This post was requested two weeks ago now, so I apologize for taking so long to put it together. But I really wanted to make sure I put a good amount of time into the post and provided some really helpful information and good resources to new runners. Last week, I shared my own running story, and I wanted to follow up with my 10 tips for new runners.
So without further ado:
1. Get fit for running shoes appropriate for your gait at a running store. This is my absolute #1 recommendation. Yes, I know running shoes cost about $100/pair, but you’ll be paying a lot more in medical bills if you sustain an injury because you weren’t wearing the right shoes. I cannot stress just how important this is. Go to a specialized running store and ask to be fit for a pair of shoes that will best support your running style. Some people require orthotics to correct biomechanical problems. If this is necessary, I’d recommend seeing a podiatrist, physical therapist, or sports medicine specialist in order to have orthotics made to help your running style. But seriously, if you don’t listen to anything else I ever write on this blog, listen to this! The right pair of shoes makes a huge difference! And remember, a good pair of running shoes will last you 300-500 miles, so make sure to replace them as needed. A great way to maximize the mileage you can get out of a pair is to alternate between two pairs of shoes. Your shoes need about 48 hours to recover from the impact of a run, so alternating between pairs gives them time to provide maximum support during your next workout.
2. Stretch after every run and do a warm up/cool down. This is especially important if you run in the mornings. At night, your muscles constrict by 10% of their normal size during the day. When you exercise, they stretch 10% more than they are normally. This means that if you run first thing in the morning, your muscles will be stretching 20% during your workout. This is a very important window when injury can occur. So regardless of when you run, make sure to start with a fast walk or slow jog for a couple of minutes to loosen up your muscles. This is also important after you run. For people who suffer heart attacks or stroke during running, it actually happens once they’ve stopped. It’s important to slow to a jog and continue moving after your workout to allow your muscles to properly cool down. Additionally, this is when you need to stretch. Your quads and shins do a lot of work when you’re running, so you need to stretch them. But your hamstrings and calves, because they work less, tighten up a lot. Do not neglect these muscles groups. Static stretching for at least 30 seconds is important after a run in order to avoid an injury.
3. Track your mileage. Runners are obsessive, which means they track everything about their workouts: how far they ran, how fast they ran each mile, what type of run they went on (easy, tempo, speed, long, recovery), how their bodies felt during the run, which shoes they were wearing, and even what they weigh. An easy website that will track some of this for you is DailyMile. This is a great website to use when you’re getting started, but in order to track things like mileage on a pair of shoes and my weight, I use the David Hays log, which you can find here. It’s very in depth and detailed, but it’s awesome. You can track your shoe mileage (and seriously, almost anything else you imagine), and it will also do training planning. Additionally, if you develop an injury and you are consistent with your training log, you can often look back and figure out why the injury occurred (for example, you increased mileage more than 10% a week). Not to mention, it’s just REALLY COOL to see how far you’ve run at the end of a year!
4. Read good running books. This post is full of information that I’ve picked up from running books. Two I would highly recommend are The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, and Running Injury Free by Joe Ellis and Joe Henderson. Additionally, I’ve heard a lot of people recommend the Jeff Galloway books. If you’re looking for some inspiration, there are two things I would recommend. The first is the film Spirit of the Marathon. I watched this movie shortly after I got into running, and it made me want to call myself a marathoner someday. The second is the story of Rick & Dick Hoyt. If you can make it through this video without crying, I’ll give you $1. But I bet you can’t, because this is the most powerful story I’ve ever heard. And when I feel like I can’t take another step during a race, I think of these two and everything they’ve accomplished together. (And yes, I did just watch the video and I am crying, too.)
5. Integrate cross training. Whether you swim, bike, walk, do the elliptical, etc., cross training is one of the best things you can do for your running. Not only does it allow you to get cardio from another source that is lower impact for your body, but I also enjoy the way a bike ride can work out some of the soreness in my muscles. You can replace a short recovery run or rest day with a another form of cardio for cross training. And if/when you get injured (because ~80% of female runners will get injured during their running careers), if you already have a form of cross training in your routine, chances are you’ll be likely to use that to keep your endurance up while you have to scale back from running. Additional workouts should be strength training workouts. As you may have learned from my current back injury, if you ignore strengthening all of your muscle groups (particularly your core muscles), you’re asking for injury. Make sure to do strength workouts two to three times per week.
