Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Running
So let me preface this article by first stating that I was an athlete in High School and continued my athletic career into part of my college tenure. Now, since that has been over 20 years ago, being active has not. I have struggled with my ups and downs and ultimately gained 40 pounds over the years trading in six pack abs for, well, a six pack of beer. It wasn’t until I attended a wedding for my best friend that I truly felt overweight. His father made a comment to me about my weight, which at this point I was feeling a bit self-conscious about already. Even this moment did not generate enough motivation within me to begin my journey on weight loss. Actually, what prompted my weight loss journey was a visit to my doctor. My test results showed high numbers in almost everything, including cholesterol, high blood pressure, and so on. My doctor showed me my previous test results from 5 years earlier when I first saw him and I saw the side by side comparison and shockingly, told myself, “I can beat those numbers.” That was my motivation, the competitor within me saw ‘numbers’ that I could beat.
The beauty of running is that it is essentially a free thing to do. Anyone can run anywhere without member fees, special equipment (shoes excluded, but far from special), and at your own pace. I personally prefer running outside. You may wonder why not a treadmill. For me and this is a personal choice, since I never cared for the actual act of running, running outside was another form of motivation for me, because I could not just hit the “stop” button and get off the treadmill and go home. If I just ran a mile from my house, I actually still have to get back. So, I either run back or walk, either way, its exercise and I can’t just stop.
I write this as an example of what it took in order to motivate me personally. The point I am trying to get across is that, you need to find your own personal motivation. We are all self-aware of being overweight or out of shape or whatever we are. The difficult part may be that slight edge of motivation, that factor that pushes us forward to meet our goals. First, find your motivation, then move forward with a goal.
Okay, now this is not a weight loss article, but as we know running is just one helpful way to lose weight. For my journey, it was just a piece of an overall lifestyle change. I know that my personal story is not typical and some may say extreme. I lost 30 pounds in exactly 3 months. This was done by following my doctor’s recommendations (shocker that they really do know what they are talking about LOL), changing my diet, and to no one’s surprise, exercise. Here is what I did overall, knowing that it is not easy to cut weight (fat) and gain muscle at the same time, I decided to trim the fat until I reached my ideal weight and then start lifting to gain muscle mass. I will write about this in another article later.
So on to the purpose of this article which are things I wish I had known before I started running. Let me just say that when I was a high school athlete, I was more of a sprinter than a distance runner. For those who know the difference between fast twitch and slow twitch muscles, I was definitely a fast twitch person. Running farther than 400 meters without stopping was distance for me. I ran the 100 and 200 meter dash in track, played football, and soccer. Now you may say that soccer players are distance runners, but if you really pay attention, you can jog for miles, but sprint when needed. So as time passed, I never ran more than 2 miles at one time, and that was once a year for soccer try outs, after that, the most I ran at a given stretch without stopping was 1.5 miles, and that was for work related fitness tests. I hated running, and honestly I still sort of hate it, but now I love the way I feel after the run.
So let’s begin. After seeing my numbers from the doctor, I got the go ahead to start a running exercise routine from him. So, I began walking about 3/4 of a mile. I would time myself with my watch, not by a stop watch, just by how long it took me approximately. For example if I started my walk at about 6 am, when I was done, I looked at the time and it may have said 6:15. Also, I had some old running shoes that I pretty much wore on a daily basis. Then after walking this about as fast as I could without running, I started attempting to jog this ¾ mile route. Again, I would time this the same way, approximate time. I would do this every day. Now I did this exercise routine coupled with a pretty strict diet as well. I started my running routine weighing 200 pounds. I am a 5’-9” man in my late 30s. I was well overweight, considering a healthy weight for me naturally is about 155 pounds.
So after a while, I started running the ¾ mile route faster and faster, until I decided it was too easy to finish. Then I ran a longer route, and so on. I am now running for an hour straight now closing in on a bit over 7.5 miles in that hour time. So, during my runs, I actually looked back and remembered the things I did wrong and right. Let me say that I looked back and wished I had done this differently in a few ways. First, I should have just gone out and bought two pairs of running shoes. Why two pairs? I will tell you. First, depending on the shoe, the average running shoe lasts about 400-500 miles of pavement running. You want two pairs, because while you may think, that is a ton of miles, they surprisingly add up fast. Second, like you, your shoes need some rest as well. Think of my 200 pounds pounding into my shoes daily for even 2 miles a day. That’s thousands of pounding steps a day just in running of a 200 pound man forcing his weight down on each shoe. Not shocking, but it wears down your shoe, fast. Trade out your shoes every other day, especially in the beginning. After you build up your mileage, you will have shoes for different runs. You will have a pair for running shorter faster runs, and shoes for long slower paced runs. You may even have some for running off pavement on trails. Look, figure out first where you will do most of your running, pavement, trails, both, then decide on the shoe. Your shoes will be an investment you will not regret, believe me.
