Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How NOT to start running

I’m sitting here staring out my window at a gorgeous sunny spring day (or at least I was when I started writing this earlier today. It’s now pitch black out, but hey, whatever). Just the exact kind of day that makes people go, "Ahhhh...I think I'll start running." (Yes, yes, there are people who randomly pick up and start running because of the spring weather. In fact, you've probably seem them barely plodding along on the side of the road, their ratty old sweat pants drenched in sweat wearing a pair of shoes that may or may not be recognizable as having at one time been an actual pair of running shoes, gasping for breath and looking for the shortest route home.)

Let's not mix words here. Running can be hard even for the seasoned pro. Taking up running for the first time in a long time can be really REALLY hard. Stupid hard. The kind of hard that makes you take those barely recognizable running shoes and toss them straight back into the back of your closet with the vow never to wear them again kind of hard. But here's the good news: It doesn't have to be. So let me spare you the stupid hard and give you a few pointers to make running less hard and maybe even a little bit fun, because we all know, the results are worth it.

1) While we’re on the topic, do not go running in your barely recognizable running shoes. Or some random pair that sort of look like an athletic shoe. Running shoes are made for running. Other shoes are made for, well, other things. Does it make a difference? Does riding a wild bull bareback for the first time in a rodeo hurt? I have no idea, but I’m going with yes. If what first pops into your head when you pick up your shoes is, “these are probably ok.” The answer is no. They are probably not. Soles wear out before treads and unless you can specifically remember what all exactly you’ve been doing in that shoe, it’s a safer bet to opt for a new pair.

Go to a running specialty shop and have a pro take a look at your feet to help you determine what type (yes, there are types) of running shoe will work best for you. If you prefer to join the ranks of the barefoot runners and run sans shoes, go for it. Go with what the good Lord gave you or go with science, but do not by any means go with something you are not entirely sure about, unless you’re just begging for some pain and/or an injury. Then by all means, my friend, I think I’ve even got some flip flops you can borrow.

2) Do not start without a plan. You can if you want, but I give you…oh, about a week…max. Inevitably, life (or that really comfy couch) just gets in the way. Sit down. Decide what you want to do. Come up with a goal and then write down how you’re going to get there. You’re goal could be any number of things: to run a race, a particular distance, shed a particular number of pounds, but make it specific so that you know when you’ve reached it (and can celebrate! Always reward yourself, at least in a little way, when you hit your goals.) and you can you can determine the path to get there. “I’m going to run a few days a week,” is good, but it’s pretty general, whereas “I’m going to run a 5K in 3 months,” is a much more specific goal that you can lay out a game plan for.

3.) Do not start running immediately following childbirth. I know you may want to and it’s hard to resist, but do. Even if you were one of the lucky ones who gave birth just as quick and easy as my 2 year old creates colorful masterpieces on my living room walls (yep, she did), with barely a stitch or two to show for it, you still may want to hold off. Your body’s been through a lot over the last nine months or so and like a hard workout, that takes some time to recover from. PLUS, let’s not forget you’ll have a newborn in the house which equates to a massive lack of sleep. You may at first want to take the available time you do have and hit the hay not the pavement. Don’t feel guilty if you find you need to take a week (or more) to get used to things before you get back to it.

If you do happen to be one of the few, the proud, the 4% who have some seriously nice wounds following childbirth (such as moi), I’d not even think about running for awhile. Hide the shoes if you must. Even when you think you’re good to go, wait a little longer or you might find all those wounds re-opening in a way that’s more painful than they were when you originally scored them. (I. Am. Not. Kidding.) And besides being painful, it’s nearly devastating, and will set you all the way back to the “I’ll never be myself again. EVER." stage of postpartum at a point when you nearly thought you WERE yourself again (you’ll get there mama. I promise.)  The more severe the tearing, the longer I’d hold off. The 6 week post partum visit with your OBGYN sounds about right.

