This post was prompted by a twitter query I saw from Stephanie @Stephnowirun that jumped into, though it wasn’t addressed to me:
what do u think new runners need to know/have/do? I’m planning a blog post! Pass the ?? On!
I tweeted back a bunch of quick replies, but I had so many things come to mind that it made me think “seems worthy of a blog post” – so here we are. This started as one really long post, but I thought you might enjoy it more in smaller chunks, hence the Part 1, and the soon-to-come Part 2. We could even have an ongoing (occasional) series if you find it useful, send me questions, or I come up with more ideas.
Let me reiterate that I’m not an expert, coach, trainer, elite or anything like that which would make me “qualified” to give advice. What you’ll get here is things I’ve learned, sometimes painfully or repeatedly, over the years I’ve been running. Some of them I have to keep reminding myself and re-learning, but I think that’s often how it goes. Some of the below is also my opinion, or things others have said/written over the years (attributed as best I can). I may do more of these posts as I learn more or as I accumulate tips, tidbits and the like seem like they’d be useful to others.
Without further ado, and in no particular order except for the first one, here we go!
If you run, you are a runner. This is a biggie, which I think I got at least in concept from the amazing Bart Yasso and from John Bingham (The Penguin). Speed is not what makes a runner. There will always be people faster & slower than you are. Distance doesn’t either either. Maybe you can do 3 miles. That doesn’t mean you’re less of a runner than someone who does 30. Running on a treadmill and loving it (like me!) doesn’t make you less of a runner than the people who love to run outdoors and would rather not run than run on a treadmill. Try not to compare yourself to others: you never know what someone else’s situation is, what their history is, what their goals are – and there’s no point to such comparisons anyway! (“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt)
Every runner is different. Your body, your health, your athletic and injury history, your life situation/stresses are all factors in your training and progress. So as Dean Karnazes says “listen to everyone, follow no one.” Get all the info you can, but you’ll have to make some decisions about what to try and what works for you or doesn’t. Trial and error is often the only way to figure this out, unpleasant though it may be. You’ll also have to balance sticking with what works for you with trying new things to improve your running in some way.
Get good shoes. Don’t skimp on shoes. Go to your local specialty running store (usually smaller independents) to get help. They should look at your feet, your running gait/form, ask you questions and help with fit. They may even let you test out shoes on a treadmill or nearby sidewalk. (ask about the return policy!) Here’s a good place to find running stores.
Staying healthy/injury-free – and thus being able to run consistently – is the most important factor for long term progress so avoid the “too much, too fast, too soon” traps like adding mileage too quickly or increasing the number of days you run too quickly. How quickly is too quickly? Often you’ll only know when it’s too late and you injure yourself. The general rule is not to increase your mileage by more than 10% a week, and not to increase for more than 3 weeks before dropping back for a week. (do NOT just increase every week) In terms of days, probably don’t go from 3 days to 5 days, or 5 to 7. Increase one day, make that day a shorter run, try it for a few weeks. It can be an annoyingly slow progression at first, but you’ll regret getting injured far more than you enjoy progressing fast (trust me, I speak from painful and frustrating experience). You can always add more miles or days or runs later but you can’t undo damage you’ve done by pushing too hard.
Warm up before a run. You’ll figure out what works best for you, but your body is unlikely to respond well to “cold starts”. You may get away with it for a while, but I think it increases your potential for injury at worst and for unpleasant runs at best. I walk 15 minutes before every run. Sometimes I’ll do some dynamic exercises before a run – something I need to do more consistently. One example of such exercises is Coach Jay Johnson’s Lunge Matrix. From what I’ve been reading, static stretches (like the typical runner’s quad stretch where you hold your ankle/foot in your hand behind your butt) are best AFTER a run, not before.
Start your runs at a slow, easy pace.
Don’t judge a run by the first 10-15 minutes. It may take your body/mind a while to get into it, so you might feel tired, winded, uncoordinated, etc. until that happens – and it may happen for you in 5 minutes or in 20, that’s just something you’ll learn. However, don’t be afraid to bail on a run, especially if there’s an injury/potential injury or you’re sick or exhausted, but know there will be days when you should push through anyway.
Cool down (slow your pace, maybe walk a bit) after a run. This will help your heart rate and blood pressure readjust. Now’s the time you might want to do some static stretching or yoga poses, or you might be interested in Active Isolated Stretching.
Local specialty running stores are a terrific resource. They may have training groups, fun run groups or organized long runs. They may host local races and events with speakers, medical practitioners, or shoe/apparel manufacturers. Staff can often tell you good running routes – take advantage of their expertise. Staff can also help you choose apparel, socks, gear, talk nutrition, local races and many other topics. Support the store with your dollars as well as your presence. They are essential to the local running community. While you’re there, pick up whatever free local running publications they have, usually by the door or at the register – don’t see, just ask.
You might enjoy reading Runner’s World magazine. It is very welcoming to new runners the information is easily understandable and it has interesting features, tips, training plans. You can often find discounts for subscriptions (try discountmags.com) but even full price, it’s much cheaper to subscribe than buy an issue at a time, and subscriptions help keep them going. You can check out their site for lots of free info. (Note, Running Times is published by the same company but tends to be a bit more targeted toward experienced runners in its content.) Another web option is Competitor – lots of free info, good articles and you can sign up for a free digital subscription and for free newsletters (as you can with Runner’s World). If you want the paper version of Competitor, don’t pay for it – chances are your local running store has free copies. There are more publications and many more web sites out there – you can gorge on running information, but these will get you started. (if you’re on Twitter, you can start following the hashtag #runchat and participating in weekly chats hosted by @therunchat on Sunday evenings.
You don’t have to run – or race – a race to be a runner. If you want to, go for it. Pick a reasonable race distance a reasonable amount of time away, figure out a training plan and sign up. What’s a reasonable race distance and amount of time? That depends on how much you’re running right now. 5k (3.1 miles) is a nice distance to start with and there tend to be plenty of local 5k races that aren’t that costly to enter. My personal opinion is that for a 5k you probably want to have run at least that distance in a single run several times before the race, and possibly be running 10-15 miles per week (mpw) for a few weeks. But that’s me – I know there are folks who go run a 5k coming from lower mileage than that and do just fine, but I think the better prepared you are, the better your race experience will be. You can find training plans for most distances here. You can walk during a race if needed and still consider yourself a runner (really!) Jeff Galloway trains people to complete marathons using a run/walk/run program.
To get more involved in your local running community (almost every place has one!), volunteer at a race or an expo, or support an organized group long run by bringing drinks, food, etc. Running can be a solo effort, and you don’t have to be part of anything, but you might like it, and the chance to meet and talk with other runners is something to take advantage of. You can also look for local running clubs (may have training groups too), specific interest groups (like mom running groups) and join those to find others to run with, if that’s what you want. This is again something your local running store may be able to help with.
One last link for you – Runner’s World has a great section online on getting started where you’ll find more tips and help than I can give you – and they’re experts with access to more experts and years of experience.
Welcome to the worldwide family of runners! If running adds even half as much good to your life as it has to mine over the years, you’re gonna love it.
Want a look at Stephanie’s post, with the tips she got from her request and her own wisdom? Here it is!
Seems like that’s plenty (more than!) for the first post on this topic. I’d love to know if it was useful to you, or if you have questions or topics you’d like to see addressed in future posts. Leave me a comment, tweet me or use the contact form on the site. Thanks for reading!