How to Become a Runner
Advice for Novice Runners
I'll be honest - I've never been an athlete. Growing up, I was painfully awkward and uncoordinated. Remember the cliche`of the kid picked last in gym class? That was me, year after year in childhood. Team sports were just not my strength.
Running, on the other hand, always stirred my interest. The solitary nature of the sport really appealed to me. I loved the fact that I could be responsible for my own best time or worst time. Once I was out of school, though, I never really explored the possibility of actually becoming a runner. My exercise routine throughout young adulthood was spotty at best.
Then I turned 40. I looked in the mirror and saw an extra 25 pounds and unflattering rolls. Clothes never quite fit the way I wanted them too. This nuisance weight, along with my uneasy acceptance of a strong family propensity to diabetes, motivated me to finally get off the couch and take action. Could I really become a runner? Would I ever have the discipline and endurance to run further than a mile without huffing and puffing? I put these questions to the test, and I am happy to report, especially to other potential later-in-life runners, that running is a sport you can really embrace - on your own terms.
Find your Tribe
Join a running group or club. Do this, even if you are a true introvert and love to exercise alone. As a new runner, you will find the limits of your fitness and endurance regularly tested; it can be quite rewarding if you have good support and camaraderie to meet that challenge.
In a group that meets regularly, you will often find runners of all ability levels. Some are well matched, but even much faster runners will challenge you to improve your time and distance. Running groups can also be a great resource if you want to eventually enter races. A group may participate in a 5K, a 10K, or even relay races with a team of members, and it can feel much less daunting for a first-timer if you spot many familiar faces at the starting line. Where can you find such a group? Many local running shoe stores host them. Social sites like Meetup.com are a great source of local running groups too, and don't forget to look through your other social media sites for leads as well.
Don't Go Too Far, Too Fast
One of the most common mistakes for beginning runners? Pushing yourself too hard. It's very tempting, once you begin to progress and feel that excitement, to skip some steps to get closer to your goal. But this is where self discipline comes in. Following a run-walk program, as popularized by former Olympian Jeff Galloway, can really "break you in" to a running program and remain injury free. There are many apps and programs that detail the minutes involved in each running and walking period. You will usually start with very brief running intervals, longer walking breaks, and an extensive cooldown. Gradually, the running periods get longer and closer together, until you work up to a big chunk of running. I used a phone app (called Couch to 5K) that guided users so they can build to a 5K distance within 8 weeks. This app was incredibly helpful; the gradual increase helped me to stay injury free while I worked up to those greater distances.
Your shoe choice can drag you down or propel you forward
I've found that finding the perfect pair of running shoes depends on both science and emotional preference. A visit to a dedicated running store and a discussion with a fit specialist will be well worth your while. The specialist will analyze your stride, possibly perform gait analysis testing, and determine whether your arch type figures into the recommended shoe. Even with these expert suggestions, though, you may fall in love with a specific type of shoe that just feels right when you run. For me, it was the Brooks Cadence, which was a very lightweight shoe with some minor stability features. I'm a little overweight and may have benefited from extra cushioning and heft in my shoes, but that is not the type of shoe that felt best. I found that the super light, close to the ground, slightly structured feel of my shoes gave me a psychological lift whenever I laced them up. So, do your research, but also settle on a shoe you love. Try not to break the bank either, since regular runners should replace those shoes roughly every 4-6 months, depending on your mileage.
Register for a Race
This was the single most anxiety-producing event of my short running life. The idea of entering a race caused huge distress. Will I - gasp! - finish last? Will I look like I don't belong? Will I be able to pin the number on my shirt correctly? I realize now that these are all common concerns of first timers, but they were not worth obsessing over! I did not finish last in that first race. I managed to pin the number on myself in a presentable way. I ended up not feeling foolish, but quite proud. I think I was one of many first timers in that costume themed 5K. It's almost impossible to feel self conscious while wearing a silly hot pink cape.
Need some extra motivation and incentive to keep you moving along in your running program? A 5K or a 10K on the horizon can do just that. Many offer beautiful scenery, while others provide a fun party atmosphere, but any race can give you the feeling of accomplishment and validation you crave as a new runner. When you've laid down all the sweaty effort you can muster on race day, I promise that you will feel like a true runner (no matter your race time). And if you have a competitive interest in improving your time, then that first race will give you a good baseline to use as a reference.
Every Day gets Easier
There are countless reasons to love running; it offers so many tangible benefits. Running boosts your overall health, may help you live longer, improves the quality of your sleep and helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Best of all, though, running offers a remarkable perk. There is always another day, another race, another year that you can build upon your progress- and always a chance to improve. You can achieve more - better race times, longer distances, a more consistent routine. With running, when you put in the effort, you will see the results. That amazing sense of accomplishment is worth the struggle it takes to get there.