Runners are an interesting bunch – up at odd hours, pounding the pavement, eliciting post-holiday sneers as they glide alongside oncoming traffic feeling more than a twinge of guilt about that last slice of Grandma’s pound cake.
A relatively new physiological development (if you’d “gone for a run” in the 1960’s, people would have stopped and asked “What’s chasing you?”), running – and runners – still maintain a fair level of mysticism in regards to their daily exercise practice.
There are currently many over popularized myths surrounding the act of running, with the primary misconception focused on the idea that running requires some special talent or genetic gifting to be a success (who comes up with this stuff?).
When I started running, I was cautioned by members of an older generation that “running could make me infertile” – WTF?
In fact, throughout my first few years of running, I was routinely discouraged from my fitness pursuits by community and church leaders citing multiple traditional gender stereotypes.
I kept running, because I loved it and I loved the way it made me feel – strong – something women raised in a fundamentalist, misogynistic society rarely feel. Over the years, I’ve embraced the world of running with a rather trial and error kind of mentality, as I attempted to channel my inner gazelle and develop into a healthy athlete.
If you’re interested in learning more about running and, like I was so many years ago, uncertain as to how to start, here are three tips for becoming a runner:
Invest in Good Shoes – Regularly
A good, stable pair of running shoes are essential for your running career. Don’t buy the cheapest pair, or simply pull those old tennis shoes out from the back of your closet – invest in some real running shoes that can support your steps for hundreds of miles. While everyone’s foot structure is different, consider going to a sporting goods store and having your stride assessed by experienced staff. A good running shoe will feel supportive, and not leave you with any aches or blisters.
Shoes are kind of like tires – they lose their “tread” and must be replaced regularly. A good rule of thumb is to replace your shoes after 300 to 500 miles (for a runner averaging three miles a week, this comes out to replacing shoes about every six months). Don’t wait until your shoes are thread bare, or feel about as lifeless as an old banana peel to purchase new ones. Injuries sustained when running on bad shoes can take months to heal – take it from someone that knows: it’s just not worth it.
It’s Not (Always) a Race
Starting out, no one’s as “fast” as they want to be. While much of running is focused around racing events (What’s your PR?), it’s important for beginning runners to recognize that the only person they are really in competition with is themselves. Don’t get discouraged when the first few times you sprint out the back door, a half mile run leaves you winded. Focus your training and conditioning strategy on where you are, not all the others runners that pass you on the trail.
I’m more of a sprinter than a distance runner (you’ll want to read up on fast vs. slow twitch muscle fibers if unaware of this distinction), so 5K’s are a lot more my jam than full marathons. Many of my running colleagues struggle with speed and find it easy to score some serious distance. While genetics do have some influence on what your body’s natural preference is, focused training can prepare you for either – just don’t expect results overnight.
Treat Yourself Like the Athlete You Are
Every spring, I spot a handful of newbie runners struggling to reach any of their distance or time goals due to poor conditioning and management. There’s more to running than just popping in your ear buds and making a few laps around the block; you’ve got to diligently prepare and maintain your body like an athlete’s. This means adequate water and food intake, scheduled rest days, quality warm ups and cool downs, and making sure you get enough sleep.
Running has a wonderful regulatory effect for many (hello fellow insomniacs); however, it’s common for newbies to pick up running without recognizing the lifestyle changes that may be required for long-term success (aka: no fasting diets followed by double milers). Consider getting some sort of nutrition counsel during the first few weeks of your running career, be sure to schedule adequate time for quality workouts followed by walks or stretching, and don’t neglect sleep.