So guys. I recently got a cortisone shot in my knee, and while I’m really, REALLY hoping that it helps and I can do things again soon, I am also simultaneously terrified because I do stupid things like “read the comments on an article about running injuries” and so now I’m sort of convinced that cortisone shot = your knee is all messed up and we can’t really fix it so we’re gonna stick you with the pointy end. Prayers and good thoughts, please? It currently hurts like hell.
AAAAAAaaanyway. So you wanna start running. First of all: good choice. A+. So proud. Runners are cool and nice and goofy and I am one and you can call me up if my shot works and we’ll do 5ks together. Your life will be enhanced.
Step The First: Get Some Stuff
Not a lot of stuff, of course (this is running, it’s pretty basic), but there are some things you should have.
The first is a good pair of shoes. This can mean different things to different people (barefoot! Asics! trail! cool colors!), but just figure out a pair that you like, that doesn’t blister or pinch or hurt in any way, and that you’ll be using pretty much only for running. This doesn’t mean you can’t wear them to go to Zumba or whatever, but these are your running sneakers, or at least your “athletic activity” sneakers, not your “I do all my stuff in them” sneakers. You’ll wear them out faster and they’ll be unfun. Especially if you picked out a pricey pair. There are plenty of tools online to help you pick out a good sneaker (Runner’s World has a pretty fun one), or you can go into a specialty running store and ask them to fit you. Replace them before they fall apart. Some people log like a thousand miles before they replace theirs, but because I’m pounding a bit more weight into mine, I’ve replaced them every 300 or so. You do you, though, boo.
The second general set of stuff is Don’t Die stuff. In this category are visibility things and an ID. No, neither are necessary, but please just do it because I am a worried mother. You should always carry ID with you when you’re going out on a run, and it’s not a bad idea to tell someone when you leave and when you think you’ll be back. You can carry your license, which is better than nothing, but it usually doesn’t have the right contact info on it, plus srsly how much would it suck if you lost it? I have a RoadID bracelet with my name, emergency numbers, and my blood type on it: your license doesn’t tell someone who to call in an emergency. They’re like 20 bucks and you’ll look super fly so just do it. If you’re not gonna do it just try to be smart about going out.
Visibility things are also important. If you’re gonna be running at night or even at dusk, get something shiny as hell that will make you look like a traffic cone to oncoming cars. I see at least one runner a day prancing around in all black after the sun’s gone down and GAH. Obviously if a car hits you that’s the driver’s fault but it’s a really good call to wear something shiny. I have a reflective and neon yellow belt that goes on over whatever I’m wearing, but whatever highlighter + rave item you choose is awesome.
Step The Second: Sign up for a race
SET YO’SELF A GOAL, SON
No but really, the second you’re good to go, sign up for a race. Pick something two or three months out: if you’ve got no running experience, a 5k is a good call. Runner’s World has a Race Finder feature on their site, and while it will occasionally not have a race listed, it’s a pretty good comprehensive list.
How do you pick the race? Depends! Is there a charity you’d like to support? Pick that race! My first 5k was a fundraiser for ovarian cancer research, so that race felt even better knowing my money was going to a great cause. Is there a theme you’d like to try? My half marathon relay was at Hershey Park and therefore Hershey-themed, and a friend is signed up for a chocolate-themed 5k. Are crowds scary? Find a little guy, especially in the off-season! Are crowds awesome? Find a huge one! Worried about pace? Check with the race director, but 5ks rarely shut down till everyone’s finished, or you can look for stuff that’s “walker-friendly.” Need support? Make your friends do it!
Seriously, a race is the best motivation ever. I will almost certainly never ever ever win anything ever at a race (unless everyone in front of me suddenly turns into cats and are therefore disqualified), but when you do a timed race, you get an official baseline of where you’re at. I keep track of my slow-as-snails PRs (personal records), because it’s freaking AWESOME when you do better than you did last time. And, if you’ve never raced before, your first 5k is an automatic PR.
Try to not be scared. If you’re not, awesome, keep that up, but I know showing up at a race for the first time can be intimidating. Don’t let it freak you out! Runners are so nice, and often the front of the pack will stick around to cheer the back of the pack to their finish. Also, if you like “Eye of the Tiger” they’ll probably play it, so there’s that.
Step the Third: Go Slower Than You Think You Need To
Slower than that. Nope, even slower. Take walk breaks. Yep, seriously, right now. I know you’ve only done two minutes, it’s okay, take a walk. Really. It’s okay.
You can totally use a running program to help you ease into this. Couch to 5k is one of the most popular, and with good reason: it allows you to improve your fitness at a pace that should keep you from getting injured and also keep you from giving up. Many people who attempt a running program go out too hard, too fast, and too far, and end up burning out in a week or so because everything hurts. I don’t blame them: your first run is gonna hurt a bit, but while you will feel some moderate soreness, you should not feel like a truck hit you.
If you’re not using a program, just take it sloooooooow. Use a treadmill and set it to a walking pace, but jog instead. If you start to feel super out of breath, take a walk. The standard for runs is called “conversational pace,” and this means exactly what it sounds like: you could chat with a friend without dying. If you can get out a sentence or two, you’re good to go. If you’re struggling to say even two words, slow down. You’re overdoing it. Obviously, if you continue with this, you’ll do some speedwork where you will work at that intensity, but your average runs should be chatty.
Don’t get me wrong: you’ll sweat and breathe hard. But if you want to be able to do it more than once or twice, don’t kill yourself doing this! Nice and slow. Bring a watch with you each time you do a loop and mark your progress. Write down your treadmill stats. Add a little bit each time, whether it’s an extra minute or just a “I’ll run to that stop sign.” See what you can do!
I’ve also gotten asked about a dozen times how long it took me to “like” running. And it probably took about 6 weeks. When I say I like running, this is not some macho PAIN DON’T HURT or some transcendent “nothing can touch me when I’m soaring above the road with the eaglessss” shenanigans. For me, runs take effort, every time. But after six weeks or so, it changed from “ugh, okay, let’s try this again” to “oh my goodness I get to run today I wonder how it will go? And I get to go farther tomorrow!” If you try this for two months or so and still hate it, feel free to peace out: there’s no reason to continue doing an exercise you hate when there are so many options. Again, you do you. But if you like it, call me up and we’ll hang.