How to become a runner
The key to enjoying the benefits of running is learning to enjoy the activity of running.
Running is probably the world’s best form of exercise. It builds fitness, increases health, promotes a healthy body weight, and can be done just about anywhere by anyone. Runners will also tell you that running is highly enjoyable. However, running does not make a great first impression on many beginners, who experience the exertion of running is as unpleasant.
Whether you’re brand-new to running or trying to get your groove back after a long break, the first steps can be tough. It takes time to build endurance and get your mind and body used to the striding motion. To keep your confidence high and injury risk low, it’s best to stick to a training schedule.
If you want to be a runner, be a runner. Even if you have never done it before, haven’t got any special gear and not entirely sure what you are doing. The form, the speed, the ability to cover serious distance will come to you eventually if you keep at it. Remember that a large part of it, all of the excuses and the reasons why you can’t do it or can’t do it today, are in your head. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop questioning and just go and run.
The first rule of running is anyone can do it. If you can run and if you do run, you are a runner and no one can take that away from you. The best thing about it, is that in order to be a runner you don’t have to apply for a license, pass a test or give an oath, the moment you get out of the door, step outside and take off you are admitted to the brotherhood of runners.
We all start to run for different reasons. There is no shame in coming to running in the hope of losing weight or getting in a better shape. We all start somewhere and whatever your reasons are, if they get you going and if they keep you on track these reasons are good enough for anyone out there. Some run because it’s more convenient than following a program, it burns the extra calories. Others run because they like the sense of control and empowerment they get out of it.
1. Have it your way.
Running guru George Sheehan famously said that “we are all experiments of one.” That is so true. There are some non-negotiables when you first hit the road: start slow and finish strong, never run through pain and invest in running shoes and replace them before they wear out (it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get fit without getting hurt).
But the rest – -and there is a lot — is open to individual interpretation and limited only by your imagination. So find a way to fall in love with running, and don’t be distracted by people who try to convince you that you’re doing it wrong. There are many standards of success — run a mile in less than 10 minutes, break 30 minutes in a 5K, run a marathon, finish a sub-4-hour marathon, run 40 miles a week. They’re perfectly fine goals, but if they’re not within reach, or they don’t personally matter to you, ignore them. And ignore anyone who tries to convince you that you must run a certain pace or number of miles to be a real runner.
If you run, you’re a runner. Want to race? Great. Hate to race? Who cares? Running requires precious time and energy that you could otherwise spend with the people you love and your life’s work. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s a complete waste of time.
2. Don’t undo your roadwork at the dinner table.
It’s easy to get into a cycle of entitlement eating, indulging in unhealthy treats and eating back the calories you burn running — and then some. Keep in mind that most people overestimate the number of calories they burn and lowball the number they consume. For any run of an hour or less, it’s fine to run on empty. Anything longer, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve run, have a 100-200 calorie snack an hour before heading out. Make sure it’s high in carbs (your body’s favorite fuel) and low in fat and fiber (which can cause GI upset). It takes some strategizing to get your dieting and running efforts in sync. If you let hours pass between eating and running, you’ll lose the energy you need to run fast and burn calories. Overeat before you head out, and you’ll be sidelined by GI problems.
3. Follow the 10 minute rule.
The first 10 minutes of any run are going to feel tough. You’ll likely feel stiff, achy, tired and ticked off. That’s okay, and a natural part of transitioning from being sedentary to being in motion. If you keep pushing your body forward — even if you’re walking — your weariness will soon evolve into exhilaration. I promise. Just commit to 10 minutes of movement. You can do anything for 10 minutes. Just don’t get back on the couch.
After 10 minutes, you can call it quits with the satisfaction of knowing that your mission is accomplished. But more often than not, your muscles will feel warmed up, your heart rate will be elevated and you’ll start to feel energized, even excited to exercise. However good or bad you feel beforehand, a workout will make you feel better. Even if that workout is a 10-minute stroll.
4. Learn the difference between good pain and bad pain.
Pain is not, as the old saying goes, weakness leaving your body. That said, running isn’t going to feel comfortable, or easy. Not in the first few weeks or even months. But it shouldn’t feel like torture. Learn to distinguish between the muscle aches that go with pushing your legs and lungs farther and faster than they’ve gone before, and the more alarming pains that should stop your run, and prompt some rest and a call to a sports medicine specialist ASAP.
Any pain that persists or worsens as you run, or after you’re done, is something that deserves at least two days of rest and possibly a call to the doctor. Same goes for any pain that’s sharp, makes you change your gait to compensate (which can cause more injury), or is located on one side of the body but not the other. Seeing a doctor is an investment of time, energy and money that few people have to spare. But it is much better than wasting sleepless nights worried about worst-case scenarios, or running through pain and turning a small irritation into a full-blown injury
5. Take your run like medicine.
The hour before a run is tougher than anything you’ll encounter out there. Before you go, a flood of excuses will threaten to get between you and the road. You will always have e-mails to answer, dishes to wash, laundry to do, phone calls to return. But if you don’t take care of your body, it won’t take care of you. Research has proven that regular exercise will help prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer, among other conditions. It can help improve the quality of your life, help stave off depression, help you stay sharp as you age, and even help prevent age-related declines such as falling. You can’t control the chaos the day and your life may bring. But running will help you handle whatever comes.
