Back when I attended U.Va, I never understood the appeal of running. I remember seeing people running around grounds and thinking to myself, “I could never do that.” I enjoyed exercise, but that came in the form of dancing or group fitness. Something fun. Running seemed like torture.
Over the past 15 years, the popularity of running has skyrocketed. I have a few theories on why that is, but I’ll save those for another post. You likely have several friends who run races, and you probably even know a marathoner or two. And unless you are completely oblivious while driving, you’ve seen those 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on the bumpers of quite a few cars.
You’d love to join in the fun and understand what all of the hype is about. But running hurts. You’ve tried it. You dreaded “the mile” in high school gym class and any time you try to run for more then 10 minutes you’re gasping for breath, your legs hurt and you just want to stop. You’re slow. You hate hills. It’s just not your thing.
Don’t give up hope! Something you should know about every marathoner—every person you see out on the road who makes it look effortless—each one of those people was unable to run a mile at some point.
Start Small, Start Slow
The key to getting “into” running and actually starting to enjoy it is to start small, and set achievable goals.
You can start outside or on a treadmill. If you choose to run outside, I recommend getting a stopwatch of some sort. No need to invest in a fancy GPS watch just yet, but anything that can at least tell you how long you’ve been running. Some people run with their smart phones, and there are several running and stopwatch apps you can download to perform this function. I personally prefer to run without the weight of a phone, so I recommend some kind of watch.
Part of the joy of running is simply the feel of it, so you don’t want to get too hung up on what the watch says. But as you start out, it’s important for you to know that you are running for longer and longer amounts each time. In fact, many beginner plans have you run/walk. Run for 3 minutes, walk for 1 minute, for example.
You may choose to follow a beginning plan, such as Couch to 5K. Or you can create your own program by setting a baseline and then simply trying to increase that every week. For example, if you can currently run for 10 minutes without stopping, try extending that to 12 minutes three times a week. Or, try a run/walk approach of 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking, for a total of 12 running minutes. You may find you can even do more than that.
It’s also important to note that you should not be running at 100% effort level. Slow down. If you run as fast as you can for 10 minutes then you’ll never be able to run for longer than 10 minutes. Slow running helps build endurance and you’ll feel more comfortable than if you are trying to be a speed demon. If you want to be a fast runner, you will get there. But you need to start by running slowly. You’ll progress faster and avoid injury if you run at 60-70% effort level. Not 90-100%.
Avoid aches, pains and injuries
I’ve often heard people say that they don’t run because it hurts their shins, knees, or feet. This problem can most easily be solved with proper footwear. Go to your local running specialty store and get fitted for a shoe that best supports your running gait. You should go with whatever they recommend and whatever feels best during your test run—not the shoe that you think looks the best!
It’s normal to have soreness and achiness as you first start running. But sharp, shooting pain is not normal and you should cease running if you experience that.
Doing too much too soon is the best way to get an injury. Make sure you gradually increase your running time and distance, and as I said above, keep it at 60-70% effort on most days. Going all out on every run will wear you out and increase your injury risk. I also recommend that you do not run every day. Running 3-4 times a week will ensure you build your endurance without overdoing it.
Don’t be afraid of the weather
Weather that might look undesirable initially may end up being your favorite running weather. When I started running outdoors, I sought out days that were in the mid 60’s, and was unhappy in anything else. I’ve changed my preferences over the years, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I don’t control the weather, so I’m better of adapting to whatever is thrown my way.
In terms of cold, you can safely run in the teens if you are properly dressed. Make sure you have a good hat, hefty gloves or mittens, and a few layers of high-tech clothes that wick moisture away from your body. As you start running your body will feel 20 degrees warmer than the weather. So if it’s 15 degrees out, it will feel like 35 to your body once you’ve been running for 10-20 minutes.
In terms of heat, be careful in anything above 75, particularly if it’s sunny. Drink plenty of water and go slower than normal. Wear sunglasses and very light clothes. I slow my pace by nearly a mile per minute when it’s in the 70’s. As I just mentioned, your body will feel 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, so 70 degrees will feel like 90.
Running in the rain can be fun, as long as it’s not a thunderstorm. You increase your “hard core” factor by getting out there. It’s uncomfortable to start, but as the run goes on, you will start to embrace it. For rain, a good idea is to wear a hat with a brim to keep the water off of your face. Beware of hypothermia if it’s heavily raining in 50 degrees or lower.
Personally, my ideal running weather is upper 40’s to lower 50’s and overcast. But as I said earlier, it’s not like I have a choice.
Just do it.
Nike was right. Running is a simple, natural activity and you don’t want to over-think it. My best runs are when I “just run” and forget about pace, weather, hills and other potential obstacles.
I’m a firm believer that everyone who’s healthy can run, and can run far. If you can run a 5K, you can work your way up to a marathon. It seems daunting, but it’s definitely possible. Running is a mental sport, so if you think you can, you will.
Elizabeth Clor (CLAS ’00)has been running since 2005, and has completed 18 marathons. For more running advice, visit her blog at www.elizabethclor.com or tweet at her at @ClarabridgeClor.
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