Making the decision to start running can be pretty freaking exciting. Maybe you are already planning out future races, or maybe you just want to be able to get around the block once without stopping. No matter what your goals are, we all have to start somewhere. A lot of people think that running separates people: People who can run a sub four hour marathon vs. People who can manage it in 3:30, People who can sprint with no issues vs. People who hate speed work. But the truth is, running is a great equalizer. True, your “easy” may not be the same as someone else’s “easy,” but you are both runners, and you both have to log your miles, regardless of the pace. Unfortunately, this also means that we are all susceptible to the same injuries, especially when you first start to run.
When I started running, I had never gone farther than a couple miles. In fact, up until that point, I rarely ran because I didn’t enjoy it. A “long run” for me was anything that took more than 20 minutes. But I suddenly found myself living overseas in a foreign country (South Korea… My husband is a solider in the U.S. Army) after having spent my entire life in a small town in Georgia. Needless to say, I was experiencing a bit of a culture shock, as well as all the stress that comes with feeling homesick and being a military spouse. So I decided to try running as a form of stress relief. My dad had been running for a few years so he and I agreed to sign up for a race to run together when my husband and I visited the states that summer (this was in January of 2011).
So I started running. Just a few easy 2 and 3 milers. I still remember running my first scheduled long run: 6 miles. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. And just that like, I was reading Runner’s World and following track events online. I became totally consumed by running. It is really a great feeling, to be so passionate about something. But then all of that passion came back to bite me in the butt. I got shin splints… Bad.
I was instantly frustrated and heartbroken. I read up on overuse injuries and found out that the best way to fix my shin splints was to cut back on running. But why?! I just fell in love with the sport, and now I have to stop?
Unfortunately, I am horribly stubborn and don’t learn lessons easily, which is how I managed to get two more overuse injuries in a three month span before my half marathon that June (which I was able to, thankfull, run painfree).
So what is my number one tip for new runners? Start Sloooow.
No, I don’t mean your pace. Plus, “slow” is relative… An easy pace for one person is painful for another. No, what I mean is to ease into your mileage gently. If you have never run on a regular basis before, you don’t want to jump into 25 mile weeks overnight. And also, don’t think that just because you feel fine after the first couple weeks that you are in the clear. Overuse injuries come from just that: Overuse. You may be able to get away with pushing yourself for a week or two, but eventually all that pushing will catch up to you and your legs will let you know in a very painful manner.
Now, everyone’s legs are different and will tolerate different things. The general rule is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% from week to week. However, some people can do a little more, and some need to do less. Unfortunately, much of running involves quite a bit of trial and error to find what is right for you and your running.
My second tip: Set lots of goals.
No, I don’t want you to make yourself a laundry list of goals that is so long that it intimidates you and scares you away from running. What I’m talking about is setting a variety of goals. Of course, you probably have some bigger, long-term goals in mind (Running a marathon, Breaking a time in the 5K, Qualifying for Boston, Running an ultradistance, etc.), and those goals are definitely great to have, but you also need to set smaller goals that you can hit on your way to your bigger goals. Some examples: Running your first double-digit long run, breaking your PR for one mile, joining a running group, running two days in a row, etc. There are all sorts of goals that you can set, you just have to remember that it doesn’t have to be a huge goal to be worth achieving. Setting these smaller goals will help keep you focused and allow you to feel all warm and fuzzy when you check them off your list.
Third tip: Share your running… But not all the time.
Now, this tip refers more to the time you don’t spend running, but it is a lesson I’ve learned since I started running last year. It is a wonderful thing to find friends who also enjoy running. Even if you can’t always get together for runs, you can talk mile splits and routes and plan races together. I was able to find this with my Dad, with the friends I met through blogging, and with a few Army wives in Korea. However, as important as your running friends will be in your life, it is just as important to remember that your non-running friends probably don’t want to hear about your chafing over dinner, or about how you’ve been reading about what foods are least likely to make your digestive system erupt (from either end) during your race next weekend. Also, be sure to use the words “black toenail” cautiously, and never on a first date.
Finally: Listen to your body.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will head out for a short easy run and your body will tell you, “Go ahead, pick up the pace. And while you’re at it, let’s tack on a few extra miles.” It is rare, but sometimes everything just feels perfect. But usually, if your body has something to say it isn’t nearly as uplifting. If you head out for a speed session and your ankle keeps twinging with every step, maybe today should be changed to an easy run. Or, if you wake up one more and your legs hardly let you get out of bed, and unscheduled rest day is probably the best choice. I still have a hard time listening to my body, but with all the “motivational” photos and phrases out there (“pain is weakness leaving the body,” “unless you faint, puke, or die, keep going!”, “no one ever drowned in sweat”) it is kind of understandable. Of course, there are definitely times where pushing is a smart choice. And I firmly believe that you have to go outside of your comfort zone in order to see results and to keep progressing. But sometimes your body is sore and tired because it genuinely needs a break.
Believe me when I say that you should listen, before you end up injured.
Deciding to start running can be intimidating, even though it seems like the simplest sport. But just remember to be patient with your mileage, to stay focused and positive, and to listen to what your body tells you, and your running journey should be a wonderful experience. True, injuries may happen, and somedays running may just not sound like fun… But I have learned that you need to stick with it. Which brings me to one final tip…
Stick with it. Don’t force yourself, but push yourself just enough mentally to see what running can really bring you. Somedays it might be raining, windy, or you just may roll over, look at the clock, and simply not want to go… But try. Just for a mile, or even just once around the block. Chances are, you’ll change your mind and you’ll be glad that you laced up your shoes that morning.
Comments are welcomed and encouraged – I know Lauren would be thrilled to hear from you.
She and her husband, Aaron, have a Miniature Pinscher named Alan who is a complete and total diva.