This article was written by CAR Coach George Buckheit for the March/April 2011 edition of Washington Running Report
“When I first started running, I was so embarrassed; I’d walk when cars passed me. I’d pretend I was looking at the flowers.” – Joan Benoit Samuelson; 1980 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist
The first steps can be the toughest when you’re looking to begin a running program, and even runners with Olympic level talent can be daunted by the prospect of lacing up their shoes and heading out the door for the first time. However, if you approach your running with a sound plan you’ll find that getting started doesn’t need to be intimidating. Here are a few tips to set you on the right path.
Set a Goal. Yogi Berra once said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else”. To avoid this pitfall with your running, make sure that your goal is clearly defined and then write it down on an index card and tape it to the corner of your bathroom mirror. Whether the goal is “Lose 10 pounds” or “Qualify for Boston Marathon”, you’ll be less likely to crawl back into bed and skip a workout if the goal is staring you in the face every morning when you walk into your bathroom.
Get the Right Shoes. Your shoes will be the most important piece of equipment you own, and your best defense against injury, so make sure that you choose wisely. Make a trip to a specialty running store and talk to the experts who understand shoe technology and can help you select the correct shoe for your foot type and gait. A good pair of running shoes isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot less expensive than the medical bills you’ll end up with if you try running in the wrong shoes.
Start Slow and Finish Fast. It’s okay to run slow, especially at the start of your workouts. If you go out and try to impress everyone with how fast you are throughout your entire run on a daily basis, your running program is probably going to end as suddenly as it started, either due to injury or just sheer exhaustion from over training. The best approach is to start every run at a very relaxed and comfortable pace, and then slowly increase your tempo as you start to warm up. Make an effort during the early and middle stages of your run to conserve enough energy to be able to do your best running during the closing stages of your workout. If you can get into the habit of running that way on a consistent basis, not only will you find that your fitness will quickly and steadily improve, you’ll always be finishing your runs on a positive note which will leave you looking forward to your next workout.
Find Some Running Buddies. One of the great things about running is that you can do it by yourself, in almost any place, and at any time. However, if you’re looking for a way to keep yourself motivated and accountable, scout out your local running clubs to find yourself some training partners with whom you share similar running abilities and goals and try to meet them for workouts at least 1 or 2 days every week. You’ll find that the camaraderie is priceless, and it’s always nice to have someone to help push you through your toughest workouts.
Pay Attention to Your Body. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, so don’t ignore any pain signals that you receive. You should stop running immediately at the first sign of trouble. Most injuries can be shaken with a few days of rest if they are caught early enough, but if you try to be a hero and “run through” the pain, you’re likely to turn your minor injuries into major problems that could totally derail your training.
Keep it Fresh. To keep your perspective fresh, take advantage of the numerous running trails in the DC area to vary the terrain and scenery on your training runs. To keep your legs fresh, make sure that you give yourself at least 2 easy days every week where you either rest completely, or do some light cross training as a substitute for your running.
Don’t Forget About the Non-Running Details. You can do all the running that you want, but if you’re not taking care of yourself and paying attention to eating right, keeping yourself well hydrated, getting sufficient rest, and building some stretching and strengthening exercises into your routine, your body isn’t going to be able to perform at its best.