res-o-lu-tion [rez-uh-loo-shun n]:
- a decision or determination; a resolve
- firmness of purpose, the mental quality of being resolved or resolute
The new year is upon us and everyone is talking about the changes they want to make. What do you resolve to do in 2014?
In the wake of the marathon, I heard from a number of people that expressed an interest in running or a goal of completing a race. This made me extremely happy because at that point, all I wanted to do was talk about running. I'm not sure if I was coherent by then, but I do remember each person I spoke with had exactly the same question: how do I start?
I wrote the entry "Running 101" on 12/29/2011, barely a year into my new hobby. And I don't really count January to September as "running," since I was simply trying to get back into shape after my surgery. My actual training for the half marathon started on Labor Day weekend (which will forever be known as my "run-niversary.")
In the two years that have passed, I'd say the majority of what I knew back then still stands strong. I updated it just a tad, but I hope you find it helpful. And most of all, I hope the new year finds you hitting the pavement! Resolve to run, friends!!
Okay, as promised, here are some tips for beginning runners. Again, I want to clarify that I am not an expert, doctor, trainer, nutritionist, or even a good runner. I am just someone who started running on January 1, 2011 and completed a half-marathon in December. My point? If I can do it, you can do it. It just takes a little bit of courage and a whole lot of will power.
And a couple of packets of Gu. More on that later.
[editor's note: I have since switched to Honey Stingers. No caffeine]
Two minutes on, one minute off
I started running on the treadmill for two reasons: 1.) I wanted to know my speed and 2.) I needed to see a clock. The clock-thing was more mental (i.e. "It feels like I've been running for 45 minutes and it's only been 6 minutes??") but ended up being very helpful. I realized that running a full mile was too much for me, so I broke it down: two minutes running, one minute walking. I did this for ten minutes. The first time doing it, I was so winded I could barely catch my breath. (in my defense, I was also recovering from major abdominal surgery six weeks earlier. Or maybe I was just a big marshmallow. The jury is still out.)
Either way, I needed to take it slow.
And as I continued, my two-minutes-on-one-minute-off slowly lengthened. Instead of ten minutes, I stayed on the treadmill (at a comfortable pace, which at that time was about 5.3-5.5 mph) for twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Once I did it for an hour, and that's when I realized I didn't need the one minute recovery anymore. So I started running five full minutes at a time, then ten, and without thinking, by February I was easily clocking 20 minutes of solid running (5.5-5.8mph). It took about eight weeks to really get a good three miles in there, but again, I wasn't running for distance, just time. And that helped.
[editor's note: Running is a great way to lose weight, but if you are significantly overweight or looking to lose a large amount of weight, be sure to take it really slow. As we all know, running puts significant stress on your joints. Additional body weight simply compounds that problem. Starting too fast or running long distances increases your chances of injury. Be sure to combine your running with a super-healthy diet and cross training to help those stubborn pounds melt off faster.]
Train for something
Once I started logging three miles here, two miles there, my confidence soared. I felt like a serious bad-ass on the treadmill. My legs started to thin out and I carried my shoulders a little bit straighter. By July, it occurred to me that all of my treadmill running should be put to good use and I should do something adventurous. So I signed up for a half-marathon. Obviously, as previously stated, I signed up for the race for bigger reasons (i.e. my dad), but knowing that I had to run 13.1 miles in just under 5 months certainly made me motivated to keep running. December 4th loomed over me like a bad cloud, but I was committed; my $140 was not going to go to waste.
This is where good coaching come in. I ran July and August by myself, and realized that I was totally in over my head. I still had not yet conceded that running is a team sport (or how a coach would be helpful), but feeling the pain in my knees and the fear of 13.1 miles looming in front of me convinced me to call up the boot camp instructors and register for their running team.
And in that, I found a whole new community. We received weekly emails that detailed everything from what to eat, how many miles to run per day, and even how to psychologically talk to yourself as the long (and longer) runs started. There is no way I would have ever challenged myself to run 7 miles alone; but when it was on the schedule, I showed up like a dutiful solider. Not only did I finish that run, but as we were leaving, another runner commented to me, "You are just a natural. You have the most graceful stride."
I almost fell over. I laughed and told her that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me. Ever. In my whole life.
We both laughed, but it made me feel like a rock star. And certainly kept me going.
[editor's note: And if you are really lucky, a good coach might just run a marathon with you! It was the best (and most needed) gift I could have ever asked for. Running may be an individual sport, but you'll find the greatest strength from your fellow runners.]
Good Gear is Key
My first day on the running team, I discovered my shoes were wrong, my socks were wrong, even the way I tie my shoelaces were wrong. At the time, I was pretty defensive. Looking back, I realize they were right. And I was wrong. ::sigh::
So I bought new sneaks at a legit running store. I purchased non-cotton socks. I watched carefully as the coach tied my shoes, feeling as helpless as Scotty during the process. And after my initial feelings of uselessness wore off, I found myself going back to buy Gu, running pants (that I like to call my "go-fast pants"), and even a running stick (to roll out sore muscles). The point here? Good gear makes the process a lot more enjoyable. And fashionable, too.
