On April 10, 2011 I ran my fifth half marathon. Exactly one year prior, I laced up my sneakers and headed out for a walk. I never knew that it would change my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be running multiple half marathons. When I mentioned my accomplishment on facebook and twitter, I had a few friends ask me for advice on how to start running. I’m not a super athlete nor am I sports medicine specialist. By most standards, I’m fairly slow. I’m not wholly comfortable telling people how to start. I will be glad to share some tips or things I wish I had known when I had started running.
- Invest in a good pair of running shoes.
This sounds simple enough, but it is very important. Don’t wait until your old shoes wear out. Buy a new pair when you first start out. I say invest because a good pair of running shoes can cost about $100. It is well worth the money. Good shoes just aren’t about taking care of your feet. Good shoes early on can PREVENT a lot of overuse injuries like shin splints and plantar fasciitis. I learned this the hard way. My first pair of shoes was purchased on sale from Nordstrom Rack. I bought them simply because I like the brand and they looked like they were good shoes. A month into my running my heels began to hurt and I started to develop shin splints. Thankfully, I went to my local running store and was fitted for the proper shoes. I was wearing the wrong shoes for the way I run. With some time and good stretches, the problems resolved themselves.
I have to emphasis going to a running specialty store, not a big box sporting goods store like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Chalet, Sports Authority, etc. The big box stores are great, but your local running store are staffed with experienced folks who will fit you for shoes based on the way you run or walk. They can also give you great advice on running.
Buying shoes doesn’t have to be expensive. Once a shoe is recommended to you, you can always ask if they have last season’s model of the same shoe on sale. I got my latest pair of shoes for $59 simply because they were “old”.
Don’t buy shoes based on ads or what your friends wear. Everyone’s feet are different. Strides and running mechanics vary. You really have to wear what works for you. I recently started wearing Saucony. My sister loves her Asics. We have similar body builds, but run differently. Hence the difference in shoes.
- Buy performance/wicking workout clothes.
100% Cotton is not your friend. When I started walking, I wore old t-shirts and sweatpants. I was heavier and quite frankly that’s all that would fit. In the beginning, this wasn’t a problem. It was cooler and I really didn’t break too much of a sweat. Once I started really moving, it became a problem. Cotton absorbs moisture. This means that if you’re a sweat monster like me your clothes and socks become a wet, sloppy mess. In the summer, this makes you hotter. In the winter, you are colder. Think about it. Cold and wet. Not a good combo. Wet socks are a breeding ground for blisters. When you’re uncomfortable, you’re less likely to continue your workout.
The solution is clothes made of wicking material or cotton blends. I have a personal preference for Nike Women’s line of running clothes. I’m obsessed with the Nike Tempo Track Shorts. My friends Jen and Kipp gave them to me as a birthday gift. They fit comfortably and don’t ride up when you run. I like them so much that I now own 7 pairs. I also like Nike tops and sports bras. I posted on my tumblr my favorite jog bra. Nike clothes are a bit pricey, but I’ve found that Nike.com puts their clothes on sale frequently. They can also be found at a significant discount at TJMaxx, Marshall’s and Ross. Another affordable option is Champion C9 from Target. Like Nike, Target also puts their workout clothes on sale. I’ve bought sleeveless tanks for $2.48 a piece. Just make sure that you buy Duo Dry®, which is their wicking fabric. This is available for men and women.
- Nike + system sucks.
Yeah… I said it. One of my early motivators when I started walking/running was the Nike+ system. I loved that it gave me so much info and feedback about my workouts. It posted to my twitter and facebook accounts. Those posts generated support from my friends. It also allowed me to chart my progress. Sounds good so far, right?
My problem with the Nike + system (not to be confused with the Nike+ GPS app) is that it is highly inaccurate. This article explains how the Nike+ works. The Nike+ essentially calculates your speed and distance based on the steps you take. It’s hard to explain, but unless you recalibrate your Nike+ sensor often it’s wildly inaccurate. This meant that when I ran my 1st 5k I sprinted when I thought I have 1k left. Turns out, the Nike+ was off. I still had 2k left. I ran out of steam before the finish. The Nike+ also led me to believe I was a much faster runner than I actually was. This leads me to my next suggestion…
- Download the Runkeeper app
This app is available for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. They have a free version that works well for most beginners. You download the app and it uses the GPS system already available on your phone. The app is very easy-to-use and accurate. Like the Nike+ system, it charts your progress and allows you to post to social media. It sounds silly, but the posts on Facebook and Twitter are helpful. I got some much needed encouragement when I first started running/walking. The charts give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Get on a program
You don’t have to do anything hardcore. Many people love the Couch to 5K program. I downloaded a Couch to 5K app that was a little too advanced for my out-of-shape self. I am a fan of Hal Higdon’s workout plans. There are dozens of others. Find one that sounds workable for you. Having a little structure keeps you going and helps prevents injury. All of the beginning programs are structured so that you build up slowly and don’t hurt yourself. Believe it or not, if you do too much, too soon, you could be in for a world of hurt.
- Join a running group
The running community is the most supportive group of people I have ever seen. From elite runners to “slowpokes”, everyone is willing to help everyone else progress. By joining a group, you can meet people who are the same skill level or slightly faster than you. You can motivate one-another, commiserate in your aches and pains, and revel in your small victories. For my lady friends, it’s also a safety issue. There is safety in numbers. Having company also makes your runs that much more enjoyable. You won’t believe how quickly 3 miles passes with the right people by your side. This is something that I didn’t learn until just recently.
You can find running buddies through sources like Meetup.com or your local running store. There is a group for everyone. I live in a medium-sized city. There are dozens of groups – mommy groups, morning runners, evening runners, church groups, after-work groups, etc, etc.If you can’t find a local running group, get a virtual running group. I joined DailyMile. DailyMile is a social networking site where you can post your runs and workouts and other members can comment. If you’re having a tough day, people can send you “motivation”. They also have challenges like “Run 50 miles in a month” and “Daily Missions” where they ask you questions like “Name your proudest achievement”. If you get into running, it can also save you from boring your non-runner friends with all your running-related stories.
- Sign up for a 5K
Notice I said 5K, not Half Marathon. Also I might point out that I didn’t put a timeframe on how soon you should do your first 5k. Some people need 6 months to train. Others need a few weeks. It really depends on you. Doing a 5K gives you a goal. Again, goals keep you motivated. 5K races are short, but sweet. It is a very satisfying feeling to cross that finish line no matter how long it takes you to get there. Depending on the race organizers, there usually a post-race party and free t-shirt involved. If you register early enough, most 5Ks cost about $20-25 dollars.
- Have fun.
D had to remind me of this. I was beating myself up because I wasn’t “improving” as much as I liked nor was I as fast as our friends. It’s easy to get caught up on the numbers or compare yourself to others. I have a very competitive group of runner friends and felt really badly that I “kept them all waiting” at races. Once I let all of that go and let the endorphins take over, running became enjoyable again.
That’s my long-winded take on it all. For those that read all of it, I hope you weren’t too terribly bored. If you want more info from the pros, here are some other useful links:
Happy Running 🙂