Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do's & Don't's for new (or newish) runners

It's about that time. Spring is in the air. The sun is finally beginning to show it's face. The last remnants of snow disguised as dirt are being washed away by rain. And seasoned runners who had confined themselves to the treadmill during the frigid months are breathing in deeply the fresh air as they step back onto the trails.

It's also quite possibly one of the most popular times for people to get the courage to finally lace up those running shoes again or even for the first time, second only perhaps to the early January influx of new runners making good on those darned resolutions. Whether it's just the beauty of the season that inspires someone to take up running or the fear of exposing hidden all winter flesh in a pair of shorts or a bathing suit or something else entirely that gives people the urge to go for a run right about now, I don't know. But what I do know is that the vast majority of new runners that start out this spring will sadly not be running still by summer and for one reason only. They were not fully prepared for what they were about to do.

Don't get me wrong. Becoming a runner isn't complicated and I'm a firm believer pretty much anybody can do it. But like I tell my daughter about a whole lot of things, "we can do this the easy way or the hard way." When it comes to running, the hard way tends to leave people injured, discouraged, or just hating running in general. So let's try this the easy way, or at least a slightly more enjoyable way.

What I have for you here is by no means a comprehensive list of do's & don'ts for new runners. I have no scientific research to back up what I'm about to say. I'm not a running coach, doctor, nutritionist, massage therapist, or chiropracticor. I'm a mom who runs and my formal credentials pretty much end there. But I have noticed a thing or two through my own running experiences of starting from scratch on more than one occasion and watching a good number of friends and family start off on their own running journies. And just perhaps something I've noticed or something that some seasoned runner out there who stumbles across this blog is willing to share will help you out as you get started. And on behalf of the running world (because I have in fact been officially authorized to speak for the entire running world of course) WELCOME!! We're glad you've decided to join us and please know YOU CAN DO THIS!!

So in no particular order (because that's the way I roll):

DO start slooooooooowly. The biggest mistake people make when they're just getting started running is they run too far or too fast too soon which ends in either a whole lot of soreness the likes that makes running again feel nearly impossible or desperately dreaded or they come to despise the act of running in general. Or even worse yet, they end up getting hurt. Newsflash: I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you do not have the same body you did in highschool and it is currently not capable of doing the same things it did back then. You've got to slow down. (This is where people who are first time runners have an advantage over returning runners who've been on a hiatus. New runners have no measuring stick and thus are less likely to kill themselves trying to run what they think they should be able to and perhaps did at some time in their life long ago). For now, push all those old finishing times out the window. Put your watch away. Just run at a pace that you could comfortably hold a conversation at. If you are panting, you are running too fast. Start small with a 1/2 mile or a mile; or 10 or 20 minutes.

DON'T beat yourself up about walking. In fact, I would highly encourage you as you start to PLAN ON WALKING. Let's get you in not only a good run, but a good workout which means keeping your heart rate up for at least twenty minutes and burning some calories. So instead of running for as long as you can and then pooping out after just a few minutes, run/walk. The theory here is that you will eventually get tired and in anticipation of doing so you walk to conserve some energy (and/or strength) and make it through the whole workout. Most of my friends and family who have become runners have done so by starting with 20 minutes of run 1 minute, walk 1 minute, repeat. Then, gradually increasing the running portion as well as the total workout time on subsequent runs from there. But again, increase sloooooowly.

DO give yourself some days off. For two reasons. First, your body is going to need some time to rest and recover as it adjusts to the new stresses you are putting on it. Second, this will give you some flexibility. If something pops up in your calendar or you're up all night with a teething baby or a sick 4 year old, no worries. Just shift things around. Take the day off and run the next. I've noticed people who make a 5-7 day commitment to run right off the bat seem to be more likely not to stick with it. Things come up. Time is tight. They feel guilty when they miss a run. Then REALLY guilty if they miss again. Miss a third time and the self beatings begin. Set yourself up to win. Give yourself a few days off and you'll find yourself looking forward to running instead of wishing you didn't have to.

DON'T underestimate how you're going to feel. So there's good news and bad news here. Let's start with the bad. You will be sore. Running is not as forgiving as some other fitness activities you could choose. Not only is it both weight bearing and high impact, but if it's been a long time since you've run or exercised there's a good chance you body is going to rebel and you're going to hear about it. By starting slooooowly we're trying to ease your body along with the hopes that it will just do a little grumbling and not start an all out war. But you will be sore. Count on that. So the good news? That soreness is a step in the right direction. It means you're getting stronger. Further good news is you'll also feel healthier and have more energy throughout the day. And don't underestimate what that sense of accomplishment will do for your spirit either!

DO stretch. There's some debate on whether or not stretching before you run offers any benefit. Some even claim that stretching before running causes injury. It is, however, pretty well agreed upon that static stretching (which means the type of stretching where you stand, sit or lie down and hold a pose as opposed to dynamic stretching which would be stretching through movement-not bouncing- just movement) without first warming up the muscles a bit through slow jogging or running is NOT good. It is also pretty well agreed upon that stretching AFTER you run can make a significant impact on how you feel the next day. So what kind of stretches? Check out this stretching basics article by a running coach friend of mine. That's a good place to start. You can also google stretching for runners and you'll be able to find any number of routines to suit your specific needs.