This is where boot camp was key. Hill Day was critical to conditioning, and all of the ab work helped to tighten my core. A strong upper body will be help you through the longer runs. It didn't usually come into play until after mile 3, but that's when I felt different parts of my body working in different ways. My mid-section literally felt as though there was a corset cinched around it. My breathing evened out and it was no longer one giant exercise in exhaustion. I wouldn't call running easy, but it certainly got easier. And cross-training really helped.
Accept the fact you will have bad runs
[editor's note: Ha! Hahahaha! This is so funny to me. Have a bad run? What???? I've had so many tough runs at this point, I'm excited when one goes well! Seriously though, the tough runs are the ones you learn the most from. You'll be okay, really.]
I had a terrible run in early October. It was awful - I had gone with the group (it was one of those 4:45am runs) and the guy in front set the pace - this crazy 9-minute mile that went on for what seemed like hours. It was still really dark out, so I kept up with the group more out of fear of being mugged in the dark streets of Summerlin than out of the desire to run fast. And when we finished, I was destroyed. It was a horrible experience. My legs hurt, my head hurt, and I was wiped out mentally.
I didn't run for three days after that. And when I finally got the courage to don the non-cotton socks again, I was away for the weekend for a Junior League Conference. Courtney and I dragged ourselves out of the hotel for an early morning run, and I begged to go slowly. She did, and we ended up doing 3.5 miles. That was all I had in me. I was still too afraid that I was going to feel awful or weak or puke or something. (ironic, considering how the actual half marathon went...) But the run went fine and a tiny shred of my confidence was restored.
A couple more runs later proved that yes, I could still do this. A bad run doesn't mean I should quit the sport or give up or that I'm a failure - it was just a bad run. And better runs are right around the corner.
The first mile is the hardest
I love it when people say things like, "I don't even think I could run a mile." I want to say, "Yes, you can - the first mile is the worst!" To me, the first three miles are the worst. You're still working out the kinks and getting stretched out - your shoe doesn't feel right, that lace is bugging you, and why does your knee feel funny? I try to tell myself that the first three miles are basic diagnostic testing - what corrections should I make now in order to avoid injury longer into the run?
I've since learned that your body gets into a natural rhythm once all of the kinks have been worked out. And if you are really lucky, you'll hit that magical "runner's high." For me, miles 6-10 are consistently my favorite; I've zoned out, my body is warmed up, and I'm really into the flow of the run. But it takes a little time to get there. Be patient.
Prepare for the mental part of it
Ironic considering the name of this blog is the Bedrest BOOK CLUB, but reading about running never actually occurred to me until two years in. After four years of watching SuperWhy!, you'd think I would know that if I have a question, we look...in a book! Either way, I'm glad I started to supplement my long runs by exercising my noodle as well.
If you are just starting out, my top three book recs would be:
-- "The Cool Impossible" by Eric Orton
-- "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall
-- "Marathon" by Hal Higdon
Eric's book is great for beginners because he really breaks down the mechanics of it. He starts with basic foot exercises that you can easily do at home, and slowly incorporates stability and strengthening, all before you've even run a step. He also makes you want to move to Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where he lives and trains). And the last part - the part about how to create a running mantra - was critical for me at the marathon. I'm the first person to shrug something off as cheesy or silly, but this was super helpful (although you might feel cheesy or silly doing it. But you'll need it!) Strong, brave and ready, baby!
"Born to Run" is obviously a staple in this list. If you don't know why I freakin' love this fist-pumping anthem to hitting the pavement, read my review here. Recreation has its reasons, yo.
And "Marathon," by the great Hal Higdon, is just a classic. He offers sound advice in this kind, paternal narrative. I'm not so sure I agree with some of the nutritional advice (PopTarts?), but the guy has run like, 100+ marathons and he's well into his 80s (90s??).
The best part of the book is when at a marathon, another runner tells him, "I beat you! I can't believe I beat you!" and Hal replies, "No, you simply finished before me." I love that. That's running in a nutshell; it's not about me vs. you, but me vs. me. People that are caught up in numbers (yes, I was one of them) are usually the newbies or the unenlightened. I know now, having finished a full, that it doesn't matter if you did it in 2:35 or 7:59. You finished and THAT'S the important part. The number is not important to anyone but you (and you only care so you can PR the next one). Finishing times are intensely personal. They are not meant to be compared between people, but instead, just within ourselves. Hal's book (which has been through multiple reprints) is a great place to start to wrap your mind around what it really means to be a runner.
Notable mentions: "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek (review here) to give you perspective about those three miles you are about to run. He runs 135 mile races without stopping. You can get through that 5K, trust me. And also try "Running and Being" by Dr. George Sheehan. Much more philosophical with some great, meaty quotes, but I'm just not a fan of his clipped, shorted sentences. (sorry, George). What can I say? I'm more Woolf than Hemingway.
Happy trails, friends!
res-o-lu-tion [rez-uh-loo-shun n]:
Think of this as the epilogue to Bridget Jones' story. Well, mostly. Bridget marries the handsome lawyer, starts a blog while on bedrest, and decides marathon running sounds like fun. Hilarity ensues.