Ok, so the second thing I wish I knew before running. I believe it’s safe to say almost all of us have a smartphone, and if not, we have a way to get a timer. So either get a stopwatch, use your phone’s timer, or what I would do now, download an app, like MapMyRun or Runkeeper or some other app that uses GPS to track your distance as well as time. Essentially, it is the time thing that is most important, especially if you run/walk the same route every time. The beauty of running is, that the action itself, is free. Yes, you should buy new shoes that will likely set you back $100 or so, but if you have a smartphone, the apps are free. I personally use MapMyRun. I love the app, but there are many that are similar and function as well. I use it because it links up to my calorie counter, MyFitnessPal. So the bottom line is that, you need to be able to track and log your times. Otherwise, you have very little way to track progress. Most of these apps also calculate calorie burn as well, so that’s an added bonus, especially if you are tracking calories like I was during my weight loss journey. Looking back, it would be easier to see gains on time and distance based on these apps. That is even more motivation. The most difficult thing to do is maintain that motivation to continue, especially with something new you are doing. Remember, I was motivated by self-competition, but in order to maintain this motivation, I want to see results, and one result showing improvement is faster times. That would tell me that I was getting in better shape, even if the pounds were not melting off as fast as I would like.
The next thing I wish I had known before I started running, the types of clothes I was wearing. In my mind, my socks are the most important item of clothing, next to shoes. I was never a believer in “sweat wicking” clothing, but since I have switched to these types of socks, I am now a believer. Please do yourself a favor and stay away from cotton socks for running. They will get wet and sweaty and ultimately cause blisters and callouses on your feet. Again, I was never a true believer in sweat wicking clothing, like under armor and Nike or whichever name brand you prefer, but as the summer approached during my outdoor running ventures, I did find that those types of clothing felt lighter when soaked in sweat than a cotton shirt. For some reason, the mind will play games on you, especially the longer and farther you run. You will begin to find excuses to quit or stop and walk when you know you physically can go farther and longer, but your mind will race for excuses, one of those excuses will be, “this shirt is so heavy being all wet, its draining my energy,” or something to that effect. Again, this comes down to motivation, and if it means to buy a low budget sweat wicking shirt from Target or Walmart, hey, it’s worth it. Trust, me, eliminate the ‘excuses’ and you will find reasons to run.
Another thing I wish I had known prior to running, is that a playlist is super important. Now, I don’t care if you listen to morning radio, country music, rap, metal, pop, podcasts, just pick something. Your mind will wander, which is what you want. You should start running and enjoy the outdoors, the world around you. Believe me, you will run around your neighborhood noticing things you never would have normally when you drive. Things slow down, neighbors waive, and you notice nature again. It becomes a rediscovery of the world around you. It is a pretty cool revelation. Now, I started with a playlist, that when it completed would be about 30 minutes. I found myself running to the tempo of the music, which is both good and bad. I would not necessarily keep a nice steady pace, but go fast then slow, depending on the song. So, be choosy in your playlist. Now that I have built my stamina up, I actually listen to Sirius XM on my phone. No commercials, and I listen to my favorite morning DJ, Storme Warren and great music to get lost in as I pound out the miles ahead of me.
Ok, so one of the last things I wish someone had told me is that the body prefers a routine. So if you have the time in the morning to carve out a run, then keep that routine going. If it is after work, then keep that routine, it is VERY difficult to go from morning runs to afternoon runs back to mornings. The body sort of gets out of whack. If your schedule is too hectic, then just run when you can, the body will adjust. For me, I love running in the morning. Of course, had I realized that I would be running for over an hour once a week now, I would maybe choose to run in the evenings. Basically, I used to run for 10 minutes straight, which for me at the time was amazing. Then ten minutes turned in twelve, twelve turned into fifteen, and so on. Now, I am averaging 45 minutes a run and do a ‘long’ run once a week for 61 minutes. So, what I am saying is, I have to get up at 5:30 am now instead of 6:30 in order to be done in time to get home and shower and get ready for work. I say this with a caveat, I feel great and more energized than I did sleeping in hitting the snooze button.
In conclusion, oh wait, I almost forgot, you will begin to wonder ‘what is a good time for running a mile, or a 5k, or a 10k?’ Stop, just hold on and understand one thing, there is no GOOD time. A ‘good’ time is called a personal best time. Because we are all built differently and have different abilities, so a ‘good’ time is a time that you can beat or is your personal best, do not look up times, you won’t find any standard. That is the beauty of running, ‘good’ times are based on the individual. Unless you are an elite runner in marathons or something, just compete against yourself. You only need to beat you. So, remember that, and remember, I started my journey in three steps. I stood, I walked, I run. That’s my motto. Remember, the first thing is to just stand up and start moving, then walk, then run, it is a journey, and if you stick with it, it will be a very fulfilling one. I will write other articles about my journey and about health and fitness. Please feel free to contact me and enjoy your journey.
So just to conclude:
Time your work out and work to get better times (get an app)
Good ‘sweat wicking’ socks
Routine (Timing of workouts, be consistent if possible)
A “good time” is your best time