It’s about that time again folks. Spring is here and the threat of having to bare almost all in a bathing suit this summer despite those extra winter pounds which somehow managed to seek you out (through no fault of your own of course) is enough to force you out onto the trails or the pavement to become…gasp..a runner. We’ve all seen that poor guy out for his first run with some old clodhoppers that remotely resemble some sort of athletic shoe, take off down the street in mad fashion only to come back huffin’ and puffin’ dripping buckets of sweat and swearing that he just isn’t meant to be a runner. Maybe, God forbid, that was even you at one point and if not you, somebody you know.
Instead of being a one run wonder, here’s a few of the most common mistakes I’ve seen new runners make on those first few runs. Mistakes, that can wind up sending you straight back to the couch swearing off running the way you swear off sweets (although somehow with running it tends to stick) and that if properly avoided can take you from being a wannabe runner to the local “you know that guy (or gal) that runs” in your neighborhood.
Mistake #1: Not running with the right shoes. Yes, like all sports, running has equipment. In particular, there is one thing that you can not get away with skimping on…shoes. Good running shoes that fit your foot properly can make a big difference in how you feel running and can even help prevent injury. They’re not cheap, but they are necessary. And don’t think you can get away with buying your first pair online or at some local sporting goods shop. Go to a store that specializes in running. Employees at these stores are usually trained to not only measure your foot properly, but also to analyze your foot and your stride to help match you with a shoe to meet your needs. There are stability shoes, motion control shoes, shoes with more cushioning or less cushioning, shoes for trail running, shoes for pavement running, shoes for crosstraining, and the list goes on. Let someone help you sift through the multitudes of running shoes and help you find out what will work best for you. And don’t be afraid to ask what kind of feedback they’ve had on certain shoes. The good majority of these people are runners themselves and runners tend to be more than willing to share their running tips and tales so take advantage of that and ask before you shell out around $100 or more for your feet as pamper deserving as they may be. If you want to check online or at another store to see if you can get your shoes less expensive, than so be it, but first find out what shoe you need from somehow who knows. Don’t guess or you’ll wind up a few miles later with unnecessary aches and pains that will make you regret starting to run in the first place.
And if you’ve got an old pair of shoes you’re thinking of breaking out of the closet from your former running life, remember your soles wear out around 300 miles or so which can add up pretty fast, especially if you’ve been wearing them out and about on a semi-daily sort of basis.
Mistake #2: Going too far or too fast too soon. Don’t feel too bad about this one if this is you. Even running champions have overestimated themselves from time to time and wound up burning out in the end. What happens with new runners or runners just picking the sport back up again is we remember back in the day when we were at our prime how fast we use to run, or we hear what our sister, brother, cousin, neighbor is running their miles in and we try to match it. Bad move. If you are new to running or picking it up after a long break, hear me now: YOU HAVE NO MEASURING STICK. You are carrying a different body at a different level of physical fitness than you used to be or what someone who is already running is (even if it’s somebody you look at and think to yourself “well, I know I can run faster than him or her.”) The best thing you can do for yourself is just put all those thoughts of what you should be able to do out of your head. Be conservative here. Start slower and don’t plan on going as far as “you think you should be able to”. You can always build up to more or run a little faster the next time. But realize this now, the soreness will not set in from your first run immediately. It’s going to happen the next day. So even if you feel great during the run, when it’s time to lace those shoes up again and those legs of yours are burning and you can hardly walk, it is highly unlikely to happen.
Before you head out the door that first time, take a hard honest look at where you are at. If you’ve been playing basketball with the fellas on a regular basis or heading out the door for a 30 minute walk 5 days a week, then you may have a good base to start running from. On the other hand, if you just had a baby 6 weeks ago and didn’t do too much by the way of exercise during your pregnancy, or you’ve been sitting on the couch for the last 3 months or more watching tv and eating potato chips, then you need to start slow is an understatement. Start small with a 1/2 mile to a mile. And I recommend that new runners add a little pre-emptive walking into their runs at first, meaning you run a minute, you walk a minute no matter how good you feel. Then on subsequent runs, stretch that running time out a little bit more until you are finally running that complete distance without stopping. After that, then you can start upping the distance a little bit at a time. As far as pace is concerned, a good rule of thumb is run at a pace you can talk at that way you are not overexerting yourself too early and having to call it quits midway into the run.
