Making the decision to take up running or walking can be scary. But eventually, we get to the point at which the goal to be fitter, healthier, and happier becomes stronger than the fear of failure. With a little planning, we can successfully navigate the first steps to achieving our goals.
There are few universal truths to running. We are all an experiment of one, so what some runners swear by might not be right for all. Because of that, we're bound to make a few mistakes along the way. But running doesn’t have to be a trial-and-error adventure. With a little guidance, anyone can become a runner or walker. The only hard and fast rule to running is simply to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Get with the Program | The best way to successfully adapt to running is to join a group. A structured training program will help you avoid the issues that can set you back. Having an experienced coach who knows how to help people new to the sport is invaluable. The group atmosphere will also provide a support network. A group can help buoy you when you’re down, hold you accountable when you’d rather not run, and celebrate with you as you continue to grow as a runner. Group training also allows you an outlet to help others on their journey. Sports psychology shows that we are more successful when we are working towards a goal as a group rather than as individuals. Once you decide to start running, set yourself up for success by joining an experienced training group.
Avoid the Too's | When you first begin your journey to becoming a runner, you are motivated. That drive to be successful may tempt you to fall prey to the “too's.” The most common too's that set us up for failure are too much too soon, too hard too soon, and too much focus on pace. The most common hiccup for new runners is upping the mileage too quickly. Your body needs time to adapt to new stresses. What you do this week, you’ll feel the following week. All too often, new runners overdo it or push too hard before their bodies have had an opportunity to recover. It's kinda like drinking your third shot before your first one has hit you.
Another common too is going too hard too soon. As you develop as a runner, you’ll get excited and want to start adding in speed. That's great, but you need to make sure your body has adapted to running before you worry about adding any intensity. Developing as a runner is all about adding in stressors gradually. Your first stressor is simply running easy. You’ll gradually build your mileage until you’ve developed a solid base. At that point, you can look at a new stressor: speed. If you make a mistake on adding speed, it should be adding it too late rather than the common mistake of too soon.
A more recent common too that can hurt you is worrying too much about pace. There are all sorts of gadgets out there to help you log your runs. As you develop, it's very easy to get too wrapped up in the metrics they provide. Running is about feel. Let how you feel determine your running rather than what a gadget tells you.
Get Technical | Running is fantastic exercise. The forces your body deals with while running are pretty remarkable. Because of that, you need to make sure you have the proper equipment. This is not the time to go cheap or hit a big box store. Any beginning runner should be fit by a running shoe specialist. Shoes are like cars: some are good and some are lemons. Also, what works for your neighbor might not be what's best for you. Having a professional fit you will help alleviate a lot of trial and error (and injury). Besides, a good pair of shoes is cheaper than the doctor. You'll also need to find the proper attire to help stave off blisters, over heating, chafing, etc. Cotton is not a runner’s friend. Purchasing some technical running apparel will help smooth the transition to running.
Maintenance | You body has to deal with quite a few forces as you run. When you consider you’re running around 1800-2000 steps per mile and coming down with up to several times your body weight with each step, it's easy to see how the body can get tired and sore. Because of that, you should look to include strength and stretching into your new routine. This will help your body get stronger and, therefore, better handle the forces you are asking it to deal with. Stretching will also help you stay looser and avoid the tightness that can trigger many of the injuries that plague runners.
Patience | Rome wasn't built in a day. No one goes from a new runner to an Olympic champion in a matter of days. It takes times to see the gains. If you stack enough pieces of paper on top of each other, you can go to the moon. Just simply remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Tim Cary is Head Track & Field and Cross Country for Lindenwood University at Belleville and the former Fleet Feet Assistant Training Manager. Over his more than two decades of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors. Click here to receive Tim's weekly article via email.