I have to admit, I write this with a little bit of shame.
Not two months ago, in my article about yoga, I mentioned my distaste for running and all the wheezy, crampy, “I am going to die on this treadmill” yuckiness that comes with it. No joke, you are looking at the girl who tried to talk her way out of running the mile in high school on the grounds of coming down with a nasty case of “what I think really might be tuberculosis.”
Now, I am an adult (mostly), and my health is of extreme importance to me. And yet I never seemed to catch the running bug that many of my fit friends and family use to motivate themselves through miles and miles of heart-busting cardio. Sure, swimsuit season (or an adorable guy) has pushed me to lace up my trainers once or twice, but the affair never seems to last more than a few weeks.
Maybe it’s the time of year, with fun races and 5Ks (like The Color Run) everywhere, or maybe it’s the deeper significance of feeling that, if I can finally learn to overcome my body’s protest and do what I know is good for me, I will truly take control of my health. Either way, I’ve decided it’s time.
I am going to learn how to run.
And you can too. In my research (and perhaps a little bit of procrastinating on the actual “put your damn shoes on and DO IT” thing), I’ve complied some of the best tips, resources and places to run across the mitten. Follow these tips and you too can get started on the path to becoming a runner!
1. Good shoes make the run.
I am no expert on the proper fit for running shoes. In fact, I have been witness to full blown arguments over the proper amount of arch support in a running shoe. Regardless of what camp you are in, there is no doubt that good shoes are the difference between a successful run and a shin-splinty mess. Thus, I’m going to steer clear of the controversy and recommend that you visit a local run shop and get fitted for the right shoe for your specific gait (check out the link at the bottom of this article for some great stores here in Michigan). You can expect your shoes to be upwards of $75, but the investment in yourself, your goals and your health is plenty worth it.
2. Get support.
Join a running group. Start a blog and post updates about your runs. Find a running buddy. Set a specific, measurable goal with your friends (for example, “we will all run three times this week”) and hold each other to it. Message me and share your successes and your failures. If you try to do this on your own, the voice of doubt and laziness will creep in and suck the joy out of your runs. Let’s make a commitment together!
3. Make a plan.
Do you want to run a mile? A 5K? A marathon? The best thing you can do is sign up for one. Right now. Even if you can’t imagine possibly being able to run farther than the distance from your front door to the car, improving yourself starts with a commitment. Set a date, then work backwards to plan out realistically how many runs it will take you to get to where you want to be. Check out the Couch-to-5K training plan here for a good example of what a beginning runner’s schedule might look like (they even have a mobile app to keep you on track on the go!).
4. Fuel up right.
What to eat, when to eat and how much to eat have been some of the most confusing issues I have dealt with in my many attempts at running. According to running and fitness coach Thad McLaurin, your best bet is to eat a small meal (200-400 calories) made up of complex carbohydrates and protein an hour and a half before your run. McLaurin adds, “post-run refueling is important, too. Eating a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein within 30 to 45 minutes after a run is optimal timing to provide your tired muscles with the fuel they need to rebuild quickly.” Smoothies, toast with fruit and nut butter or whole-grain crackers and hummus all make great options for pre- and post-workout fuel.
5. Learn to stretch.
This is one of those things that, if you are anything like me, you know you SHOULD be doing, but simply don’t execute properly. During your five or ten minute warm up, get your muscles moving by skipping, doing some high knees, or even simply just walking. Save the long stretch holds for post-run, when your muscles have warmed up and are more pliable.
6. Strengthen your core.
While it may not seem important, core strength is crucial to proper running form (and subsequently, results in fewer injuries and more successful runs). Supplement your runs with crunches, yoga, and/or Pilates, and focus on keeping your abs engaged while you are hitting the pavement.
7. Take your time.
Don’t pressure yourself. Getting your body acclimating to the act of running takes time and patience. Allow time for warmup stretching, walking and jogging in your workout and don’t skimp. You are not going to go out and kill it on your first day. And that’s okay! Don’t push yourself too hard all at once, or else you will do your body more damage. Stick to your plan and watch yourself slowly improve.
8. Maintain regular workouts. Make a schedule.
Because it does take time for your body to fall into the habit of running, erratic runs don’t do you much good long term. Join a running club, schedule time with friends or family to run together, or write down on a calendar which days and times you will run each week. The act of simply committing to the planning of your workout will help keep you motivated and on track (and then you can plan your wine time guilt free)!
9. Cross train.
As with any workout, you will not reap the full benefits of your run without variety. Different types of cardio all add up to a healthier body and more endurance for your runs, so sign up for a class on your off days, or take a day away from the treadmill and give the bike some love. Using your body in different ways helps bring a well-roundedness to your workouts and will make your gym time way more satisfying.
10. Set goals and celebrate successes.
Keep it interesting and you won’t be as likely to quit. Sign up for new races, run farther distances, run different terrains, train with new people. Challenge yourself and take the time before you run to visualize accomplishing your goals, no matter how big or small they might be. Maybe today you will run around the block, or maybe you will get your best time ever for running a full mile. Celebrate when you succeed (and vow to work harder when you don’t), and remember that every run is a success as soon as your shoes are on and you are out the door.
For more information about where to run, visit www.runmichigan.com. The site offers a database of running companies across the state which offer everything from gear to coaching and community support. There is even a calendar of upcoming races to get you started!
Take the plunge for your health and for your sanity, and so you can feel the satisfaction of doing something good for your body. We will conquer that whole “cookies for dinner” thing another day.
One foot in front of the other.