New runners are an enthusiastic bunch. It’s always exciting to start a new activity – especially one that promises to bring you health, happiness and lots of race bling. And whether you’re in it for fitness, therapy, weight loss, or just to keep up with your girlfriends, most newbies have one thing in common:
Doing too much, too soon.
Which can be a big mistake. Huge.
Why? Because it can lead to injury, disappointment and frustration – and ultimately, quitting.
Here’s the thing. Running is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s hard on your body and your mind, but you might not notice that when you’re just getting started, because you’re having so much fun.
The force and impact to your joints, ligaments and tendons – especially if you’re on the heavier side – is significant. Think of running as jumping from one foot to another, over and over, for an extended period of time. And with each footstep, your body is subjected to impact forces approximately 2-3 times your body weight. So, yeah – it’s hard on the body.
When you do too much of it before your body is ready, you can get hurt. Shin splints, knee pain, achilles tendinitis, IT band issues – all of these can sideline you for weeks, and they can all be prevented by starting your running practice properly.
Running is also hard on the mind, because it can put us in that place of wondering if we’re fast enough, good enough, thin enough, whatever enough every time we lace up those shoes and get out the door.
Or thinking that it should be easier – and if it feels difficult, we must not be made to run (this thought can suck the joy right out of you).
All of this frustration can give your Inner Mean Girl plenty of opportunities to start up her mischief and wreak havoc with your thoughts – keeping you on the couch feeling bad instead of out there giving your body some much-needed exercise.
So what’s a beginning runner to do? Be the turtle, not the hare. Start out slow, stay consistent, and be in it for the long haul. Follow these three beginner guidelines to make sure you start running the right way:
Do less than you think you can do.
Seriously. There’s plenty of time to increase your speed, distance and time. Plenty of time to push yourself, and test your limits. But now is not that time.
Set yourself up for success, by giving yourself room to grow naturally, rather than trying to force yourself to improve before your body is ready.
Just because everyone else you know is doing a 30-day run streak, doesn’t mean it’s right for you at this time. Ditto for training for a half marathon, or joining a running group that is too fast for you right now. Your heart and lungs may be ready, but your joints, ligaments and tendons need time to get used to the impact of running.
All of those exciting goals will be waiting for you when you’ve built up your base, but right now the goal is to focus on consistency and teaching your body how to handle new stresses and recover. When you’re first starting out, aim for 2 days of recovery between runs, and don’t increase your time or mileage by more than 10% every couple weeks.
The advice above might seem painfully slow. I get it. You’ve just gotten this amazing new toy, and now your mom is saying you can only play with it for 30 minutes twice a week. But here’s the thing – would you rather break your brand new toy because you played with it too much, or take your time learning how to play with it right so you can do even more amazing tricks with it down the road?
You won’t always have to restrain yourself this way, but taking a gentle approach to your new sport will have huge payoffs down the line.
And by the way – keeping your running miles to a minimum in the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t still walk, bike, take a kick-boxing class, swim, or do any number of other things. In fact, I encourage cross-training a lot in the beginning. So after you finish your run, keep the energy going by walking for another 30 minutes, or jumping on your bike!
Let yourself suck at it for awhile
Every experienced runner knows that there are good days and bad days. Sometimes it’s clear why, sometimes it’s a mystery. Instead of getting depressed because you had a bad run, or even a few bad runs in a row, remember that there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, you can celebrate the fact that you’ve been running long enough to have a crappy run! This is a good thing.
Expecting yourself to be a rockstar right away is asking to fail. Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? How many times did you fall off before you figured it out? You probably never said ‘Oh, clearly I’m just bad at riding a bike, I’m going to quit.’ Nope, you just kept trying until you figured it out. And now it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Besides, it’s kinda fun to be a beginner. You get lots of attention from everyone, lots of cheers and congratulations, and pats on the back. Savor it!
After a couple of months of building up your physical and mental endurance for running, you’ll be ready – and more importantly, prepared – to take on all the challenges you want. And your body will thank you for it!
I’d love to hear about your experiences as a brand new runner – feel free to shout out in the comments!