I’ve only been torturing myself running for about four months and I’m not quite a marathoner or Olympic athlete yet, but during these four months, I’ve learned more about my physical, mental, and—dare I say it?—emotional self than during all of grad school or even that whole seven months I spent unemployed on my couch, inferring the days of the week by which channel was showing the “House” marathon.
I think I’m finally ready to talk out of my ass and share my sage words of running wisdom. Actually, I read this awesome article in Women’s Health Magazine where “Runner’s World” folks offer up expert advice for runners lacing up their trainers for the first time, and I thought that they missed a couple of things.
So, since this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I’ll share my hard-won advice first and then let the real experts step in.
(Semi-relevant side note: in senior year of high school, I was the drum major of my marching band (Marching Mustangs, represent, whaaaaaat) and part of my responsibilities included leading the warm-up run and the stretching (guess which one I hated less). At 17, I wasn’t the most politically correct individual (not much has changed), so the word “tar-tar” was part of my vocabulary (okay, that has changed—now I just say “lame” since, you know, that doesn’t have any other meaning…) and I’m not proud of it. Anyway, possibly the only time anything I’ve ever said or done has become a trend, “tar-tar” caught on, and even the instructors were known to have said from time to time, or at every rehearsal, “Don’t be a tar-tar. Do the run-run with the Ron-Ron.” That’s it, that’s the story. I just wanted an excuse to tell it.)
Without further ado, here are the Ron-Ron’s run-running tips:
1) Fight the Blerch: The dude who writes The Oatmeal recently did a ridiculously amazing treatise on why he runs. Part of what induces him to run is fighting the Blerch, his inner voice that “represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference.” My Blerch is mostly an asshole rather than a saboteur sitting on my shoulder and encouraging to help myself to another slice of cheesecake. We all have a Blerch. Find yours and punch it in the face. Simple enough, right?
2) Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how trivial: This blog makes no secret of the fact that running and I aren’t BFFs yet. It’s not just a matter of not really enjoying it as much as I feel like I should be by now, but also that I am simply not very good at it. Now I know that running is not one of those things for which you can expect immediate results, and when I’m feeling particularly sluggish or lame, I think back on where I was just a few months ago. What was appallingly difficult then is now mostly tolerable; if I am still slow, it’s not because I physically can’t go faster. So now I choose to rejoice over everything. You just ran the longest distance ever in your whole life? Go, you! You improved your average pace by 3 seconds? Hell yes! You ran without stopping? Mazel tov! My running app is also pretty cool for informing me of various accomplishments. Since it tracks like 17 million different things and my runs are slowly building, I’m bound to break some kind of elevation/duration/pace/distance record every now and then. The app even emails me a congratulatory trophy! Apparently trophies are important within my mental rewards system. I’m a sucker.
3) Obey the urge: Say you’ve just started your run. You’ve got your cutest running capris and bedazzled sweatband on (fellas, amirite?), or your new Victoria’s Secret push-up sports bra, and you’re pounding the pavement when it happens. The urge. To poop. Okay, I’m pretty much letting the cat out of the bag here, but everyone poops–even the ladies. I know this because during my freshman orientation in college, the upperclassmen read and acted out portions of the book Everyone Poops. This is a real thing, and it can be really embarrassing/inconvenient if it sneaks up on you, especially when you’re on longer, ahem, runs. So just do it, even if you don’t think you need to. Okay, I’ll stop mothering you now.
4) Why Are You Hitting Yourself: You may have to remind yourself daily why you’re out there doing what you’re doing. Runs are long and rest days seem to go by in a blink of an eye, but you’ll be less likely to lose perspective if you set and stick to reasonable long- and short-term goals that are both quantitative and qualitative.