6. Increase mileage 10% or less each week. Your body is not capable of handling the impact of running if you drastically increase your mileage. It needs time to build up mileage slowly, going no more than 10% per week. This is really crucial for avoiding injuries, even if you are an experienced runner. When I’m training for a race, I will increase my long run distance by usually 1 mile per week. During recovery weeks, when my long run distance is actually shorter, I’ll increase the length of a mid-week run by a mile. Then, when I go back to increasing the distance on my long runs, I am able to get that additional mile in during the week.
7. Rest days are important, and so are recovery weeks! Not every run should be run at your race pace, and not every run should be a long run. Your body needs time to recover, and when it doesn’t have that time, you become injury-prone. You should take at least one day per week off of all activity. And after a tempo run or a long distance run, make sure to take it easier on the next one. Give yourself a week with less mileage on your long runs, allow your body to adjust to the distance you’re covering. A lot of runners just want to run all of the time, but rest and recovery are essential to staying healthy.
8. If you run on a treadmill, make sure to run at a 1% incline at the minimum to protect your knees. If you run outside on a loop course, alternate directions to account for slight changes on the terrain. Protecting the joints in your body that take the most impact when you run (ie, ankles, knees, and hips) is essential. When you run, you want to run on surfaces that will be kind to your body. I like running on asphalt running trails because they tend to be flat (unlike the roads, which develop waves in them over time) and asphalt is better on your joints than concrete. I don’t recommend running on beaches because of the sloped terrain, which is really bad for your ankles. And I don’t recommend running in the grass unless you know that it’s level and there aren’t hidden holes.
9. Start slow, and increase your speed gradually. When I started running, I think I ran at about a 4.5 mph pace on the treadmill. With time, that eventually increased. A 6.0 mph pace is very easy for me to maintain on a treadmill, but that used to be the pace I would go during a speed run. Don’t compare yourself to the person on the treadmill next to you at the gym (I’m totally guilty of this). Running is a competition with yourself. Start at a pace you can handle and slowly increase it. Do not increase your pace and your distance at the same time, though. If you are a new runner and want to work up to a 5K, the approach I took was increasing my distance first. Once I was able to run a 5K, I slowly worked on my speed so I was running it faster. Your long run and your speed run should never be the same run.
10. Learn to breathe while you run! This is one of the best tips I picked up from Claire Kowalchik’s book. When you’re doing a distance run or a recovery run where you’re just going for a comfortable pace, you should do a 3-2 breathing pattern. What I mean by this is that you inhale for three steps and exhale for two steps. When you exhale, you actually exert more force onto the leg you are stepping onto. By using an odd-numbered breathing pattern, you’re ensuring that you alternate the knee that takes the brunt of the force. When you’re doing a speed workout, or pushing yourself during a race, do a 2-1 breathing pattern (inhale for two steps and exhale for one step). This is not the easiest thing in the world to learn how to do. I know because it took me several months for it to become natural. I spent a lot of time focusing on my breathing, but now I find myself biking or walking down the street using a 3-2 breathing pattern. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people about why they don’t like running is that they can’t figure out how to run and breathe at the same time. Here is your answer. Believe me, this works!!!
BONUS TIP: Ease up if you feel pain, and do not put off going to a doctor if you think you could have an injury. Of course I’m going to mention this after being injured for 11 weeks. But I say this because I wish I had gone to a specialist sooner. I love my doctor and my therapists, and I think they have done wonders for me (seriously, my back is no longer in the shape of a question mark and I can run without pain, even if I am still stiff and sore throughout the day). Because a problem in your knee could cause you to favor your leg ever so slightly, leading to another problem in the opposite hip, it is important to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to seek professional advice when you think you’re injured. And don’t try to “run through the pain.” Sometimes, that can make the problem more severe, requiring you to take more time off from your exercise program than you would have had to if you’d attended to the problem in the first place.
If you notice, a lot of these are essentially tips for avoiding injury. That’s because one of the biggest challenges that faces runners of every skill level is avoiding injury. One of the hardest parts about any race you may decide to enter in the future is getting to the start line. Staying healthy during training is not easy. But I hope that these tips will help you start your own running journeys, or continue with ones that you have already embarked upon (really, embarked?? wow, that sounded a little cliche).
Other posts I would recommended checking out if you want to become a runner:
Runner’s World – Seriously, if you have a running question, you can probably find the answer on here
MapMyRun – Great way to plan out a run if you run outdoors
Active.com – Another good source for running info
Experienced runners, do you have any other pieces of advice that you would add to this list? Any other resources you’d include? New runners, do you have any other questions that I didn’t address here?