Are you just starting out your running routine, or even a walking routine, or are you thinking about it? Then please take the time to read this. You'll be glad you did.
I did a lot of things wrong when I first started out. It took me a good year to really feel like I got a handle on what I needed, how I needed to do it, and what wasn't going to work for me. I didn't really check on any resources before starting...I just RAN. Probably not a good plan. I wish I'd had someone to walk me through everything step by step...well, technically I had plenty of people around me to ask but I chose to muddle through 75% of it on my own. Don't do that - find some resources!
Here are my top 10 bits of advice for novice runners/walkers. Disclaimer - I'm not a professional!!!
1. GO TO A SPECIALTY RUNNING STORE. Yes, they charge retail. But you're going to get expertise you will never find at a big box department store or outlet mall. They will analyze how you walk and run, they will look at your feet, they will make you try on 10 different pairs of shoes, and will find you a good pair. If those shoes don't work after all, you can usually take them back and try a different pair. The customer service simply can't be beat.
Why do we need the right pair of shoes? Many people don't realize we need to go up in size when we run or walk long distances. I usually wear a size 8 or 8.5 in shoes. For running shoes I wear a size 9.5. This gives my feet room in the toe box of my shoe so I'm not jamming them with every step. When I bought my very first pair of running shoes I bought a size 8. I think I ran in them about a month. A waste of $100. I went up a half size to an 8.5. Ran in them for my first half marathon six months after I started running. Another waste of $100 and a lost toenail.
Secondly, many of us have weird quirks about our gait that may require a certain type of shoe. Flat feet vs. high arches, overpronating vs oversupinating. Heel striking vs. midfoot striking. A trained salesman is going to find all this out for you and put in the shoe with the right support in the right places. After my half marathon I developed plantar fasciitis, which was extremely painful and required a trip to the podiatrist (Dr. Scott Pattison...he's freaking AWESOME!!!). I discovered I had functional flat feet and the tendency to over pronate, in addition to tight calf muscles. All this was contributing to my injury. Custom orthodics (thank you medical insurance!) and a trip to a running store for stability running shoes helped this injury correct itself. Best $140 I ever spent on shoes.
2. INVEST IN TECHNICAL FABRIC WORKOUT CLOTHES. Technical fabrics, like Nike DriFit, will wick moisture away from your body, have better evaporating properties, and will allow for better body temperature control. Cotton will merely suck up all that moisture and make it feel like your clothes are heavy and sticking to your body. There is no temperature control, no evaporation, just a heavy feeling that can have adverse affects on your workout. Technical fabrics are also much more durable. Trust me, tech fabrics might be pricier but they are worth the long term investment. But you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune on a new workout wardrobe. My favorite running tank is a $10 Champion tank from Target. And I scout the online deals all the time. Don't forget the awesome finisher's shirts you sometimes receive in races.
3. TAKE IT SLOWLY IN THE BEGINNING. My very first run was a mere 3/4 of a mile. I didn't care...at least I was out there getting off my butt! Don't feel like you need to run or walk 3 miles the very first time you lace up your shoes. Give yourself goals each week, or even mini-goals for each workout. My first goal was to be at 3 miles non-stop after 30 days. And I did it, taking it one day and one workout at a time. I sometimes added a mere quarter mile to my distance, sometimes a full half mile, sometimes nothing at all. Going out too hard is just asking for injury, so take it easy and ease into a consistent routine that you're more likely to stick to. Once I hit the 4.5 mile mark about 2 months into running, I really felt like I'd hit my stride with running. I decided it was time for a loftier goal - a half marathon 4 months later. I then broke that up into smaller goals for each week so I could get that distance in by race day. At that point it wasn't crazy to add a mile a week onto my weekend long run until I got up to 10 miles. 4 months after I first laced up my running shoes I ran my first double digit long run, all because I picked reasonable goals and maintained a consistent running schedule. But it all started with a mere 3/4 of a mile.
4. INVEST IN A SUBSCRIPTION TO RUNNERS WORLD MAGAZINE. Some of the best, most useful, funniest, interesting, inspirational advice you'll ever get.
5. FIGURE OUT HOW TO FUEL. Before becoming a distance runner, I had never thought much about the right kind of fuel before, during, and after a workout. I'd sip some water, maybe some orange juice, hit the gym for my hour of aerobics, maybe sipping some water during it, then head home and eat cereal. Not a lot of thought ever went into it. But if you're planning on completing runs of an hour or more (and especially 2+ hours) then you need to get serious about fueling.
I've recently started grabbing just a bit to eat before any run I do over 40 minutes...maybe just a mini bagel with peanut butter, or half a Luna bar, particularly if I know it will be an hour or so after I awaken before I hit the trails. It's been making a difference in how I feel during my run, giving me that little edge where I feel stronger the longer I'm out there. This "pre-fueling" is particularly important if my run is going to be longer than an hour, or if I'm hitting the weights and treadmill at the gym. Giving our bodies fuel means they'll give us an awesome workout in return.