5) Stop comparing yourself to others: I am 100% guilty of this in all aspects of my life. That kind of shit goes way deep, too deep for a mere blog such as this to deconstruct. Running for me is something that requires a lot of mental and emotional effort, to push myself to keep going or to keep going faster. I’m not the type of person who is motivated by vengeance–if I was, this blog probably wouldn’t exist because I’d never be running on empty, mwahaha! I used to tell myself that I’m just competitive with other people, and I am, but only to a point. I don’t put in 100% to “beat” anyone, because if I did and they still beat me, then what? Instead, if I am beaten, usually based on some arbitrarily defined scale of win/lose that I made up, I just use it as fuel to make myself feel like crap. I’m trying to get away from that practice. Rather, I remind myself daily that everyone is different and that to get results some people are more willing or able to make sacrifices to their time or lifestyle than others. It’s silly to expect the same results as someone who exercises more regularly or has a healthier diet (i.e. eats less shit) or ran crosscountry in high school and thinks their 6:00/mi running pace is slow or is an Olympic athlete–but I still do it. Like I’ve said before, it’s important to have goals, but make sure they’re realistic and don’t let them get away from you.
6) Run through the stitches: I get side stitches in pretty much the same place every single run. It sort of goes without saying that they really, really suck. Theories for the cause and treatment of side stitches abound but I think of them sort of the same way I think of hiccups: they’re annoying but if you ignore them and breathe normally, they’ll go away. But ignoring pain is sort of difficult, especially when the very act of breathing hurts. Some sources suggest that you slow down until the pain lessens, but as appealing as that is, my stitches go away and then come back with renewed vigor when I resume my normal pace. Others say to try leaning into the stitch, but all that does to me is give me a stitch on the other side and temporarily hate the person who made the suggestion (sorry, boyfriend). Still others say that you should change your breathing rhythm to exhale when your left foot hits the ground. It sucks, but the only thing that has worked for me is to just run through them.
7) Stop and Smell the Roses: I know it wrecks my pace (as calculated by my app) but sometimes I just want to take a freaking picture. Look!
8) Vary your runs: You can get stuck in a running rut just like anything else. When I start getting a little too comfortable with my route, I try a couple of things:
- Find a new route: Ask around or use the Interwebs. There are a lot of running spots out there. Just don’t forget to consider things like whether you’ll be running into the sun, if there are annoying headwinds, personal safety, and hydration (especially for longer runs).
- Look for different route types: I really like out-and-backs more than loops because I like knowing exactly when my halfway point is.
- Try some intervals: Run the same route you usually do but sprint to the end of the corner and then resume your normal pace. I’ve actually tried skipping as a warm up and I really don’t care if people think I’m weird.
- Run during a different time of day.
- Run the opposite direction (for loops).
- Listen to a different playlist or no music at all. Every now and then I run without music so that I can listen to sound of my gait and make sure I’m not lumbering around like an elephant (no offense to elephants).
9) Don’t Be Afraid to Look Stupid: Despite the myriad stretches and strength-training exercises I do all the freaking time, I may be getting shin splits. I’m not sure if it’s the distance or the frequency of my old running plan, but it huuuurts. In reading up on the Interwebs about shin splint prevention, I read about heel-walking, where you walk on your heels with your toes in the air, keeping your legs straight and basically waddlng like a penguin. I did it for a half-mile during my last run and even though I am sure I looked ridiculous, it did seem to help work my shin muscles a bit. More on shin splints here.
10) Follow a Plan: If like me you’d rather leave the construction of workouts in the capable hands of the experts, track down an appropriate training plan. Look into what assumptions each plan makes about your running background; a lot of plans assume that you can run 2-3 miles without stopping right off the bat, which might be beyond your starting ability (it pretty much was for me). Probably the most important fitness tip is to listen to your body (#16 below!), which means that it’s possible that a cookie cutter running plan will not “work” for you and you might need to modify it. I think this concept deserves a post to itself. For example, the first half marathon running plan I tried had me running increasing distances five days a week, up to 9 miles at the beginning of the third week. My knees and shins just couldn’t hack it. I switched to a different plan specifically for novices, which is a good plan for me because it only requires 4 days of running and one cross-training day a week and slowly escalates the distance up to race day, but is not so good because the first time I’ll be running 13.1 miles is on race day. I might still modify one running day to incorporate intervals. The point is, find and follow a plan if you like, but make it your own!
