from 4:13:20 to 3:41:22 in just one year. In the second year of training, I qualified for the Boston Marathon. In 2019, at the age of 60, I beat the Boston Marathon qualifying time by more than 30 minutes. All of that happened because I followed the sage advice of a running coach. Today, I am a coach! If you want a complimentary coaching call, you can sign up here.
11. Run Your Own Race
When racing, it’s easy to let ego get in the way. Don’t worry about who you are passing or who passes you.
In one of my first 5Ks, I was passed by an asthmatic 14-year-old girl who was wheezing so severely that she sounded like a calliope. I tried to catch her. Then, a thought came to me.
“My race. My pace.”
The only things I can control are my goal and my effort.
Run your own race and let others worry about their race. Some of those who pass you will be passed later on. If you let your ego get in the way, you’ll break your game plan to keep up with others.
12. Check with Your Doctor
You know that stuff you hear about checking with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine? Well, it is good advice. It is best to identify underlying health problems before you start.
I have an annual physical. I use the statistics from each year to check my progress.
Here’s the bottom line. Be safe. Have fun. Run with a buddy. If you do these things, you’ll enjoy running for a lifetime.