Over the past few weeks, a number of friends have reached out to ask me “how to start running.” My first reaction is always to doubt my ability to answer this question. I’m not a certified coach, I’m not the fastest runner around, and, in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been doing this running thing for that long. I just really love this sport and have found a whole new wonderful world in the community that is running. But over the weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own journey in this sport, and the many, many pieces of advice, help, support, and motivation that I have received from runners of every ability and experience. Some of these came from coaching pep talks meant to fuel and motivate a race; others were quotes from elite runners who had made running their careers; but, to be honest, most were random, seemingly-insignificant tidbits shared amidst the nervous energy of new friends before a group run, in the middle of a 15 miler, when that high is real and euphoric, or as part of TMI conversations between best running friends, the kind that happen after the polite facades of new friendship have fallen away and months of long runs mean you already know too much about each other.
So in the spirit of passing it on (something that I have found key to the generosity of the running community), I offer a few of my own tidbits for those who might be finding run-love in the time of COVID. Or those who might be reconciling with an old friend. Or those who might be hating it and pushing anyways! Because although I may sometimes doubt my own legitimacy, it seems I need to listen to my own advice — tip #5: I am a runner.
And runners help runners.
1) Be kind to yourself. Far too often I hear new runners putting themselves down, usually before they have even started! The number of times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not fast enough for that…” or “I have a stupid question about running” (sidenote: there are no stupid questions about running) far outweighs the number of times I’ve seen new runners celebrate their achievements. This is the opposite of what running is about! Both when you are starting out, and as you continue through the sport. Running should make you feel strong and confident. Try not to let any negativity or insecurities get in the way. This goes for runners of all kinds. If you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this,” turn it around and tell yourself “You’ve got this!” Seriously — I’ve never been one for mantras or internal motivational speeches, but by the end of a race, I will inevitably be repeating “You’ve got this, Rachel!” to myself over and over again… Did I just refer to myself in the third-person?! Yes, yes I did… And you’ll be amazed at how much it will help you too.
2) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with a distance, a pace, or an activity that is manageable, then work your way up from there! Not only is this a healthy way to improve your fitness and reduce your risk of injury, but it will also make running more enjoyable! If 5km feels like a painful slog, start with 2km and work your way up. If a certain pace leaves you winded after just a few minutes, slow it down, and gradually increase your pace as you gain more fitness. Remember, your body needs time to catch up with you! It doesn’t know that you’re trying to make this new running thing a routine and it can’t go from zero to one hundred overnight. Now, to any of you out there saying “But what’s the point of running if you’re not trying to run fast?!” (because I know you’re out there… I’ve met a few of you over the years), please, please just keep this in mind. You may push your body into a speedy run, but it isn’t necessarily going to like it and I don’t want to see you get hurt when your love affair with running has only just begun…
3) Wear running shoes. I know, this sounds obvious… But I don’t just mean sneakers, trainers, or “tennis shoes,” as my Southern partner calls them. I mean shoes meant to help you run. Shoes that are built for the forward motion of running, not trainers meant to give you stability at the gym, or stylish sneakers that follow the latest trend. Running shoes will help you run. You may already own some, and if they’re not 10 years old, that’s great! Use those. But if you either don’t have a pair or your old ragged pair is worn out and ragged, you should buy some. Do it! Take the plunge. Having the proper footwear is one of the most important parts of running, especially for warding off injury. Your feet and body will thank you.
An often-received follow-up question: “Which shoes do you recommend that I buy?” This really depends on your foot, your stride, your preferences… So unfortunately I can’t tell you about a magic shoe that will be perfect for you no matter what. But I can say that my personal favourite for an all-around comfortable, reliable running shoe is the Nike Zoom Pegasus. Now 37 years old and still going strong.
4) Run when and where you are happy. Some of us are morning people; others are not. The same can be said for runners — some runners are morning runners (*hand way up*), others are definitely not (there’s a reason why there’s a run club called “Night Terrors”)… There is no right time of day to run, no magic number of times per week. Run when you want, when your schedule allows, and when you feel the most motivated. The same goes for where. Have a favourite walking trail nearby? Try running it! Love being near the lake? Consider driving there once a week for a special waterside run. Bored with your usual neighbourhood routes? Try running them in reverse! You’ll be amazed at what a difference your scenery can make to your attitude and motivation. Especially right now when we can’t run with friends, running in places and at times that make us happy will increase that boost of energy and endorphins.
5) You are a runner! If you get out there and put one foot in front of the other, you are a runner. There is no speed or distance necessary to achieve that milestone — the only thing that makes you a runner is you! Running is truly that simple.
And that’s why so many people love it. That’s why it can mean so much.
It’s just you and the earth, coming to terms with each other one step at a time.
So, one more time for the people in the back: You. Are. A. Runner.
* This post was originally published by Rachel Dewan on May 30, 2020.