11) Your Feet Are Going to Look Ugly: Running will make your feet fall apart. You’re going to get blisters and calluses and scrapes. Just accept it.
12) Pacing: I have my RunKeeper app set up to tell me my duration, distance, and pace every 0.5 miles. I’m terrible at pacing myself. My comfy pace is about 09:45/mi, which means that I can have a conversation without hyperventilating and my muscles aren’t on fire. But when it comes to days when I want to push it, I really struggle to find that new pace and stick with it. The app is sort of an inescapable nag, and sometimes when I’m halfway through a mile and my pace is pronounced to be like 46 minutes/mile, I don’t see the point of continuing. But I do it anyway, because I can’t stand the not knowing.
That’s all I got for now. And now to the experts! I saw the article “EXPERT ADVICE BEGINNERS RUNNING TIPS: 101 Greatest Running Tips from Runner’s World” originally on Pinterest. It has since been repinned from my “Run for it” board 303 times when this blog went to press, if that gives any indication of how people love article titles with numbers—like this one or “4 Reasons Why ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ Is the Most Loathsome Fitness Expression Ever” (coming soon on this blog, I just decided)–UPDATE: Jezebel beat me to it!
I didn’t put all 101 tips here but cherry-picked the ones that I thought resonated with me and my current running sitch the most. I’ll weigh in on a couple of my choices as well. Read the full article here.
4 Wear good running shoes “Spend at least $60. A good pair of running shoes should last you 400 to 500 miles and is one of the most critical purchases you will make.” -John Hanc, author of The Essential Runner
*As I’ve said before, I have these and I love them. I’ve put at least 200 miles on them so far and they’re still going strong. They’re breathable and washable, which cuts down on my natural foot stink (my boyfriend is a lucky man).
5 Think big (and wide) “Buy all shoes, both street and running, slightly longer and wider than your bigger foot. Also, avoid pointed shoes. You’ll save yourself needless foot pain.” -Ted Corbitt, ultrarunner and 1952 Olympic marathoner
* I’ve already noticed a need for a bigger shoe. When you really start putting on the miles, your feet may swell or you may form calluses/blisters, which could affect the overall fit of your shoe. I’ve already seriously messed up–but thankfully didn’t lose–two toenails because of fit (I think). I’m probably going to get my same pair a half size up pretty soon.
7 Listen to the rumbling “If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.” -Joan Samuelson, 1984 Olympic marathon champion
* Feed the need. I’ve discovered that I simply can’t do fasted runs. I really need something in my belly, even if that something is an energy bar I ate an hour or two before. Usually what I do is eat one as I am driving home from work, which takes about 1.5 hours, and then I’m ready to go run when I get home. The rest of the day, I eat when I want to eat and (mostly) what I want to eat. The only real dietary rules I follow involve ensuring that I get carbs before I work out and protein after. Even the protein I don’t consider to be essential because I am not very focused on muscle building at the moment. I think it’s very easy to get fixated on Calories and carb ratios and grams of fat. To keep some perspective, I have to remind myself that above all, food is fuel. Calories are a measure of energy.
10 Make time for a quickie “If 15 minutes is all the time I have, I still run. Fifteen minutes of running is better than not running at all.” -Dr. Duncan Macdonald, former U.S. record holder at 5000 (set when he was in medical school)
* Just plain good advice amiriiiite?
13 Warm up, then stretch “Try some light jogging or walking before you stretch, or stretch after you run. Stretching ‘cold’ muscles can cause more harm than good.” -Runner’s World editors
* At the advice of a friend and fellow runner (shout out to Shannon!), I’ve incorporated a stretch about 2 miles into my longer (5+ mi) runs. My “warm-up” is actually part of my run. I force myself to take it easy for the first half mile or so while I let my body work out all its kinks and then kick it up. At the end of the run I do a series of stretches (Shannon recommends the pigeon yoga pose) shown here.
