January will mark ten years since I started running. It was a scary thing to start for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was embarrassment. I was used to exercising in the privacy of my own home. Taking my workout to the road meant letting the whole world see me at some of my worst moments. At least it felt like the whole world was watching. I was quite surprised by the reactions of others when I started running. I heard everything from horror stories of how running would destroy my health to concerns for my mental well-being to jokes about my sanity. Believe me, we runners have heard all the jokes and wisecracks known to man. "I only run when someone is chasing me", "What are you training for, the Boston Marathon?", "Run, Forest, Run!", or someone sings the Rocky Theme song. It's not offensive, just a little tiring. I have to wonder why some people feel the need to either explain their own reasons for not running or try to make me feel silly for running. Plenty of people are supportive, always giving me a smile and a thumbs-up to show their approval.
This post is not to convince you that you should run. Let me make it clear that I do not believe that everyone should run. Exercise is important, but it doesn't have to be running. Find an activity that you enjoy, follow guidelines, clear it with your doctor, and go for it. With that said, I do believe that everyone should be open to the idea that maybe you would benefit from running and even enjoy it if you examined some of the possible reasons you don't like it. If you don't want to run, that's perfectly okay. But, if you think you might like to run, even if you have just a glimmer of desire to run, this post is an offer of advice to help you overcome those fears, excuses, and wisecracks and give it a try. You still might not like it, but at least you'll know.
You start too fast. This might be the most common mistake for new runners. Many times throughout the years, people have asked me for guidance and support as they start their own running program. This is always a thrill to me, and I'm happy help in any way I can. Usually I invite them to come along for a run. I never mind adjusting my own running schedule to help someone discover the joy of running. So, we meet one morning and get going. Almost every time, the new runner takes off at full throttle, and I find myself having to sprint to try to catch them. It's much better to start slow and find your groove before you ever even think about speed. What is a good pace to start? That is going to be different for each individual, and it can be difficult to answer that question for several reasons. If I say to a beginning runner, "Just run at a comfortable pace," I might get laughed at, and for good reason. There might not be such a thing as a comfortable pace when you begin. I can say start at a perceived effort of about a 4 on a scale of 1-10. That's not always easy to figure out, either. Just remember that if you do not currently run, it will be a challenge and mildly uncomfortable. It's best to run at a pace that you can maintain for at least a minute without pushing yourself to exhaustion.
You start too long. Did you notice that I said to find a pace you can maintain for at least a minute? That was not a mistake. When you begin a running program, I would not recommend running a longer distance than about 1/10 mile intervals, give or take. If that sounds too short to you, don't worry. If you are truly a non-runner, you will be adequately challenged on a run that far, and you will build to longer distances soon enough. When I first started running ( the first time I started running), I thought I should be able to finish at least a mile. After all, that's what I could do when I was in high school. I laced my shoes and skipped out the door, thinking I would not, could not stop before I reached the first mile marker. You can imagine how wimpy I felt when I had to stop at the end of my street, not even a quarter of a mile from my house. What a relief it was when I found out that a mile was very ambitious for a new runner, and I would have much more success if I started smaller and added slowly. I promise it works.
You aren't ready to run. Ideally, you should be able to walk at a brisk pace for about 20-30 minutes before you begin a running program. The solution to this one is pretty simple, but it requires patience. Just start walking a little each day until you feel pretty comfortable with it, then start running gradually. You will enjoy it so much more if you do.
You expect to do what seasoned runners do. You want to be healthy and fit like your neighbor. Your neighbor runs five miles a day. Therefore, you should run five miles a day. Wrong. Same as before: start where you are at and gradually build from there. If not, you will probably burn out or get injured before you become a seasoned runner. Then you will really hate running.
You worry too much about doing it right. Running can be a major stress relief. But, I've seen people who worry so much about every little thing, that it becomes more of a chore than a joy. They worry about their form, what to wear, what to eat, when to eat, what gadgets to buy, etc. etc. I'm not into name brands much, but I have to agree with Nike on this one. Just do it. Just put on your shoes and go. People have been running for fitness for a long time before the marketing niche came about. You will figure out what works for you through trial and error as you go along, and they probably will be different than what works for everyone else. I buy mostly cheap stuff since I have to replace it fairly often. I'll just tell you, I buy BCG shorts and bras from Academy, Danskin shirts from Walmart, and Champion socks from Target or wherever I can find them. These are all personal preferences, and I'm not too picky anyway. I do buy Brooks shoes, but I have friends who swear by Mizuno, Asics, and others. My point is, there's not a right or wrong.
Concerning form, it's good to be a mindful runner, and it might even be helpful to get some advice from a trainer or coach on the matter. However, you still don't need to worry too much about it. Hardly any runner has perfect form. Whatever feels comfortable to you is probably right. You will tweak and improve as you become more conditioned. If you're worried you look silly, don't. Most people will be impressed that you are doing something good for yourself. A while back, I wrote about a time when I was wrong in thinking someone was judging me: http://moms-running.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-paper-lady.html
As for what and when to eat, you don't need to worry much about that as a new runner, either. Do what you normally do for any other exercise. Eat a balanced diet in general, don't go hungry, but don't over-stuff yourself before a workout, and drink plenty of water. You can learn more about fueling for training and racing when you get to that level.
You aren't consistent. Once, I posted something on Facebook about running, and a friend that I hadn't seen since high school said, "I HATE running. I have to run a mile every year for a fitness test and I HATE it!" Well, that makes a lot of sense. If you run a mile only once a year, you are running a mile you are not conditioned to run, and you will hate it. Be consistent in your running, and other workouts as well, and you will enjoy it a hundred times more.
You expect to feel a runner's high. In nearly ten years of running, I've experienced a runner's high...well...hmmm...have I experienced a runner's high? I think maybe a handful of times I have. Most of running is not a blissful experience. A little bit of the time it's drudgery. Most of the time it's mundane. Sometimes it's exhilarating. Rarely, it is euphoric. That kind of sounds like life in general. However, it always feels good to know that you can do hard things. It always feels good to do something good for yourself. It always feels good to be in shape and able-bodied. So, if you make peace with the difficult aspects of running, you might find that you don't have to love every minute of it to embrace your inner runner and treasure the benefits gained and time spent running.