Most of these tips apply not only to runners but anyone trying a new activity or workout. Please comment to add yours!
This is my second year of calling myself a “runner.” It all started last January with a dream of running a half marathon — a dream I was able to fulfill in June when I completed the Minneapolis Half Marathon. I’ve run in several races since then, and I plan to run my second half marathon in May with a goal wild dream of completing a full marathon by the end of this year. I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination — I’m not even fast (seriously) — but I’ve learned a few things along the way that might be helpful for those just starting out. I know how overwhelming everything feels at first and how impossible your goals can seem. So, here is what I’ve got to offer…
19 TIPS FOR THE NEW RUNNER
1. Get nice shoes.
Ok, this isn’t a tip, it’s a rule. If you are running in old, worn-out shoes, your likelihood of getting injured is very high. At least for your first pair, go to a running store and get fitted for a pair of shoes that will make running more comfortable.
2. Take it slow.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Whether you’re in Couch to 5K or training for a marathon, you need to take your time. Increase your mileage slowly and build a solid base before advancing to work on distance, speed, etc. I’m not good at this, which is precisely why I know how important it is.
3. Have realistic expectations.
This goes hand-in-hand with taking it slow. Set goals for yourself, but make sure they are goals you can achieve. Don’t set yourself up for failure from the start.
4. Set mini goals.
In addition to setting one big goal, set a series of mini goals to complete along the way. Maybe it’s logging all of your miles for the week or running 20 minutes non-stop. Just make sure they are realistic as well.
5. Track your runs.
Whether it’s a watch, an app or some other device, you’ll want a way to track your runs – especially if you have a goal to meet. I have used these apps and like them: RunKeeper, Nike+ and Couch to 5K. I also recently purchased a Nike+ GPS sportswatch and use that for all my tracking now.
6. Celebrate little victories.
These are what keep you going. Seriously. The big goal at the end is too far away sometimes to motivate you on a daily basis. You need little victories to boost your confidence, even if it’s as simple as running your first mile non-stop. Don’t discount these; they are powerful.
7. Run with other people.
Running with a group can be motivating, supportive and fun. I don’t do it very often, but I do run with my husband quite a bit, and I enjoy it. Just be careful not to get too competitive and overdo it to keep up with the crowd (or is that just my problem?).
8. Run alone.
I think it’s just as important to run by yourself sometimes. You can clear your head, run at your own pace, make wacky faces if you have to and enjoy the time to yourself.
9. Just keep going.
You can always go further than you think you can. For me, it’s two more miles. During half marathon training, I would constantly tell myself “just two more miles,” knowing that was a number I could handle. Have the confidence that you can go the extra mile (or two) when it counts, because you probably can.
10. Think of long runs as a series of short runs.
Long runs can seem overwhelming and intimidating. Break them up into bite-sized pieces in your head and trick yourself into finishing the whole thing. For example, my first and only race prior to my half marathon was a 7K, so I thought of the half marathon course as (roughly) three 7K’s.
11. Run angry if you have to.
Generally speaking, I’m not a happy runner. I like the feeling of accomplishment after a run, but I don’t always enjoy the act of running itself. If this is you, you’re not alone. Buckle up and keep moving. When you’re done, you’ll be glad you did. And eventually, you may come to enjoy it more (I have).
12. Treat yourself.
Keep yourself motivated and excited about running by treating yourself every once in a while to new gear, new running clothes, new songs for your iPod, etc. Even better: make yourself earn it by logging a certain amount of miles or accomplishing a goal you’ve set first.
13. Run in the rain.
I know it sounds weird, but just try it. I had my first experience of “runner’s high” on my first 10-mile long run, and 1/3 of that run was in a downpour.
14. Get the right playlist.
If you run to music, you know how much this matters. The worst thing ever is getting to the hardest part of a race and having some slow, sleepy song come on your iPod. You need songs that will motivate you, entertain you, distract you a little and pump you up when you need it most. Whatever that means for you, make sure you have it. If you prefer to run music-free, more power to you.
15. Listen to your body.
This is probably the single most important piece of advice, and yet many runners are terrible at it (myself included). If you’re in pain, take time off from running until the pain is gone, and go see a doctor if it’s really bad. If you’re exhausted, do an easy run or take a day off to rest. If you’re sore, spend extra time warming up, cooling down and stretching.
16. Buy frozen peas.
They work great for icing sore muscles. I can’t tell you how many times in the past year I’ve sat on the couch with two packs of frozen peas on my shins. If you want something fancier, go for it, but I think the peas work just fine.
17. Amp up your nutrition.
If you want the endurance to make it through your runs, you’ll want to fuel your body with the right stuff. Eat carbs prior to a run for energy and protein after a run for recovery. Just make sure you give your food time to digest before hitting the pavement (2 hours usually does it, but every body is different). Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
18. Get expert help when you need it.
Last year, my shin splints were so bad I sought help from a sports medicine doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist. Again, listen to your body, and when you’re not sure, ask.
19. Sign up for a race.
Deadlines can be a strong motivator, and finishing a race is a great goal to work toward. The prospect of an upcoming 5K will get your butt in gear and keep you training even when you want to quit. Not to mention you have to pay to register, and a lot of races are non-refundable… So go sign up and don’t look back! Even if you hobble across that finish line, you will feel accomplished.
Now tell us: what is YOUR advice for new runners, or anyone trying a new sport/activity? And what questions do you have?