4) Do not assume you are the same super fit speedster you were in high school, college, pre-baby, or whenever you last donned some kicks. Sadly, you are not. Chances are you are far from it. Plan accordingly. Plan conservatively. If you think you could probably run a mile ok, then start with a 1/2 mile sandwiched in between some walking. Set yourself up to win rather than have a miserable run, thus most likely making it your last run. You can always bump up the mileage on a subsequent run or run on a little when you’ve finished if you’re still feeling good. However, if you set the bar too high for yourself, and you run out farther than you are actually capable of, you’ve got no choice. You are dragging your sorry defeated butt all the way back home (unless you take your cell phone with you and can call in the cavalry to come pick you up, which is not a bad idea either. I always run with a phone. You never know what can happen).

Keep in mind too, that the effects of that first run might not kick in until the next day at which point you’ll
know if you pushed yourself more than you should have for run numero uno because you’ll be walking around as if you were one of those 4% of women I mentioned above and the word “Ow” will be coming out of your mouth on a somewhat frequent basis, particularly if you live in a home with stairs.

Same goes for pace as well as distance. General rule of thumb, run those first few runs at a pace you could hold a conversation at, quite possibly being a pace just barely above a walk. In fact, run/walking is a FANTASTIC option, that I highly recommend to new runners. It’s a great way to build endurance and mileage safely while at the same time giving you a longer initial workout than a new runner would likely be able to complete. There’s no shame in walking. There are plenty of veteran runners who use a run/walk combo for ALL of their runs, even competing in marathons with that strategy. In fact, my OBGYN qualified for the Boston Marathon on his very first marathon attempt and he ran/walked the whole thing! (run/walk intervals of 10:1 for those of you who must know).

But the #1 Cardinal Rule of Running is this: Too much too soon is too much. Never forget it! That goes for pace. That goes for distance. That even goes for types of terrain. Doing too much before your body is physically ready to handle it will at best lead to decreased performance and at worst, injury. Not good. So ease yourself into running sloooooooooooowly.

5.) Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Running 5,6,7 days a week is quite an accomplishment. But for the new runner, usually, it’s just too much (don’t make me repeat that cardinal rule. I will if you force me.) Not only can it lead to injury, it can lead to burnout big time. I have rarely never met a person who decided to take up running and successfully ran 7 days a week, although I have known some who’ve tried. Are these athletic phenoms out there? Sure. But for the average Jane Doe wanna become a runner, it’s more likely that they’ll continue running if they start somewhere in between 3 and 5 days(maybe even only 1 or 2 if they’re actively engaged in some other form of cross training).

Why? I have no real scientific data to back me up on this, but I would venture to guess it’s because people need a little break every once in awhile, both mentally and physically. It’s ok to take a night off and chill out on the couch watching your favorite shows or spend an extra hour in the morning in bed. And like I said earlier, sometimes life just gets in the way: a sick kiddo, a surprise guest from out of town, a late night at work. And when life comes at you, sometimes you’ve got to take the time to handle it and running can’t always be a part of that. Give yourself a little bit of flexibility when you first start and your commitment is most vulnerable. Once you’ve consistently made running a part of your weekly routine and you're pretty well sold out, THEN add in another day or two. It’ll be more likely to stick.

6.) Don’t be afraid to run outside or at a gym or track or any other  place where other humans might lay eyes on you. Because guess what? We’ve all been that newbie runner at some point or another. Quite frankly, when I see that guy running that I described to you in the intro as I drive along, it takes every ounce of self control I have to not roll down my window and cheer him along. Runners, for the most part, are a very supportive group. Sure we’ve got our snobs here and there, but they’re few and far between. The majority of runners out there are always excited to welcome a new runner to the ranks and more than willing to offer some encouragement. So even though you may not feel like a rock star runner out there on your first run and you may not hear your adoring fans cheering out loud, rest assured my friend, we ARE cheering as we pass you by, (we just don’t want to scare you with our car horn or outrageous howling). Furthermore, I guarantee, as you run along thinking everybody’s making fun of you, somebody is out there being inspired by you. They’re thinking, “you know what, if she can run, I can run too.” Running is contagious. BIG TIME.