During a long run of more than 7 miles I always make sure I fuel about halfway through, most times in the form of Clif Shots or Power Bar Gels. You might have also heard of Gu or Honey Stingers or Clif Shot Bloks. Anything along these lines, with or without caffeine, is great. You have to experiment to find the fuel that you can tolerate, that doesn't make you gag, and that will do its job. The longer the run, the more fuel I have on hand. In addition to something to eat, I tend to carry something a little more filling than just water in my water bottle, sometimes just Gatorade and sometimes a drink with a protein/carbohydrate mixture like Pure Sport. Giving my body that extra electrolyte and nutrient boost will help it to respond to the added stress and fatigue of an extra long run. Without any kind of real fuel other than water, your body will quickly burn through your glycogen stores (what your hard working muscles prefer to feed off of) in as little as 60 minutes. That's not good. Fatiguing and wishing your workout was over rather than enjoying what the workout is doing for you is going to make distance running/walking miserable. NOTE: be sure to take any gels with 6-8 ounces of WATER to aid in digestion.
After your run, you need to get a combination of protein and carbohydrates into your body within 30-60 minutes to help replenish glycogen stores and repair your muscles. You've given your body a beating and it needs some TLC in return. Sometimes just a simple bowl of cereal with milk will do the trick. There are also many awesome protein drinks out there, my favorite being Pure Sport Recovery. It has the perfect combination of carbohydrates and proteins to refuel my muscles.
Just remember, if you don't fuel your body properly and you're trying to lose weight or get stronger, your metabolism will slow down and you'll hit a plateau. Give it a boost with the right food and see what happens.
6. HYDRATE! Hydration is equally as important as the food you put into your body. If you're going to be a distance runner you must always hydrate...every day. Water, water, water. If you like a little something extra without the added calories, try Nuun. Electrolytes, very few calories, fizzy, awesome - I'm addicted to the stuff. (And I might add that Nuun is GREAT for hangovers....not that I would know...). A good rule of thumb on how much water to take in daily is to drink an ounce for every pound of half your body weight. Weigh 140 pounds? Then drink 70 ounces of water per day.
7. CROSSTRAIN. CROSSTRAIN. CROSSTRAIN.
I was always the worst when it came to changing up my routine. But the fact is, if you merely run you're depriving your body of a complete workout. Sure, you'll have awesome quads, low cholesterol and a 50 beat per minute resting heart rate, but that's about it. You need to add in core work and strength training or you'll develop other problems that could sideline your running. Instead of running one day, try a bike ride or a swimming workout.
Why core work? A strong core means better running form. Better running form means fewer injuries. Without a strong core, as we fatigue we'll get sloppy in our running. We may start overpronating more, slouching in our shoulders, even start carrying tension in other parts of our body...never a good thing. Simply put, a strong core will help minimize the impact of running.
Second, if all we're doing is burning calories through running and not adding in more lean muscle while we're doing it, our bodies will start burning that muscle. Just keep remembering that one of the keys to a complete fitness routine is BOTH cardio and strength training.
You know what I love? Yoga. People who have never done yoga really don't understand the amazing workout that it is. You're developing stronger, leaner muscles, you're stretching and increasing flexibility, you're getting an awesome core workout, and if you're working hard enough you're going to break a sweat. Yoga and running go together perfectly.
Speaking of flexibility.....
As with any workout, you must stretch afterwards. Your muscles have taken a beating and need to be stretched to loosen them up. The more you consistently stretch, the more flexible you'll become. You'll help prevent injury and you'll will allow a full range of motion to achieve maximum speed. You don't need to become a speed demon, but a runner who is inflexible is often an injured runner. Stretching during your cool down will help you relax and will help remove lactic acid from your muscles and reduce muscle soreness.
You have to remember that every part of your body is connected. If one part is stiff or inflexible it will affect other parts of your body. Did you know that tight calf muscles can lead to plantar fasciitis, which affect the plantar fascia that runs along the bottom of your foot? Yes, I should know....that was my first real injury and it was misery. Now I'm meticulous about my calf stretching. Also, did you know that tight hip flexors can cause lower back pain? Every part of your body needs to be cared for.
9. CONSIDER INVESTING IN A GPS-ENABLED WATCH, such as a Garmin Forerunner. About 2 months after I started running, I really wanted to have a better idea of how far I was running, how fast I was, and how much I could push myself to go faster or further. So I bought a Garmin Forerunner 305. The thing is amazing. Using GPS technology it will tell me my distance, pace, time, allow me to set up "laps" of whatever distance I want (default is 1 mile), check my heartrate (using a heartrate strap), and about a billion other little things that even I haven't tried yet. You can download the data from the watch into software on your computer. To say that this has improved my running is a huge understatement. I've now upgraded to a Forerunner 405...even better!
10. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHER RUNNERS. I bet if you start telling people you're a runner, many of your friends or acquaintances will probably tell you they run, too. You may want to set up "running dates" with those friends to help keep your accountable, make your running more enjoyable, or to help push you to the next level. When I needed to get to the 4 mile mark I called up my neighbor Diana, who got me into running in the first place, to run with me and help me hit that goal. I set up another running date with her when I needed to go from 8 miles to 10 miles.
When I decided I wanted to run a full marathon I knew I would need a group to keep me motivated. So I joined Round Rock Fit and what a huge difference it has made in my running. To be around so many other runners with the same goal, to have a set running/workout schedule, and to be held accountable every single week made training for the marathon so much more fun and I hit goals I never thought possible. This coming year will be my 4th year with the group and now I'm one of their coaches. Every town has a running group in it...find one if you need to!
There are probably so many more awesome bits of advice I could spew at you but I'm pretty sure if you just read that entire blog post you're completely overwhelmed right now. Just think about all the points I made, see how they can fit into your fitness routine, and hopefully some of it can help you out and keep you exercising, healthy, and happy.