Every runner has a running story. This story tells the trials and errors of how you became the runner you are today. It's a story with no end as each runner continues to learn and grow throughout their life.
My story began in high school; I turned to running when I was dealing with depression. I would lace up my Brooks and go outside to run my neighborhood. At the time, I felt no urge to call this exercise. I found this was a way I could get out of my head and focus on the road before me. Slowly, I became more comfortable in my body and would challenge myself to hills, treadmill runs, and longer distances. This is where my story began. I've gone through injuries, good months and bad months, tons of races of different lengths, and so on. Every part of my story had different shoes, different playlists, different running routes and different eating patterns.
I have found five parts to creating and continuing my story to be of extreme importance and I encourage you to think and take action on these steps as you follow your running journey. It helps you set up for success and not become burnt out. These steps will lead you down your path of victory, weather that be running your first mile or your first marathon.
Step 1: Discover Your "Why"
It's that simple. Why are you running? This seems like a silly question to ask... but can you answer it? Every persons' "why" is different; here are some my clients have landed on:
"It's my only me-time".
"I want to train for a half-marathon to prove to myself I can do it"
"I want to have the endurance to keep up with my kids playing sports"
"I want to keep my weight under control"
.. I don't believe your "why" has to be goal-oriented. For example, my "why" is "running allows me to meditate and escape my day-to-day anxieties and pressures". This is true; I've always looked to running as a form of anti-anxiety medication. I run each morning to set the tone for the day, release happy endorphins, and heighten my energy levels. It's not a "goal-specific why" and that is okay. Sometimes we do things we love without needing the end-result to be judged.
Finding your why will repel you forward on the most difficult training days. Reminding yourself why you are here will help you lace up your shoes after a night of restlessness or less than ideal weather. Your why will keep you consistent. Your why will toss all excuses aside.
I urge you to write down your why. You may have more than one "why"! Think about what has brought you to the point of lacing up your shoes and clocking in miles. Turn back to your why when you have lost your luster and remember why you started this sport.
Step 2: Prepare
This is probably the most important step of all. There are many things to prepare before beginning your daily run. In this section, I'll break down many things to consider before hitting the pavement:
Plan B (when weather is less than ideal, injury occurs, or energy levels are low
Running is one sport that doesn't require a lot of equipment. But the one thing it does require is extremely important... good running shoes. My best recommendation is to go to a good running store and have a specialist test your running gait, pronation and where you apply most of your pressure on your feet. They can determine if you need a stability or a neutral shoe. Once that is decided, they can give you brand recommendations and styles that will work for your foot. You cannot base your running shoes on how they look. I have tried to opt for the cute shoes over the ideal shoes for my feet and I ended up with knee pain and under supported runs. Trust me, go with what works for you and not your neighbor. You have a different body and different running pattern. Other helpful items to add to your gear may be an arm or waist band to carry keys, your phone, or energy gels. In terms of actual clothing, running in what is comfortable is most important. Cotton tends to get drenched easily, so looking for a dry-fit material may be more comfortable.
I'm not sure about you, but I've been on countless runs where I don't know where I am going and they tend to be very unenjoyable. I get all turned around and end up lost and checking my watch to see where I am. It is important to familiarize yourself with the route you want to run so these situations don't occur. There are many ways to do this:
Walk the route the day before so you can remember certain landmarks such as trees, statues, buildings or street signs
Map out a route from your maps app on your phone and run through it before bed and upon running
Look up a "down-and-back" trail that has little forks in the road; this is typically what I do when I am traveling
When your mapping out your run, be sure to note hills and terrain. If you're unexperienced running on sticks and dirt, don't choose a trail route for your long run. Also remember that running outside is different than running on a treadmill; it could take longer for you to complete your mileage depending on the route you take (elevation, weather, etc).
Plan Your Plan B
It is always good to have a plan B for every workout. Weather and outside factors could challenge you to "get the job done" and many times it will seem easier to not run at all. Instead of giving up, plan your plan B. Here are some ideas:
Inadequate weather: First, look at the weather the night before. If there is a chance of rain or snow, plan to wake up a little earlier to have time to adjust your training. Next, bring your run indoors for a treadmill run. It won't be the same as if you were to run outside, but clocking in the miles and working on speed can both be done on a treadmill.