7.) Don’t run with your super fit cousin. At least not on your first run. Or at least not without warning her that you are a brand new runner and you expect to be running a really easy pace. Otherwise you may find it ridiculously annoying to be sucking wind after a few minutes while she’s talking about it being such a nice day and perhaps you guys should consider running a little farther than originally planned. (Um…no?)

It’s awesome to have a running partner. They can make the time on a run fly by. It is not awesome to have a running partner that ends your run far sooner than you intended because you attempted to keep up with them and just couldn’t…yet. Yes, runners love new runners. And a friend or family member who’s already a runner would probably LOVE to go out for a run with you, but you’ve got to be upfront and honest with them too so they know where you’re at. Surely, they want you to succeed, but they can’t help you do that unless you let them. And running faster or farther than you are capable of to try to keep up with someone who’s got more experience than you = not succeeding.

8.) Don’t tell the negative ninny’s in your life you’re running right away. They must be addressed, even though I dread giving them the space in this post. Everybody’s got ‘em. You know who I’m talking about. You could have just won the Noble Prize, found the cure for cancer, broke the world record for the marathon, it wouldn’t matter. These people would find something to try to take the wind out of your sails. It’s like they thrive on it. Don’t even give them a chance. In a few months when they’re asking you how you lost so much weight or how you have so much energy, then you can spill it. That way when they start dumping all their negativity out on you, you can secretly remind yourself that they were just moments earlier basically paying you a compliment (their funny little way of saying “you’ve lost weight!” or “you’re so energetic!'”), a compliment that you earned via the very method they’re trying to tear down, running. So you smile, nod, and go run some more.

9.) DO NOT EVER GIVE UP! ALL runners have ups and downs, good runs and bad runs. ALL OF US. So don’t beat yourself up if you happen to find yourself in the middle of a not so good run. It happens. You shake it off and run another day. The benefits of running far outweigh any bad run you’ll ever have…but only if you don’t give up.

'Til next time...
P.S. I’m happy to announce RunSis had her baby yesterday! A baby girl, 6lbs 13oz and the most beautiful little head of jet black hair. She’s absolutely a doll! YAY RunSis!


Melissa C said...

fabulous post! It was good for seasoned runners to read too. Also, I just wanted to add that I qualified for Boston on just 4 days of running each week. Quality, not quantity is key.

Jill @ Run for the Hills said...

great tips!

Angela said...

Thank you for this post. No. 9 is one I needed to hear, especially this week. I've been having some craptastic runs so reading that really helped.

Cari Mugz said...

Thank you - I needed to hear the Cardinal Rule to much to soon.

Momma on the Run said...

This is a great post! I definitely needed this 8 months ago and will pass it on!

runnanna said...

Great post for new runners and experienced runners too ! Real advice for Real runners!

Running Mama said...

Fabulous tips. Looking forward to reading your blog.

Sarah (A Runner's Heart) said...

Thanks for this post! I am due with my first in less than 6 weeks and I have a jogging stroller and running shoes starring me in the face! I want to get back out there so bad! But I know I need to heal...But I sure can't wait until my first run afterward! :)

theAlmostRunner said...

this is a great post! thank you for the insight. i just found your blog and i love it!

Gaspegirl said...

I am learning to run... on week 4 of Couch to 5K and these tips are great! I am following now.

Make it a great day!

Running fool said...

Great post! Years ago my first run was exactly 2 miles on a whim in ancient "sneakers" dressed head to toe in cotton on a humid & hot June day. I don't know what I was thinking!! I could have benefited from this advice back then. :) But I like to learn things the hard way

Scott said...

Starting to run was one of the hardest things that I have done. One of the other things that is difficult is to keep running. A lot of the pointers that you gave not only apply to newbies but to runners who are returning from injury or illness that caused them to stop running for an extended period of time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It is very encouraging. I am going on my first walk/run/jog tonight. My husband and I are letting our next door neighbor babysit while we venture out. I'm a little scared. I know I will be out of breath and jiggle in all the places I shouldn't, but I figure if we can make this a regular thing, we can both be healthy again.

RunMom said...

Anon, Been there done that with the jiggle! And if I can do it, you can do it too! That's awesome that you've got your husband to go with you. Enjoy that time together!