Mistake #3: Overcommitting yourself. Do not run every day. Even the best professional athletes take a break every once in awhile and your body will need a little time to recover especially when you first get started. Running 6 or 7 days a week is a huge goal and a commendable goal, but again you’re just getting started here and need to work into running slowly. Not only will the recovery time be important to you as you get started, but what I’ve seen happen not just with running but any number of “I will exercise every day goals” is that when life gets in the way as it inevitably will, and you miss a day, guilt starts to set in. And God forbid you miss another day, the guilt mounts and you begin a downward spiral hard and fast right back to the couch where you started. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t be so rigid that you can NEVER miss a workout. Some guilt is good, it will keep you honest, but set yourself up to succeed because those little daily accomplishments will make you feel good about yourself and that will make you want to keep going even when the initial motivation to become a runner has worn off.
I run 4 flexible days a week, meaning I don’t care which days they are. Being a home based business owner, a wife, and mother of two small children, sometimes I need to be able to adjust and with those 3 days off in there I can do that. Maybe you’ll want to do a little more or a little less initially, but make sure the commitment you are making IS something you are capable of doing not just this week, but a month or two in the future and beyond. And most of all, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a run, just start over the next day and never ever stop starting over.
Mistake #4: Not stretching. This isn’t just a newbie runner mistake, this is a runner in general mistake, We don’t have the time, or we don’t think we need to, or we don’t know what to stretch. Whatever the reason, lots of runners skip stretching. RESIST THE URGE! Not stretching is just begging for an injury and at the very least going to make you very very sore the next day. For a great article about why it’s important to stretch and how to do so checkout Coach Brigitte’s Blog post Stretching Basics for Runners. It’s short, sweet, to the point and a great place to start if you’re not sure exactly what you should be doing as far as stretching is concerned.
Mistake #5: Not being mentally prepared for the way you are going to feel. Let’s not sugar coat this. YOU WILL HURT. Running is not as easy and forgiving on your body as other exercises are. But it is a good sign to hurt a little bit. The hurt is telling you that you are getting stronger. If you are not hurting at all following your first couple of runs, take that as a sign that you can do more (run a little faster, a little farther, or walk less). The mistake here that people make is they don’t expect to hurt at all or they are surprised at how much they hurt and think something is seriously wrong when in reality it’s just their body complaining a little about being forced out of its nice comfy relaxed (yet probably a little flabby and unhealthy) lifestyle. Now there is a much more scientific explanation for this of course, but ultimately that’s what it amounts too.
There is a difference between injury and typical running soreness. The pain associated with injury will usually set in immediately at the time of injury and can be (but not always) accompanied by other signs like swelling, redness and heat. Typically running soreness is going to set in a little slower, but will feel better after a couple of days of stretching. Injury pain is not going away so quickly and you may need to seek medical attention.
So buck up and prepare yourself. If you’re going to become a runner you are going to hurt from time to time. Period. If you’re just running to workout and not looking to continue to push yourself (which does NOT make you any less of a runner by the way. WE ALL run for different reasons, and just to get some exercise or just because you like it is a GREAT reason) eventually, you won’t be so sore and possibly not sore at all after your runs. Your body will get used to the running. But as long as you continue to push yourself (pace, distance, running terrain, etc) you will continue to find yourself sore every now and then. It just comes with the territory. Although you might always find this annoying, the good news is you will also start to take it as a sign of a job well done.
One final thought for you as you sit pondering whether or not to start off on your running adventure. Please know that while you might not be running any marathons tomorrow, YOU CAN become a runner. You just do it like everybody did at one point or another…one step at a time.
Hope to see you on the trails!
Kelly A Collins is a runner, writer, home based business owner and mamma to two beautiful and wildly entertaining little girls ages 3 years and 7 months. She is currently training for her 2nd Marathon and blogging about it every step of the way.