Sunday, I will “run” my first 5K. The “run” part is a little bit sketchy for a couple of reasons. First, between parent-teacher conference, my new after school job (more info on that later this week), birthday trips to visit family, and life in general, I’ve gotten behind on training. I haven’t run 20 minutes without stopping yet. I think if I could do this, I might be able to run whatever is leftover to get to 5K. But I haven’t, so that makes me nervous. Second, I invited my high school ELL students to run with me. I will be in charge of handing out t-shirts, getting everyone registered, and keeping track of my wacky, giggly kids on city streets. They’re not all runners, so I may or may not need to lag behind to supervise. I’m a little thankful it’s happening this way because it may save me some embarrassment when I have to stop.
Below are some helpful guidelines that I’ve learned in my few months of running. Obviously I’m no professional, but sometimes I wonder if what professionals have to say really applies to a huffing, puffing, sweaty mess like me.
- Get a distraction. Nothing makes running harder, especially when you’re just starting out, than thinking about the pain you’re in and the low odds of success you think you have. Maybe you need an iPod. Maybe you need a buddy (see #2) to talk your ear off. Maybe you need a TV attached to your treadmill. Just get something to occupy your thoughts, or discouragement will.
- Get a buddy. Buddies help in a lot of ways. My buddy (Dexter) talks on and on about comic books and coffee and movies that I never want to see. We have an agreement that he can keep talking as long as he doesn’t expect me to retain any information. I grunt out a few “uh-huhs” to give the impression that I’m listening. His talking entertains him and distracts me. Even if all I can think is, “Wow, I really don’t care about the plot of this movie,” at least I’m thinking about that instead of how much I want to stop running. Buddies are also good because they might extend available running hours. I wouldn’t run by myself in the dark, but I will run with Dexter. Running buddies can also encourage you to run when you don’t feel like putting toward the effort. (However, if they don’t want to run, they might discourage you from running. And that stinks.)
- Get a plan. For people like me who think running is way harder than calculus, it’s hard to know how to start. How long should I run? How far should I run? What will make me burn out? What is not pushing myself enough? If you find a training plan, your questions will be answered much more easily. An interval plan like Couch to 5K helps you run longer by splitting up your runs into short segments and adding a few minutes of walking in between. The key is to give yourself a break before you’re completely wiped out so you can recover and keep going. Sometimes, you have to break from the plan. It took me three tries to be able to run the full amount of time recommended in week 4 of the Couch to 5K training. Once I got it, I moved on with the plan as written.
- Keep your chin up. (figuratively) Don’t let a bad run discourage you. Sometimes, you’re energetic, it’s sunset and sixty-five degrees, you’ve stayed hydrated all day, you’re not full but not hungry, and the run just goes smoothly. Other times, it’s 89 degrees in October, the sun’s in your eyes, your throat is dry and burning, and that lentil burger you ate an hour ago is about to jump back out. A bad run doesn’t happen because you stink at running (well, not necessarily). So many factors go into a run that bad runs are just going to happen. When I was on week 4 of the C25K plan, I was so discouraged when I couldn’t finish the run as written the first few times. However, I was running more than I had been the previous week, so I calculated my new record of minutes run. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and keep going.
- Keep your chin up. (literally) When I get tired during a run, my instinct is to put my head down and press on. This causes my whole upper body to curl up in a way that makes it hard to keep taking the deep breaths I need. I’ve found that the better the posture I have, the better I run and feel. (Amy J–See. You knew I’d learn the importance of posture someday!)
- Clothes you like. Once, I ran in pants because my shorts were both in the washer. Those pants felt so heavy and made the run miserable. Now I run with leggings under shorts if longer pants are necessary. Shoes are also important. Before I started running, I went to a specialty running shoe store and had them analyze my old tennis shoes and my walk. I got an amazing pair of shoes that made me feel like I was walking on air. They still probably have a couple hundred miles left on them, but I’m proud that I can feel how much I’ve smashed up the cushion! My parents recently gave us their old treadmill, and one of my favorite things about using it is that I can wear whatever I want. If it’s comfortable, it works. I have some shorts that I would never wear in public, but I can wear them on the treadmill while my others are in the wash.
- Hydrate. It’s never good when I come home from work dehydrated and then drink 24-oz of water before I run. I hate that water-sloshing feeling in my stomach. If I stay hydrated all day, I don’t have to worry about bingeing on water right before a run. I drink tea and water throughout the day at work, but I also enjoy the new Crystal Light Pure Fitness packets. They’re sweetened with stevia so it’s both low-calorie and natural. My favorite flavor is grape.
- The swimming rule. Remember when your mom said not to swim for two hours after eating? I’m pretty sure that rule was actually made for running. The worst runs I’ve had were when I didn’t wait long enough after a meal or ate too much at a meal. Sometimes, I’ll eat veggie sides, wait a while, run, and then finish my meal later in the evening.
- Schedule. Running is hard to fit in. You have to change your clothes, warm up, run, cool down, rehydrate, stretch, feel like crap for a while, shower, and get dressed again. What started as a 30 minute run just got a lot longer. I know that if I want to run, I should look at what else I need to do that day, talk to Dexter, and make a decision about whether or not to run. If I just decide to “fit it in when I have time,” I’m not going to do it.
- Read about other people’s journeys. My friends Sarah and Leah have both taken up running the past year or two. They’re normal people and they both ran 5Ks. Sarah even ran a half marathon! There are things about them that are kind of like me…which makes me think I could maybe do some of the things they do…like run. Normal people making the transformation from non-runner to runner is one of the biggest things that has helped me change from a person who thinks she can’t be a runner to a person who thinks she can.