How to become a runner
The first rule of running is anyone can do it. If you can run and if you do run, you are a runner and no one can take that away from you. The best thing about it, is that in order to be a runner you don’t have to apply for a license, pass a test or give an oath, the moment you get out of the door, step outside and take off you are admitted to the brotherhood of runners.
We all start to run for different reasons. There is no shame in coming to running in the hope of losing weight or getting in a better shape. We all start somewhere and whatever your reasons are, if they get you going and if they keep you on track these reasons are good enough for anyone out there. Some run because it’s more convenient than following a program, it burns the extra calories. Others run because they like the sense of control and empowerment they get out of it. We all have our reasons and if you have defined yours, here are some practical tips on how to get started:
Perhaps the hardest thing for anyone starting out is to find where they can actually run. Not everyone has access to a running path or a park, most people don’t, so the first order of business is to find a suitable route. And there is always one. Before you gear up and go for an actual run, go exploring and see what kind of roads you have around you. You can check with Google maps beforehand to see which direction you can go exploring first, check which routes may have more potential.
Most of us tend to use the same road from home to work, from work to supermarket and back home again, that’s all the path we need most of the time, and we may not be aware of potential running routes we can take simply because we never went exploring. There are always routes we can take, perhaps not always scenic or going through woods and fields, but there is always something.
Try to find a road, a path or a trail that is not very busy, look for other runners (other people often have the same idea) and cyclists, look for roads with fewer cars as well. Very often your running path will go from your house and through buildings, then enter some kind of park or terrain, and then back again. Try to avoid choosing a trail you have to drive to first unless it absolutely can’t be avoided. The extra step you have to make to get to the running trail and then run may be that extra excuse that’ll prevent you from doing it regularly and then also become the reason to give up on the idea altogether. The best path is the one that starts the moment you are out of the door - the step outside is already hard enough to make without complicating it further. The whole point of this is to create positive habits that are easy to follow.
You do need to walk the path at least once to get a feel for it at the time you are planning on running it to make sure you know exactly what to expect, see if it gets busy or if there are any problems and pitfalls.
Try to find a route that has potential. In the beginning you won’t run for very long or very far, but you will eventually want to run a longer distance, at it is always more encouraging when you have something further to run to instead of running in circles.
With an activity like running, when the smallest excuse can ruin the whole thing, it’s very important to put a routine in place, the kind of routine you can repeat almost automatically without thinking about it too much. It helps if you have a gear box set-up with everything you need in it for your run so when the time comes you are not running around, instead of running out there, looking for your running pants. It helps if you add a special shelf or a compartment for your running clothes in your closet. You can keep everything in a box, have your running shoes at the door every morning and your mp3 player, if you use one, always charged at the docking station.
It’s a small thing but when it comes to it, it’ll make a big difference. You don’t want to spend forever preparing for your run, that way you’ll have all the time in the world to find an excuse to not go – even experienced runners fall for it from time to time. Make the process as easy and as quick as possible, so you’ll be running before you know it. As a matter of fact, the best runs are morning runs for that exact reason, if you manage to get yourself out of the house before your brain wakes up and realizes what is going on and comes up with an excuse not to go, you’ll be half way through your route - works every time.
If you don’t feel you need a rest day you don’t have to have one. Running every day is possible, provided you do it in a pattern you can maintain, a hard day should be followed by an easy day, for example. If you are not running for the sake of running but want to see results, lose weight, improve your speed or distance, you should vary your running pattern as much as possible. Running at the same speed the same distance every day will eventually stop giving you any results and you’ll hit a plateau because your body will get used to the same load and optimize itself and work at its minimum effort and resources. If you do hit a plateau, change things up – increase your speed or distance, add sprints into the mix or run uphill.
Clothes and other gear
There is an entire industry based around running, gear and all the breakthrough technology that is just about promises to give you wings. Cool stuff will just give you the cool factor, it will not help you if you are just starting out. The only thing you really need is comfortable clothes and comfortable running shoes (not tennis or walking shoes, running shoes), but they don’t have to be expensive or brand new either.
Very often people spend a ton of money on gear and clothes before they even go for their first run. They spend a fortune on the stuff they don’t need because they feel they need to prepare. This is a mental trap. Since you have spent the money you are invested now and you get the feeling of achievement and involvement when you haven’t actually done anything – you just bought stuff you may never even use.