Your _____ hurts: Do not run through pain. Adjust your workout to be more therapeutic with band exercises, light walking, or choosing a recovery day. If you're able to cross train without pain, this can keep your cardiovascular endurance training up without aggravating your injured area. There are many things you can do during an injury; but the key is to not over-do it and add running back in slowly.
You're tired: Assess why you are tired. Did you sleep poorly? Are you hungover? Has your nutrition been off? By assessing the reason of being tired, you can make an educated decision if your run is worth the push. For instance, if I had tons of carbs and not enough protein and fat the night before, sometimes I feel lethargic. In the morning, I'll drink water and coffee and pull through with a slower run because I know my nutrition will get back on track that day. If I am tired because I slept poorly, I may decide to make the day a cross-training day where I lift weights or ride a bike. Sleep is incredibly important and running off zero can cause bad running form, leading to injuries.
Nutrition for runners could be a blog post in itself; but in terms of starting your running journey, it is best to focus in on the basics. Here are the best tips I have found for connecting your nutrition habits with your running:
1) Decide what time you're going on your run and plan your meal around that time. For instance, you don't want a full heavy meal before a session of speed work but you also don't want to be running off of empty. If you're planning to run first thing in the morning, stick to the "halfsie's" rule; half a banana, half a bagel, or half a protein bar. This will give you some energy but won't make you feel weighed down. If you're planning to run in the afternoon/early evening, try to have a more carb:protein rich meal at least two hours before your run. This doesn't need to be heavy or high in calories per say, but a fuller meal with ensure you don't grow hungry before your run and it will provide you with an extra boost of energy.
2) Don't try something new on race day. You should figure out during your training time what works well for you in terms of digestion, energy levels and overall sustainability during your long runs. I like to eat carbohydrates for breakfast 2 hours before a run that is longer than 6 miles. If the run is shorter than 6, I feel better fasted. This will vary by athlete. Try not to compare your choices to those around you as this is a very individualized preference.
3) Don't rely solely on carbohydrates for energy. Once your body is depleted of glycogen storage (after about 75 minutes of running) you will begin to burn fat. Be sure to consume healthy fats in your diet such as avocado or nut butter. This is a more sustained, long lasting energy source.
Sounds simple, but boredom happens while running sometimes! We've all been on the treadmill and wondered "how much time do I have left?" or "man, only mile two". Create a bomb-ass playlist or find a podcast that keeps your attention. This can save long run boredom!
Step 3: Program
Your first few runs may be simply moving your legs. Actually, I love running when I have no plan! Sometimes that's the most meditative form of movement. However, to get to a goal you will need a structured program. A program is a calendar of your weekly workouts that progress every few weeks. This could be progress in speed, distance, or pace. Each goal should have specific workouts attached to them such as fartlek runs, tempo runs, short and long intervals, and possibly hills. This will make you become better at your craft.
If you are ready to start a running program, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get started on your best running season to date.
Step 4: Warm up and cool down
Never, and I repeat never, go on a run without warming up. This is one of the best ways to increase injury and go down a path of bad running form. Warm ups should consist of dynamic stretches, muscle activation (specifically around your hips, ankles and knees) and a jog. The jog can lead into your faster paced run, but you must prime the main joints before setting out for your workout. Cool downs also allow for faster recovery and prevent injury. My favorite way to cool down is by walking and letting my heart rate slow, followed by foam rolling any tight muscles.
Step 5: GO!
This step is simple... make the run happen! Don't worry about how you look, how fast you're running or if your breathing isn't matching your steps. My best advice is to worry less. Have fun and enjoy this amazing part of your fitness journey.
I hope that you find running to be as therapeutic and meditative as I have. Don't give up when it gets hard. Try to run at least five times before deciding if you like it or do not. But allow yourself to be vulnerable and move organically. You can see the world by running. It just takes one step at a time.