In the wise words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. In this case the times are when I am running and indeed they are both the best and worst times of my week. Ok that may be a little dramatic as it is not really the worst of times but running for me is definitely both extremely challenging and very rewarding all at the same time. I want to quit about a half dozen times before I even start, but then I get going and the love affair is back on! I have had this sort of tumultuous relationship with running for as long as I can remember but the start of it definitely dates back to my time on my high school cross country team. I am not sure what even possessed me to join the team but I subjected myself to two seasons of ten plus mile practices every day of the week until I ended up with a gnarly case of shin splints at the end of my second year and decided to hang up my Nikes.
I think part of my motivation way back in those days and even today is that I have always wanted to be able to say, “I am a runner!”. You know, those people who wake up at the ass crack of dawn to get their easy breezy eight miles in before work and run races every Saturday morning just to continue to challenge themselves even on the weekends. Alas, I have not yet become that person but I have started to make the attempt again and this time I am happy to report it is going much better than it has previously. I have dabbled in trying to become a runner many times over the years since my “glory days” of the cross-country team but with each attempt came pretty quick failure. It always seems like such a cool thing to do and the people in my life who are true runners even make it seem so easy but when you get down to it running (at least for me) can be just plain hard.
In this most recent attempt to transform myself into one of those enviable runner-types I think I realized something that may just be the key to actually allowing me to stick with it this time. I realized that the truly difficult part of running is convincing your mind that you can do it. While of course there is a physical element to being able to run any prolonged distance, it is really your mind you have to convince not to give up when your body starts telling you it is uncomfortable. Our bodies are really amazingly durable machines and can withstand quite a bit of stress when asked to, our minds, however, are a bit more temperamental. As soon as they sense any bit of pain, strain or fatigue they have the tendency to say….” Hey there chick, stop what you are doing because it is making me feel a tad but unpleasant”.
This revelation came to me about a month into my most recent attempt at running when I was on the treadmill and hit the two-mile mark. This is where I would normally throw in the towel due to those unpleasant sensations starting to manifest themselves. By unpleasant sensations I mean you know the burning lungs, leg soreness and that really painful side cramping. I typically would start to experience one or all of these things and immediately reach for the cool down button thinking my body was telling me it was time to stop. This particular day for whatever reason I decided to try to push myself through the pain and I kept right on running. Low and behold I made it 2 more miles for a total of 4 miles before I actually had to stop, due to needing to get ready and go to work. I was shocked! I hadn’t run four miles in years and I did it more easily than I would have even thought possible! Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging as it is every time I set out for a run, but my body yet again surprised me and I was able to achieve something I hadn’t thought I was capable of up until that point.
Now to be fair, I had been working out consistently for about a year and a half at this point so it wasn’t like I was in terrible shape but I certainly hadn’t been running or really doing any amount of cardio at all on a regular basis. I had been mostly doing strength training and HIIT workouts (following the at-home workout programs I still swear by) with only a smidgen of cardio mixed in, usually in the form of 30 minutes on the elliptical every so often when the mood struck. So to make it four miles not only gave me a gigantic confidence boost but also renewed my interest in transforming myself into a runner. Since that morning I have been consistently running about 3 or so days a week and have been progressively increasing my speed and distance slowly but surely. This coming weekend is my next actual 5k race and then I am eyeing another 4-5 races before the season is over.
So why run anyway? Well I am glad you asked! 😊 As dramatic as I was being earlier in this post about how hard it is for me, running is an amazing workout that can really do wonders for your mind and body. Below are some of the top reasons I continue to lace up my running shoes and get those miles under my belt as well a few suggestions for when you are just starting out:
How to (safely) get started:
- Make sure you invest in good running shoes: You guys this is so important to being successful not only when first starting out but even if you’re a seasoned runner. You want to get shoes that are specific to running because they are designed to cushion your foot (midsole and arch support is key), make your feet feel lighter as you run, they will help you avoid blisters and other running related injuries, and can even improve your overall performance. My go-to’s are usually Asics or New Balance. It’s always a good idea to get fitted as well to make sure you are getting shoes that work with your feet. Happy Feet = Happy Run!