Cool gear, professional clothes and especially designed shoes are awesome, but only when you are already an experienced runner and you can judge what you need and what you most definitely don’t need. Expensive does not necessarily mean good, a pair of old running shoes you use for gardening will work just as well as a $200 pair of shoes with a cool name and a brand logo. It takes time to break in a pair of running shoes, too, so if you are a beginner and if you already own a pair of running shoes – use those. You’ll feel better, you’ll run better, you’ll have more money left in your pocket.
Sports bras for ladies are a necessity not an optional accessory. One word: gravity, you can’t argue with gravity.
Don’t overdress for your run, once you warm up you’ll feel comfortable in lighter clothes. If you are worried about getting cold, make sure your hands and feet are warm. Wear thick socks and a good pair of gloves and this will keep your body warm, too. There is a biomechanical reason for this that has to do with the way the heart pumps blood to the extremities but that’s not really important here. It’s good enough, right now, to know that it works.
Food and drink
The diet of a runner is a personal thing, different people respond to different regimens and only one thing remains the same: no fuel = no energy. You have to eat to run and run well, when you eat, how much and how often will depend on what you want to achieve.
When you are starting out you should be aware of the simple fact – if you want to lose weight you can’t eat more than you do right now, just because you run. Your diet should stay more or less the same. A run under an hour does not require any additional fueling up or any special food adjustments.
You don’t have to drink during a run if you don’t feel you need to. If you are not thirsty, there is no need to sip anything but if you get so thirsty your mouth goes dry, make sure you carry some water with you.
Otherwise, keep it simple:
Don’t go running thirsty. Drink some water if it’s a sunny day before you go, you will always get dehydrated during a run but it isn’t bad short-term. Sipping some water during a run is perfectly fine, especially if you are running long distance and in the sun, but it’s not mandatory.
Don’t go running hungry. If you feel you are that hungry that you can chew someone’s leg off, eat something before you go running even if you are just about to take off. A small banana or half a protein bar will do the trick most of the time. It’s not that you absolutely have to eat, but you don’t want to be distracted by hunger either.
Running is mostly mental. It really is all in your head, if you think you are starving you’ll perform worse than you otherwise would because you think you should. Some runners perform better running on empty because all of the resources in the body go into the running instead of into digesting the food (there is no multitasking well where the body’s processes are concerned) but it doesn’t mean you should do it too. Food and drink habits depend on each runner and you will be able to tell after a while what your thing is, when you begin, though, don’t think about it too much – it isn’t as important as one would imagine.
What to expect
You may feel out of breath, like you are not getting enough oxygen and your lungs are on fire- - that’s perfectly normal. That’s your aerobic capacity, your fitness levels that will eventually rise. You are not dying, there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone goes through the same thing when they are trying to do too much too fast. The best thing you can do is drop the pace and go slower.
The stitch you get in your side is a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen and carbon dioxide is building up in your bloodstream – to get rid of the stitch, you have to simply outrun it. Start taking deeper breaths and run at a slower pace and it’ll be gone in a few minutes as your bloodstream oxygen level rises.
Warm ups and cool downs
The warm up and cool down stages can be part of your run, start and finish your run with a few minutes of a slow recovery runs to get your body temperature and your heart rate to its normal state. Warm-ups and cool-downs are literally what they are, the way to transition your body from a normal state to a very active state and back without putting additional stress on your body. Think of your body like a car, you wouldn’t go from zero to a hundred in a second if you don’t want to wreck it and you won’t take it out in a cold day without warming up the engine beforehand.
If you lead an active lifestyle already, you are likely not to need a warm-up. Everyone needs a cool-down, though. It can either be a fast walk or a light jog that is normally 5-10% of your total distance. You can also do some additional stretching after the run.
The important thing
What you have to understand is that most runners out there have no special abilities, we all started somewhere and we all struggle – present tense. It doesn’t get easier, not for anyone, but you get better, you always do. If you run – you are a runner, and every runner you meet will respect you and accept you because they know what it is like, they understand what you are going through. If you are out of shape and you go running, you may feel that other runners are judging you – they don’t. They celebrate and admire you, because what you are doing isn’t easy. What they are doing isn’t easy either, they just had more practice in making it look easy.
If you want to be a runner, be a runner. Even if you have never done it before, haven’t got any special gear and not entirely sure what you are doing. The form, the speed, the ability to cover serious distance will come to you eventually if you keep at it. Remember that a large part of it, all of the excuses and the reasons why you can’t do it or can’t do it today, are in your head. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop questioning and just go and run.
Programs to try: