Monday, January 3, 2011

10 Tips for the Aspiring Runner

Especially around this time of year, I often get asked for advice from people who want to start running and need some direction. Few things excite me more than sharing my love of running and trying to bring as many folks "under the tent" as possible. The running community is very tight-knit and supportive. I could go to any race in America and instantly find a common bond with those around me. In a special kind of way, all runners are friends. We look out for each other.

Unfortunately, so many people view running as a form of punishment. When I played high school football, punishment was 100-yard intervals and hill repeats. But to me, running was never punishment--I loved it! In reality, running is as natural as walking, and it's always a great thing when someone feels the urge to start running. I say go for it!

In my last post, I shared some insights on what worked for me in losing and keeping off more than 50 pounds. Here, I'd like to share 10 tips for the aspiring runner. But before I share my 10 tips, I do urge anyone seeking to take up a new exercise regiment to first see their doctor.

Now for the 10 tips!

1) Because it's so very important to have a pair of running shoes that fit your feet and provide the support and/or cushioning you need, buy a new pair of treads from a specialty running store. It's always ideal to start off in new shoes. There are basically three types of running shoes:
  • Stability: Provides an extra level of stability for your feet.
  • Neutral cushion: Usually for the runner who has a neutral foot and needs less support.
  • Motion control: For the runner who severely over-pronates (foot goes inward)
At a specialty running store, you'll benefit from a sales person--likely a runner--who understands your feet and will recommend the type of shoe appropriate for you. You will not find this level of service or expertise at the big-box retailers. If cost is an issue, first find out what kind of shoe you need and then look for similar close-outs at National Running Center, Road Runner Sports, etc. FYI, running shoes will last about 400 miles. Keep track of your mileage so you know when to replace them. And, of course, always replace your shoes if you start experiencing foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain.

A quick word on the burgeoning barefoot running movement. Barefoot running and Vibram Fivefingers have their place in some programs and for some runners. But forget about minimalism for now and get some shoes that work for you and go for it.

2) Just as important as running shoes, get some socks specifically made for running. Avoid socks that are cotton and instead shoot for socks made from Coolmax fabric. I've tried virtually every brand of running sock--including the obscure and the "next big thing" brands--and I always come back to Thorlo. Thorlos are a bit pricey--about $13 a pop--but so worth it and I rarely get blisters. If that's beyond your budget, no worries--there are less expensive brands out there.

3) Have a positive attitude and be patient. Running can be challenging, but as you get in better shape you'll find that it feels more natural and is less and less of a struggle. Start gradually. If running is all new to you, start off with a 5-minute walk, 1-minute run/jog routine and add onto your running time as your conditioning improves. Be systematic about it. Eventually, the goal is to run most of or the whole time! Eventually, you may even venture to the track for some speedwork!

4) Sprinkle in some cross-training. Cycling, swimming and the elliptical are great non-impact cross-training options. When I'm really in a zone and clicking off 100+ miles a week training for a big race, I often forget to cross-train or don't make time for it. Big mistake. Cross-training works different muscles, helps correct imbalances and basically gives your legs a break from the impact. Make time for it.

5) For now, don't try to hammer the hills. Eventually, you'll be running and maybe even crushing it up the hills. More immediately, focus on running the flats and power-walking the hills...unless you really want to run the hills.

6) Try to run on the softest-possible surfaces, which are gentler on your joints. This is especially important for those who are overweight. If you don't have access to dirt trails, run on asphalt if it's safe to do from a traffic standpoint. Or, if you can find a road with a dirt shoulder, go for it.

7) If resources allow, buy some Coolmax clothing. Coolmax is a type of fabric that wicks away moisture and breathes nicely. Cotton doesn't breathe and it doesn't wick, and it causes chafing. Coolmax apparel for running is easy to find and readily available at your specialty running store and even at the big-box stores. Apparel names I like are The North Face, Salomon, Pearl Izumi, Brooks, Adidas, UnderArmour, New Balance, Saucony and Asics. There are some less-expensive brands such as Champion (available at Target) and Starter (available at WalMart) that will probably suffice. A word of advice--I have some Coolmax apparel that I've been wearing for 6+ years. Coolmax is very durable and worth it.

8) Stretch before and after running! Although some discount the importance of stretching, I think it's really important if you're a runner. Tight muscles can place a lot of stress on your ligaments and tendons. The key is to stay limber without over-stretching.

9) Work on your core. For the runner, strong legs are king, but so is a well-developed core that includes the abs, hips, glutes and back. In time, you will also find that arm endurance is important. There are lots of plank exercises that are great for core and overall strengthening.

10) If a marathon is your ultimate goal, set manageable sub-goals that prepare you for 26.2 miles. For now, focus on a strong effort at a local 5K or maybe even 10K. You need to gradually work up to your goal. Rome wasn't built overnight! I highly recommend that you look into local running clubs, where you'll benefit from knowledge, experience and camaraderie. Also consider some excellent training plans from the likes of Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway and others. I am not a certified coach, and so I don't have the training to provide a detailed plan.

Bonus: If you're on a tight budget, no worries. Let's imagine for a second that I have $150 to spend in getting me suited up for running. Here's how I'd spend it:
  • $90 for shoes at my specialty running store
  • $30 for 3-4 pairs of running socks
  • Remaining funds for Coolmax shorts and a Coolmax shirt at Target, WalMart, Kohl's, etc.
That doesn't leave anything for winter apparel. For now, sweat pants, a sweat shirt, a standard toboggan, mittens, etc. will be OK. Chip away at your running wardrobe and gear with every paycheck you get. Over time you'll be able to build up your arsenal and even get some fancy, useful gadgets like a running watch or GPS. For now, running shoes and running socks are the key. They are always the key!

One final thought: If you're going to be running at dark, please get a headlamp, reflective gear, and ideally a blinking red light. Also carry identification and even a mobile phone (I do not have a PDA because it's too large and bulky for running; instead, I have a small mobile phone that I run with). Consider a RoadID bracelet (available for $20). You can buy the lights and reflective gear at a specialty running or bike store or even the local big-box sports store.

Below is a video that I think is pretty useful. Form is very important. This will be helpful.

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

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