14 Stay “liquid”… “Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate! In cold weather and warm. We use water to sweat, lubricate joints, tendons, and ligaments, and to carry blood efficiently to major organs. I work all day at hydrating.” -Dr. Alex Ratelle, former masters running great
* I am really terrible at remembering to do this on my own. The two strategies I’ve seen work best are 1) keeping a gallon container with graduated markings indicating the time horizon by which you need to drink the water and 2) setting an alarm to drink/finish/chug a glass of water.
16 Listen up! “You must listen to your body. Run through annoyance, but not through pain.” -Dr. George Sheehan
* This has been an issue for me. I’ll come up with any reason to stop, even if I am not tired. I am like a drug addict. “I’m cool, man, just let me walk for a second. I can start running again anytime I want, and I’ll be even faster if you let me walk off this stitch.”
17 Create your own running creed “My whole teaching in one sentence is: “Run slowly, run daily, drink moderately, and don’t eat like a pig.” -Dr. Ernst van Aaken, renowned German coach
*Mine is: “If I can snowboard with a broken arm, I can run through this!” It needs a little work.
19 Take what you can get “So-called ‘junk miles’-those slow miles done on easy days or during warmups-do count. They burn calories as effectively as fast miles; it just takes longer. Regardless of pace, each mile you run burns about 100 calories.” -Hal Higdon, runner/writer/coach
*This is the dude who came up with the training plan I am following.
26 Build with care “If you put down a good solid foundation, you can then build one room after another and pretty soon you have a house. After your base mileage, add hills, pace work, speedwork, and finally race strategy.” -Rod Dixon, New Zealand Olympian and 1983 New York City Marathon champ
30 Go steady “Day to day consistency is more important than big mileage. Then you’re never shot the next day.” -John Campbell, former masters running star from New Zealand
32 Stay above bored “A 40-minute run punctuated with a half-dozen 30-second pace pickups (not all-out sprints) can really jazz up an otherwise boring training run.” -Amby Burfoot, Runner’s World editor and 1968 Boston Marathon champ
*This, along with #26, has been an interesting challenge to resolve. Do you work on distance and then improve pace? Or do you improve your pace with shorter distances first? Right now I am just focused on adding distance and I’m not worried about pace during the long runs. I add in an interval day every week to keep things interesting and improve speed and endurance.
44 Rest assured “Back off at the first sign of injury. Three to 5 days off is better than missing a month or two. Take regular rest days.”-Pattisue Plumer, two-time U.S. Olympian
*Along with #30, this goes along with my number #1 running rule, which is to straddle the line between challenge and overtraining. You don’t want to spend a running day with your ice-packed legs propped up on a couch or wobbling around like a cowboy. Taking a rest is not weakness–it’s storing up strength to come back even faster, stronger, and–above all–wiser!
45 Divide and conquer “Pick one thing each year that you need to improve, and work on that. It might be improving your diet, getting more sleep, or increasing your mileage. You can’t work on everything at once.”-Bob Kennedy
*It’s important to remember that we are not machines. My focus for this year is building distance and endurance. I still try to improve my diet and get more sleep, but that’s all to achieve the primary goal.
49 Up the ante “Move into a hill session gradually, running the first few repeats moderately and increasing the effort as you go along.” -Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion
*I have only does hills a few times, but they killed me in a good way!
58 Just “Q” it “Quality counts, if you want to stay fast. Don’t do all your workouts in the comfort zone.” -Ken Sparks, Ph.D., top masters marathoner
*I must hammer this into my skull.
62 Get over it “If you have a bad workout or run a bad race, allow yourself exactly 1 hour to stew about it-then move on.” -Steve Scott, coach and U.S. record holder in the mile
*Ugh, good to know. Then maybe posts like this wouldn’t need to be written.