- Start Gradually!! – If you are attempting your very first run or your first run in like a gazillion years don’t go out and expect to make it ten miles right off the bat. Much like with any other sport you have to give your body time to adjust and condition itself to the new stress you are putting it under. I started with a mile, then made it to two and after hovering right around the two-mile mark for several weeks eventually was able to start upping my mileage to between 3-5 on any given day. Easing into a new running routine is key to avoiding injury, sticking with your goals and avoiding the too much too soon scenario which almost always leads to burnout and you throwing in the towel prematurely. A great tool to help you structure your running program is a Couch to 5k plan. You can find a variety of these programs online which help you to map out exactly what distances to run each day to safely increase your running stamina. Also, great if one of your goals is to actually run a 5K!
- Incorporate Strength Training: I think this is one of the reasons I have (so far) been more successful in my attempt at being a runner this time around. I was consistently strength training for over a year before I began running again so my legs were stronger, my core was stronger, and I was in overall better shape than I had been at the start of any previous attempts. Despite the sometimes thought that running and strength training are mutually exclusive, strength training can greatly increase your running performance in my opinion. If your muscles are stronger you can run longer distances before getting fatigued and your chances of getting injured go way down. So hit those weights, preferably on days you don’t run, and experience the benefits of cross-training for both your body goals as well as your running goals.
- Listen to your body: I know I have said this a million times, but your body will really tell you what it needs and when it needs it. A great way to make sure you are not over-taxing your body when you are just starting a running routine is to run one day and then take the next off. This rest day from running might be a good opportunity to hit those weights I was just talking about as well as give your body time to recover from the run you did the day before. Also a good idea when first starting out to use a combo of walking and running during your workouts. Run for a few minutes, walk for a few minutes until you build up your stamina and can run for longer duration’s. Again, the main thing here is to listen to your body and act accordingly. If you are sore, take a day off. If you start cramping mid-way through a run, walk for a few minutes. Just give your body time to do its thing and it will allow you to push it further in the long run (no pun intended).
- Amazing for Cardiovascular Health – This one seems pretty obvious but besides being a great way to strengthen your heart, running also does wonders for your lung function, can help lower cholesterol, gives your immune system a boost and of course can even help you lose weight! What else can you ask for in one exercise?!
- Great Stress Reliever – Ever heard of the Runners High? Oh man, it’s a real thing and let me tell you it’s pretty glorious when it kicks in. This phenomenon is brought to you by those great little endorphins your brain produces after you have been doing some moderate exercise for a sustained amount of time. Usually about 25-30 minutes into my run I start to experience the feeling that I could run forever, that I don’t have a care in the world and that I just feel like a million bucks. The release of endorphins while running has also been shown to be an effective way to treat/manage things like depression and anxiety…especially when running outside!
- Confidence Booster – Along with the stress relieving benefits of running, it can also make you feel good in a different sort of way…it can make you proud of yourself! I think for me this is one of the biggest appeals of running. Because it has always been such a challenge for me, when I complete a run, I just feel like I really accomplished something. Running is far harder for me than weight training or any other kind of cardio so when I successfully meet one of my running goals, I am that much prouder of myself and eager to do it again or meet an even loftier goal.
- Hey it’s free! – You can literally run just about anywhere! Throw on some shoes, open your front door and go! There is no real cost to running other than those all-important shoes it is wise to invest in, but again you can pretty much do it anywhere anytime. It’s a great way to explore a new place, easy to do if you are away on vacation and getting fresh air everyday does wonders for not only your mind but also has been shown to lower blood pressure, raise your self-esteem, and burns a bunch of calories all at the same time!
So who’s ready to go for a run?? With all the benefits that you can reap even just running one or two days a week (lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, ward off stroke and arthritis, even potentially prevent some cancers, not to mention shed some weight) why not give it a shot?! I’m a few months into my own attempt at becoming that runner I have always aspired to be so stay tuned to see how that goes! I think I have a real shot at it this time and seeing as how by body has surprised me countless times since I have started on this health and fitness journey I am feeling pretty confident I can meet this goal as well! Wish me luck on my upcoming 5k this weekend and if anyone out there has any tips at how to improve as a runner or what has worked for you I would love to hear it!