6. Learn how to talk back to negative voices.
At some point during a run of any distance you’ll start hearing these voices:
-I’m too slow. -I’m too tired. -I hate running. -I can’t do this. -I don’t want to do this. -I should be working instead. -I should be home instead.
You can’t prevent these voices from haunting your run. But you can develop a strategy for vanquishing them. Make a list of reasons why you run. Fitting into your skinny jeans is perfectly acceptable. Add up your miles each week, so when you hit the wall at mile 2 of a planned 3-miler, you’ll know that final mile is nothing compared to all the miles you’ve already logged. When someone passes you, don’t take it personally; it’s not a referendum on how fit you are. It’s proof of what’s possible.
What’s important is not “how far you go, but how far you’ve come.” Stop thinking about it as a run and think about it as outside time, which studies have proven is medicine itself. Have mantras close to mind that feel meaningful.
7. Go with the flow.
Let your running life evolve as your life changes. The state of your work, family and social life will have a huge impact on how much time, emotion, energy and interest you can bring to running, and what you need from it. There will be times when you will love how running helps you test your physical and mental endurance. And there will be other times when surviving the workday and keeping your kids and partner fed, safe, healthy and happy feels like an endurance test, and you need to rely on running for relaxation.
If you hogtie yourself to goals that no longer fit, burnout and bitterness are all but assured. Keep setting new goals that work well with your lifestyle and your state of mind. Change things up: Hit the trails. Run your regular route in reverse. Run with friends so the workout also serves as social hour. Stop racing. Or start. Mentor a friend. Start a streak. Set a weekly, monthly or annual mileage goal. Strap on a GPS watch and use your run to explore new places. One of the most beautiful things about this sport is that it is wide open to personal interpretation.
Go At Your Own Pace
Many fitness experts encourage men and women to exercise at certain physiological intensities that are proven to be most effective in stimulating desired results. The trouble with this approach is that beginners often experience these externally imposed intensity targets as unpleasant, which discourages them from continuing their exercise program.
Research has shown that beginners experience exercise as far more enjoyable when they are allowed to select their own exercise intensity. Yes, the intensity is often lower with this approach and it takes longer to build fitness, but that doesn’t matter at all if it makes the difference between continuing and quitting.
Other research has shown that beginning exercisers who have a relatively pleasant first workout experience are much more likely to still be exercising six months later than beginners who are miserable in their first workout. So it’s important to do whatever it takes to make exercise as enjoyable as you can make it when you’re just starting out. One way to do that in running is to choose the pace you’re most comfortable with. Don’t let any internal sense of obligation or outside force compel you to go faster than you’re ready to go.
Running 101: Dealing With Post-Run Muscle Soreness
While DOMS is unavoidable for the beginning runner, you can minimize it by “inoculating” your muscles to the stress of running when you start your running program. The muscles become more resistant to the stress of running after the very first exposure to it. Therefore, in your first workout you want to apply just enough stress to trigger this effect and no more, because doing any more will only result in more soreness without resulting in any more resistance to future muscle damage.
I suggest you make your first run very short—only about 10 minutes. And instead of running for 10 minutes continuously, break it up. Run faster than you normally would for 15 to 30 seconds, then slow to a walk. When you’re ready, run for another 15 to 30 seconds, then walk again. Continue in this manner until you’ve put in 10 minutes and stop, even if you feel you could do more. Sure, you feel good now, but you will feel sore tomorrow—yet less sore than you would if you continued. And most important, you’ll feel less sore after subsequent runs thanks to this inoculation.
Give It A Month
If you are consistent and you build your running sensibly, it will take you about a month to start feeling noticeably more comfortable when you run. It’s important to know this and set your expectations accordingly when you begin a running program. Going in with unrealistic hopes of getting fitter within a week will only set you up for discouragement and quitting. On the other hand, you’ll have an easier time sticking with it if you know that getting over the hump will not take longer than about four weeks.
Take a “no excuses” mentality into your first month of running. Don’t miss a single planned run for any reason, no matter how much you dread the next one. If you do this, you will progress at the maximum rate possible and find yourself enjoying your runs after four weeks and no longer needing to psych yourself into doing the next run.
The important thing
What you have to understand is that most runners out there have no special abilities, we all started somewhere and we all struggle – present tense. It doesn’t get easier, not for anyone, but you get better, you always do. If you run – you are a runner, and every runner you meet will respect you and accept you because they know what it is like, they understand what you are going through. If you are out of shape and you go running, you may feel that other runners are judging you – they don’t. They celebrate and admire you, because what you are doing isn’t easy. What they are doing isn’t easy either, they just had more practice in making it look easy.