63 Be patient “Expect to put in 6 to 10 successful track workouts before you begin to see some payoff in your races.” -Marc Bloom, runner/writer/coach
*Along with not comparing myself to others, I really need to just be patient. Results don’t come overnight and sometimes they manifest in unexpected ways–like how I can handle longer distances without getting sore, even though I still sort of feel like dying.
71 Stay on pace “It’s better to run too slow at the start than too fast and get into oxygen debt, which is what 99.9 percent of runners do. You have to learn pace.” -Bill Bowerman, renowned University of Oregon coach
85 Don’t be in a rush “Thanks to the race-day adrenaline rush, any pace will feel easier than normal. So make a conscious effort to hold back in the early miles.” -Lorraine Moller
*The challenge here will probably involve overcoming the pre-race jitters and beginning adrenaline surge as you weave through other runners.
73 Snap out of it “Occasionally pick up speed-for 2 minutes, tops-then settle back into your former pace. Sometimes this is all you need to snap out of a mental and physical funk. Pick a downhill stretch if you can, and really lengthen your stride.” -Mark Plaatjes
*My boyfriend suggests actually picking up the pace at the crests of hills–that’s when you can really pass other runners.
78 Be vigilant “During the hard training phase, never be afraid to take a day off. If your legs are feeling unduly stiff and sore, rest. If you’re at all sluggish, rest. Whenever you’re in doubt, rest.” -Bruce Fordyce, nine-time Comrades Marathon champion from South Africa
*I love this philosophy!
79 Pamper your muscles “When I’m training for a marathon, I soak in a hot tub every day, and get a weekly massage.” -Anne Marie Lauck, two-time Olympian
*I could probably get behind this.
83 Wait for the weights “If you strength train, shelve your routine about a month before your marathon, to help you feel fresh on the big day.” -Steve Spence, 1991 World Championships Marathon bronze medalist
*I’ve already cut back on a lot of my strength training, opting for resistance bands and bodyweight over weight machines, but this was really due to time constraints rather than energy conservation.
84 Hone in on the range “Rather than going into a marathon with just one goal-such as finishing in a very specific time-develop a range of goals so that you increase your chances of success.” -Jerry Lynch, Ph.D., marathoner and author of The Total Runner
*My primary goal is to finish my half marathon. I would love to do it without walking, but that the walk/run is a perfectly acceptable approach for a first half marathon, or so I’ve been told. My time goal is to do it in less than 2 hours, which equates to somewhere about a 9:15/mi pace, but as my comfy pace is about a minute slower than that, it’s something I’ll have to work up to.
92 Be a copy cat “Visualizing perfect running form will help you stay relaxed. Visualize before the race. Then, once you’re in the race, pick out someone who’s looking good and running relaxed. This will help you do the same.” -Gayle Barron, 1978 Boston Marathon champion
*Oh man, I thought I was crazy for doing this! I tend to visually imagine myself throughout the entire running process: lacing up my shoes, picking my playlist, warming up, and going through the motions of good form. It’s as much to get me into the mindset of going for a run as for getting the run right.
96 Train with someone… “It may seem odd to hear a coach say this, but I think a really great training partner is more important than a coach.” -Joan Nesbit, coach and world-class runner
*I’ve heard this from every single runner I’ve polled about what motivates them to keep training. I guess I’m lucky I’ve got this guy.
99 Find a reason why “We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit. We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.” -John “The Penguin” Bingham
*Soooo many references to this post.
100 Feel the magic… “For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.” -Lorraine Moller
*I think she’s talking about
drugs the Runner’s High.
101…But do what you must do “If one can stick to training throughout many long years, then willpower is no longer a problem. It’s raining? That doesn’t matter. I’m tired? That’s beside the point. It’s simply that I have to.” -Emil Zatopek
*Mind over matter!