DON'T run in your old stinky shoes. Unless you bought them with the intention of running, then put them aside and never ran or walked in them again, chances are your shoes are worn out. The soles will break down way before the treads on the bottom, so don't just flip them over and say, "they look fine to me." And shoes that aren't made for running, well...they aren't made for running. So suck it up. Go get a new pair. Think of the $75-125 you spend on them as an investment in your health and happiness (makes it alot harder to quit too btw when you just forked over $100). If that's outside your budget right now, look for a discontinued shoe or a sale online. Lots of sites offer free shipping for shoes, you just have to find them. But before you buy a pair, go to a running store, not a general sports store, but an actual running store where they know something about feet, running, shoes and how they're all supposed to work together as opposed to a general sporting goods store where they'll just point you to the wall with shoes for your sport (hopefully) and help you find your size. Let the running shoe pro's fit you for a shoe. At a good running store they will not only measure your foot, (you'll usually need running shoes 1/2 size up from your normal size. Don't be insulted. Your feet expand when you run. Your toenails will thank-you for the bigger size later), but they'll also take a look at your foot and how you run and/or walk to help determine what sort of shoe you need (yep, there's different kinds). The right shoe can make a big difference in how you feel when you run. (SIDENOTE: There is an emerging trend right now in barefoot running. I have no desire at this point in my life to run without shoes unless I'm playing with my kids, on a beach or if my life depended on it which means I also know virtually nothing about barefoot running except that you should start sloooooooooow and learn more about it.)

DO set a goal. Goals are good. They give you something to work towards and focus on. They'll get you out of bed in the morning to run when your covers want to suck you back in or they'll kick you out the door in the evening when the couch is calling. It doesn't matter what your goal is but make it something tangible, something you can see or do like finish a local 5K (3.1), run for 40 minutes or 1 mile without stopping, wear a smaller pair of jeans or fit into your pre-pregnancy bathing suit. Whatever it is, make sure it is both short term and realistic. "I will run a marathon (26.2 miles) in 3 months" is just not going to be achievable for a brand new runner (at least not safely). Whereas, "I will run a marathon in the next two years" is totally achievable, but so far away it can make your running today seem less necessary and easy to put off. It's not a bad goal to have ultimately, but break it down into something more quickly achievable that demands action right now (ie. I will finish a 5K in 3 months).

DON'T forget to reward yourself. When you hit your big goal or after each run or both!
You'll have worked hard and deserved it. I'm mini peppermint patty after each run and a restaurant I LOVE after each race.

DO get a running partner. Because misery loves company right? Nah. It's just that much harder to switch the alarm clock off in the morning when you know you've got somebody out there waiting for you to go run. (Tip: Move the alarm clock far enough away from your bed so that you actually have to get out of it to switch it off and you'll REALLY be less likely to skip your run.) A running partner will not only keep you accountable but on those bad running days (yes, they do happen) they'll be your support and encouragement. You'll find that non-runners don't like talking about running nearly as much as runners do (shocking I know), so your running partner will be the perfect person to chat it up with. And if no one's willing to suck it up and go with you, there's all kinds of places online to find yourself a virtual running partner. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace are good places to start looking for one if you have a profile or online running communities like Tribal Running or Runners World are overflowing with runners of all shapes, sizes, and ability. (IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Please do not ever go alone for a run with someone you met online.)

If you'll be running outdoors, it's also a good idea for safety to run with a partner or a group. Unfortunately there's alot of creeps out there and when you're alone your more likely to be a target. And all creeps aside, you never know when something unexpected might happen (which is why I also recommend carrying a cell phone with you) and you know the saying...two heads are better than one. At the very least, make sure you let someone you trust know when you're going out for a run, where you're going, and about how long you'll be gone. (This would be the mom in me coming out right here. Be safe all!)

So there you go! I've got more & could probably go on forever, but those are the biggies. If you're a newbie and you've got a question, don't hesitate to ask. If you're not so new and you've got a do or a don't of your own you'd like to share, please do so! Enjoy this wonderful spring weather and enjoy your run!

'Til next time...

P.S. Have you voted yet? Only 13 days left to tell me which marathon to run. Check out my right sidebar.


Alynn said...

Thanks for the advice. I am new to this whole running thing, trying to train for a Ragnar race in June with my husband's family. The idea of it scares me to death. Running is hard. I have never been a runner and becasue this race is quickly approaching, I push myself to run farther than I should. Today I am laid up with a bum knee reading running blogs :)

RunMom said...

It is totally nervewracking when you sign up for your first race. But don't worry you've still got lots of time. And I promise even if you have to walk some of it, none of those runners out there (unless they are complete jerks) are judging you. We've all been new at one time or another and know that getting started is the hardest part. How far is the race?
Hope your knee gets better soon!