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Zero to Hero: How to Get Good at Running and Stick To It

Updated on October 21, 2016
Copper Canyon ultra marathon in Urique
Copper Canyon ultra marathon in Urique | Source

Starting out

So you want to get into running. Great! Not only is jogging and running fantastic for your health by lowering the risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure and helping you lose weight, but it's also an exercise that powers you up mentally, increases your confidence and helps fight low moods and depression.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and the first few weeks of running are the hardest. It can be easy to get downhearted and frustrated if you can't run very far or get tired. But learning to run is one of the most rewarding sports you can get into, and best of all, we're born to do it.

Christopher McDougall wrote an inspiring book about a hidden tribe in Mexico who run every day of their lives, race hundreds of miles, and live for the joy and fun of running. "Running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation." - McDougall, Born to Run, A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.
The book is a great read no matter what your running level, and describes how humans are the running creatures of the earth. There is nothing unnatural about running - quite the opposite, it's in our nature.

With that in mind, you can enjoy running in your own time, at your own pace, with the knowledge that no matter who you are, you can run, because it's in our blood.

It's important to stay hydrated
It's important to stay hydrated | Source

Food and Drink

If you choose to run in the morning, it's important to wait until afterwards to eat your breakfast to avoid cramp and indigestion. If you choose to run in the evening, make sure you stay hydrated all day (a good way to tell that you're hydrated is by checking your urine; if it's clear, you're hydrated, if it's yellow or dark yellow, you're not. Might be gross, but it's the best way to tell).

Don't eat any big meals at least a few hours before you run. A nutrition bar is okay around 20-30 minutes beforehand if you get hungry. Being hydrated and not too full will significantly increase your performance.

  • Drink plenty of water beforehand, but not too soon before the run
  • Check the colour of your pee to see if you're hydrated (clear means you're good to go)
  • Shoes are actually bad for your feet!

What to wear

There are hundreds of kinds of running shoes, and some can even cost a few hundred dollars. Yet running shoes are also the number one cause of injury - soles and heels on shoes cause us to not use all the muscles in our legs, thus sometimes straining the muscles we do use. "Shoes do no more for the foot than a hat does for the brain.” - Dr. Mercer Rang, orthopedic surgeon and researcher in pediatric development.

Some of the best runners in the world run with tire rubber sandals, such as the Tarahumara tribe that McDougall talks about in his book. Although running barefoot or with flatter shoes is technically the 'best' way to run - it minimalises injury, forces you to use the muscles we're supposed to use - there are also shoes called minimalists available that were manufactured to, as the name implies, give minimal padding to your foot.

You can run in whatever shoes you want - I still haven't thrown out my sixty-dollar Mizunos, but it's interesting to know that shoes that were advertised as so long as being good for you are actually damaging to your feet and legs, and increase the risk of injuries.

Don't forget to tie your laces as tightly as you can - without cutting off blood circulation, of course. Loose shoes can be damaging to your run, and might cause you to sprain an ankle or trip when it can be easily avoided.

Minimalist Shoe Review by Jacob Roecker

Enjoy running. You were born to do it.
Enjoy running. You were born to do it. | Source

Preparing Mentally

90% of a run is mental work - negative thinking, defeatist thoughts and low self-esteem can cause you to stop running even if your body hasn't reached its limit yet.

Know that there will always be someone who is a better runner than you. Marathon runners and athletes have been training non-stop for years on end, and started out a beginner too. With hard work and perseverance they got where they are now. You have just as much chance of running a race, or even a marathon - if you can put the effort in.

You improve in your own time, in your own way. There's no rush to try to beat records or win races. There are always more chances to compete in a 5k, or raise money for charity in a local run. If you only have time to run two or three times a week, then go for it. If you can raise that to most evenings or morning, then great.

Be patient. The first few weeks are the toughest, where you won't feel an immediate difference or improvement. Keep at it. Once you break that barrier, you'll be well on your way to improvement.

Learn to love it. "You have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until you no longer resist the shock and begin to enjoy it." - Ann, from Born to Run. If you hate running, you're not going to be able to run long-distance. If you enjoy it, your body relaxes, and you run because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.

Other benefits of running

It's free. Aside from being fantastic for your physical and mental health, running doesn't have to cost you a penny. You can do it anywhere, you don't need a gym membership - you don't even need money for an expensive pair of running shoes.

It's a social sport. People run together, just like the Tarahumara tribe. It's competitive to an extent, but runners always encourage and help each other to fight through fatigue and self-doubt, to finish charity races and to improve as individual runners. Not to mention the people you'll meet at running events, whether it's an elite-level marathon or a local 5k.

Let ultrarunners inspire you, not hinder you. Jenn Shelton was an ultramarathoner just two years after she took up running. Cliff Young won an ultramarathon at age 61 years of age. Scott Jurek was called a 'jerker' because he was so bad at running, and ended up becoming one of the best ultramarathon runners in the world.

Prepare yourself physically, mentally, think carefully about your footwear, and, most importantly, enjoy running. It's one of the most natural things you can do for yourself. Hopefully this article helped you get excited about joining and improving at one of man's greatest arts. Now get out there and run, not for the competition, but for yourself.

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