So many people think running is torture. I get it. I used to, too. Until I cracked the code. Here's some knowledge that helped me turn my attitude around to the point where running is now the main focus of my life. I hope it helps you, too.
Start Where You Are1 of 11
Running is a high-intensity, high-impact activity. It demands that you start from where you are, fitness- and experience-wise, versus where you want to be (or where your BFF is). When you push to run a mile without stopping when your body isn't ready, it hurts. You get sore and end up in the bite-me zone before you're done. And who wants to keep doing that?
Set yourself up for running happiness by following a plan that starts from where you are fitness-wise, and builds slowly based on how your body responds to the training. For instance, if you're coming off the couch, start with walking 30 minutes four times per week for two to three weeks, and then begin to sprinkle in running for seconds within your walk (30 seconds of running followed by 2 to 3 minutes of walking repeated for 20 minutes). Listen, there's an app for that. Download Couch to 5K here.
If you're fit, but not a runner, perform interval workouts 2 to 3 times per week by warming up with walking, running 1 to 2 minutes at a comfortable speed (not fast!), and follow each running interval with at least double the time in walking to recover. Progress slowly by adding more running time to your intervals and slowly reducing the amount of walking time. See my training plan, Zero to Running, for an example of how to slowly and safely progress your running time.
Don't Compare Yourself to Others2 of 11
It can be tempting to head out for a run and within minutes start comparing yourself to others who are faster. Don't feel new runner shame. Everyone has started at the beginning. What you may not realize is the woman who is staring at you from a distance is doing so in admiration and thinking, "I wish I could do that."
Trust the process, celebrate every stride, and celebrate your uniqueness. I started out walking for weeks before I could even try to run for 30 seconds without swearing out loud. And in time, I found out I actually had some talent (who knew?). It wasn't enough to win a race, but it was much more than I ever imagined I could do. Keep your focus on the road ahead, stay true to your running journey, and you'll begin to see yourself as a runner.
Make Running Friends3 of 11
OK, I think I know you well enough now to tell you my true secret for running. Be open, be vulnerable and surround yourself with other runners or running wannabes.
My healthy running journey started with a challenge. I was working an internship and all the employees were runners, and they challenged me to run a 5K later that year. They also backed me up, trained with me several times during the week and taught me how to slowly work my way up to running by tricking my body into liking it. At first, it was walking for 30 minutes, then sprinkling in 15 seconds of running every three to four minutes of walking.
In time, I ran more, walked less, and learned the power of running friends. They guided me when I didn't know how to get started, pushed me when I was scared to go farther, and supported me through every mile.
Research tells us that when we exercise socially with others, we can go farther and faster. Find a buddy, a group or join a training program at your local running store. It will change your life forever and you'll make a host of new active friends.
Lube Up4 of 11
Once I could run farther than a minute or two at a time, I started to notice things began to rub. To be more specific, I earned running tattoos under my arms and on my thighs from the tremendous friction of my running speed. When moisture and friction play together, chafing happens--and it hurts.
Simple solutions: avoid running apparel with rough seams, wear technical apparel that wicks moisture, and invest in a tube of runner's lube (Body Glide). Just make sure you lube up generously anywhere on your body that rubs together, and consider this an initiation to becoming a runner.
Mix Things Up5 of 11
Like a good pot of stew, the more variety in your new running program, the better you'll feel, and the more success you'll have along the way. Because running is a high-intensity, high-impact activity, it's wise to alternate a running day with a cross-training day, and mix in a variety of workouts like strength training, Zumba, cycling or classes at the gym.
If you're new to exercise, you can start with a run-walk or walking routine three times per week on alternate days and add more activities if you get inspired to do so. Give yourself breaks in between your runs to allow your body the time it needs to recover and grow stronger along the way. Optimal recovery is every bit as important as running is for fitness and performance.
Breathe Smooth6 of 11
One of the first things you'll hear when you start to run is your breathing rate. That's because it takes a lot of energy and strength to move your body forward from here to there while running. Your heart begins to pump faster in an effort to get more oxygenated blood to your running muscles. The secret is to use your breathing rate to guide you rather than your running pace.
One of the best ways to control your breath, is a method that has been studied and written about extensively by coach and expert Budd Coates. The three-two method tells you breathe in for every three steps and breathe out for the next two steps. So image running like this: right-inhale, left-inhale, right-inhale, left-exhale, right-exhale, etc. Use this method for all your easy runs. Not only will it help with your pace, you're less likely to over-stride and more likely to achieve comfort while on the move.
Let Your Body Be Your Guide7 of 11
Everyone learns to run at different rates. For some, it takes weeks and for others, like myself, it may take months (and months). The key is to listen to your body rather than trying to keep up with your buddy. Your body will talk to you if you're pushing too hard, first with fatigue (tired or sore legs), then with declining performance (can't run as far or as fast) and eventually, if you don't modify your plan, with aches and pain that can turn into injuries that halt your running program.
When you start to feel fatigued and have aches and pains, it means something needs to be adjusted. It could be that you progressed too quickly and need more time to adapt at a certain level, or that you may be running too fast too soon. Now worries, just back off! Allow yourself time to heal and when you feel fresh, go out and run nice and slow.
Keep Track and Rate Yourself8 of 11
When I coach runners online, I have them keep a log that tracks their stats including the shoes they wear, the temperature and elements, the terrain, time, distance, run-walk intervals and more. I also have them rate how they felt overall during the workout with a color code.
Green: I felt strong and could have done more today.
Yellow: I felt okay, but nothing to write home about. I didn't feel awful, but I also didn't feel particularly strong either.
Red: I was in the bite-me zone for much of the workout, and struggled to finish. I cast an invisible spell on the woman who looked so happy running in front of me.
By color-coding your workouts, you begin to see trends in how your body responds to the workouts. If you see lots of green and a few yellows, you are on the right track and your body is recovering well. If, however, you begin to see a trend in consistent yellow and some red, something is affecting your recovery rate. It's time to modify your training frequency, progression rate, sleep, nutrition, stress, travel, lack of downtime, the elements and more.
Learning to run by monitoring your pace is like being in love with a toxic person. With every stride comes judgment that you're not fast enough. It's best to log the activity as close to the finish of your run as possible so it's fresh. As time goes by, you'll also begin to see your progress right before your eyes. And that's when running starts to get fun.
It's All About the Effort9 of 11
When I learned to run, in order to know pace and distance, I drove the route and did the math. These days we know our pace with every stride via smart phones, GPS and speed distance monitors. It's both a blessing and a curse because it motivates, but it also encourages runners to run by pace rather than tuning into their bodies. The body knows effort, not pace, and when learning to run it's vital to run by how your body responds in the moment.
For example, your moderate effort pace (where you can talk in words, not sentences) will be faster on a cool, crisp day than it will be on a hot, humid day. If you go out for an easy run-walk and go by pace, you always run the risk of over or under doing it. It's best to keep it simple; run by your effort level and how you feel, and let the pace be the outcome of your performance.
Patience, Grasshopper10 of 11
It seems that everything comes to us at the speed of light these days. Running, however, doesn't, and it will take time to develop your running regimen. But that's part of the glory. Anything that is worthwhile in life takes time, effort and focus. When you feel like you're not making progress, remind yourself of your goals.
So you want to run a race to feel empowered? Great. Do you want to lose weight to better your health or feel sexy for your wife again? Also great. Write these goals down and understand that each day you spend out on the road is progress towards your ultimate goal.
And if your goal is simply to learn to love running, then let the miles come to you in time--you'll enjoy the journey and learn to love running along the way.