OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not a runner. I love the idea – it’s so basic, just your body and mother earth, moving the way you’re meant to move. What I do know is that running is probably one of the best ways to develop your cardiovascular fitness without needing expensive equipment – like a pool. I went through a period where I tried to become a “runner” and found some helpful things I can share, and while I’m not sure I ever experienced a “runners high”, nor did I ever feel that it was “for me”, I did find some ways to make it more enjoyable.
So how do you get into it? Do you need to buy special shoes? A heart rate monitor? Are your joints at risk? How can you make running fun?
1) Be realistic – As with anything fitness related! Just like you wouldn’t expect to walk into a gym and start lifting the heaviest dumbbell in the rack, you also shouldn’t expect to strap on your shoes and go run 10 miles if you’ve not put in the time to be capable of running 10 miles.
Start small, download an app like “Couch to 5k Free” and work into getting your distance up. You’re probably going to run a short distance and then need to walk for a bit, then run a bit more, then walk a bit and so on until you’ve hit your distance goal. That’s ok, and it’s where everyone starts! Don’t worry about your “mile time” or the fact that maybe you walked more than you ran. Just focus on getting better next time. If that’s your focus, and you push yourself, then you’ll be running 5k’s before you know it!
2) Find a way to make it fun! Invest in a good pair of wireless headphones and something you can securely carry your phone in while you run. They make decent Velcro fitting arm straps, but hey man, if a fanny pack is your thing, you won’t find me teasing you – you’re out there doing it!
Now that you have your mobile entertainment, you have a lot of options. Everyone knows about Spotify and playlists, but why not an audiobook to make the run enjoyable? Maybe a podcast about a topic you love? If you’re not easily frightened, and you run at night (I used to) I highly recommend an app called “Zombies Run”. This little gem has a great storyline that takes place during a zombie apocalypse where you’re the star. If you slow down too much, it makes use of ambient zombies to get you running again until you’ve outpaced the dead. Great fun that makes you forget about running for a bit.
3) Educate yourself. Learn about running. There are LOTS of tips out there that can help you deal with things like shin splints, why you may or may not want a heart rate monitor, the best shoes and how to deal with cramps. Immerse yourself in the culture and use what you learn. Even if you decide that running isn’t for you, you’ve still learned some valuable stuff!
4) Groups Consider joining a running group. For me, I enjoyed the solitude of running alone at night, it’s a pretty peaceful feeling, but running with a group has it’s benefits. If you’re part of a group, you’ll have accountability to show up and stick with it, a social network of others who know where you are in your newfound sport, a body of experts you can question about your goals and peers to push you past where you thought you could go by yourself. Mix it up sometimes and run alone or with the group.
5) Location Find someplace that you actually ENJOY being for your runs. For many people, the idea of running on a treadmill is akin to being a hamster on a wheel. I don’t mind knocking out a warm up mile on the treadmill at the gym, but if you’re going to really commit to distance runs like 5k’s, 10k’s or marathons, you might prefer running outdoors. There are a host of benefits to running outside as well, everything from increased exposure to the sun for Vitamin D production to fresh air and scenery. Find somewhere that you like to be and run like the zombies are gonna catch you!
6) Shoes Invest in a good pair of running shoes. The right pair of shoes will make a world of difference in your runs! Running shoes are lighter and give your feet better support than standard cross trainers or basketball shoes. Go to a running store and talk to someone who knows a thing or two about running. If there’s one thing I noticed about running culture, it’s how nice they all seem to be. Don’t be intimidated because you’re new to the sport, everyone starts somewhere!
7) Don’t forget about recovery!! Because running is a natural activity, it’s easy to forget about how much stress it can put on your joints and the rest of your body. No different than resistance training with weights requires a rest period for your muscles to recover, you want to give your body time to recover from your runs as well. Consider spacing resistance training on even days and running on odd days to give your body recovery time from both forms of exercise.
8) Heart Rate Monitors – to track or not to track? A lot of runners swear by a heart rate monitor as a tool to make sure that they’re performing optimally and to help gauge their progress. I guess it depends on how serious you are about running. If running is something that you plan to actively pursue (pun sort of intended.) then I’d recommend getting one. They’re not super expensive, and your new buddy at the running shoe store can probably give you a complete education on which he or she prefers. They’re like a nail gun – they’re a great tool to help build a house, but not a mandatory tool.
9) Joint dangers. From what I learned in my research, running doesn’t directly cause joint damage – nor bad knees or heightened chances for arthritis. What causes these things is no different than what causes damage to your body in any other sport or in resistance training: injuries or over-training. I’d offer the same advice here that I’d say about any fitness program – listen to your body. If it’s telling you it hurts, take a day off – better a day now than a month later when things get serious!
10) Warm up! Don’t just head out there and start running! You can do this, but you can also be in pain the next day! Warm up your body before demanding any distance, walk for 3-5 minutes and get your muscles and joints ready for what you’re about to ask of them. Take five minutes after your run and stretch out your legs. Runner’s World has a great guide to stretching for runners – check it out and use it as a guideline, your legs will thank you!
So what do you think? Is running for you, or do you only run when being chased? With the proper approach, running can become a great part of your fitness – and social life!
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