First Steps to Running

Physically, my ability to cover twenty-six miles at any pace above a walk was essentially nonexistent. Not only had I not exercised seriously for far too many years, but I was clearly overweight.  (excerpt from The Race Before Us)

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Editor’s Note – Saturday was race day in Richmond, Virginia.  Whether you ran, or cheered others running, the Anthem Richmond Marathon, the American Family Fitness 1/2 or the  Call Federal 8K – you had to be encouraged by the dedication and accomplishment.  If you didn’t run, maybe you thought, “I’d like to do that someday.”  Well someday has come.  Today, and in future posts, Coach Dan takes you off the couch and helps you to your first 5K and beyond.

So you decide to lace up those shoes and hit the road.  But are you ready?

Running is a sport that comes easy to some and challenging for others.  For me, it was a challenge, even when I ran track in middle school.   A lap around the track (which is a ¼ of a mile), was a ½ of a lap too much, I recall.  I preferred short sprints because they were easy and didn’t require you to train hard like those that ran 800m or longer.   Endurance training was a word I feared and avoided like a plague until my later years in college when I began running with friends on the weekends as a way to stay fit.   Initially our long runs were 2 to 3 miles until we started pushing it to 4 and 5 miles routinely on Saturday mornings.   Soon I found myself helping a friend train for his first marathon.  I ran with him through portions of his long training runs (notice I said portions!).  On race day, he was so sick (with anxiety of doing his first marathon) that he was unable to run his marathon.  I ran for him which was foolish and one of my biggest mistakes in running.  I simply was not prepared both mentally and physically for such a long endurance race.  Dah!  What was I thinking?  That was my first marathon and I thought my last.

Fast forward 20 years later and I found myself training for my second marathon.  Since then I have done 19 marathons, 13 half marathons and too many 5K and 10K races to remember.   I really don’t think my running took stride until I turned forty when I was looking for a way to lose weight.  I still remember lacing up a pair of new running shoes and heading out for my first run in years and what I thought was an easy 2 mile warm up.  I ran about 200 yards before having to stop to grasp for air.   Was I ready to run?  No.  Was I prepared to run?  No.  Was I determined to run?  Yes.  My determination is what got me out again the next day.  I made it further each day until eventually I was able to run a mile without stopping.   It felt good!  Being determined to push harder than ever can serve you well as a novice runner, but you will need more than determination starting out.  Knowing your limits helps too.  I’ll never be a sub-3 hour marathoner and I’m okay with that.  God has other plans for me and HE has plans for you too.  What I wish for you is to be the best YOU can be with the body and physical capabilities that God gave you.  This is why I love running because your only real competition is yourself.

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So how do I start?   Before starting any new exercise program, you should always consult with a doctor, especially if you are in any of the risks categories (e.g. history of heart or lung problems, diabetes, physical limits, etc.), or if it has been some time since you have exercised on a regular basis.   I recommend a routine physical and I encourage you to do so before heading out to run if you are new, or returning to running.  I would love to see you go from the couch to running in a short period of time, but not at the risks of your health, so get clearance from a doctor before starting your journey.

Hopefully by now you have the determination to start running, and you have been cleared by a doctor.  So let’s get started.  There are 3 basic rules for transitioning into successful running program that will be useful going forward.  First rule, start slow.  If you try to run too fast, too often, you will get disgruntled and quit.   I see new runners making this mistake often.  Just look at the number of people that start going to the gyms in January to exercise, only to be burned out a few weeks later.  It is easy to make a new year’s resolution, but sometimes old habits are hard to break.    Too many of us seek short cuts to getting fit.  There simply is NO SHORTCUT here.  I know this from experience.  You need to set goals to be successful, but make them reasonable.   Depending on your physical fitness level, planning to run 2 or 3 miles in a month is a very reasonable goal if you are new or just returning to the sport.  Taking gradual, moderate steps are the best when starting your running journey.

Second rule, be consistent.  Endurance exercising, like running a mile or longer, takes time to perfect for most.  Be patience and in a short period of time your body will begin to adapt to the new stresses.  Being consistent in your training is paramount to pushing your endurance to new, higher levels, which is what you want if you are looking for improvements.  If you are serious about your training, you need a plan and you need to be consistent in your training.

Third rule, rest.   Your body needs to rest between training activities.  Your muscles are stressed during your training runs and they will need time to heal. For the first few weeks when starting to run you are going to be somewhat sore.  This is normal.  A lot of first time runners make the mistake of not realizing the importance of rest.  The rest days are important for your muscle’s recovery, and they actually make your muscles stronger over time.  Although you may feel like running every day, you shouldn’t.  To start, you should run or exercise no more than every other day.   The last thing we want is an injury because you over did it.  Too much constant stress over a period of time will lead to injury and certainly fatigue and frustration.

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In summary, you can become a runner (or pick up running again) with the right determination.  Remember these three basic rules.  They will serve you well.  Whether your goal is to run around the block, or run your first race, we will have you running soon.

In my next Blog, I will provide a running plan to get you started.  I wanted to establish some rules first so that you have a framework of understanding the journey you are about to take as you prepare to start running your race.  It is time to visit your local running store and pick out a pair of running shoes.  For women, I would suggest getting a good sports bra, one that is not too tight and allows you to breathe.  Your local running stores can help you with your shoe and apparel selections.  A pair of good running shoes is the best investment you can make to avoid common runner injuries like shin splints, knee pain and a lot of other issues caused by having the wrong pair of shoes.   Most local running stores are staffed with experience runners and they usually have lot of experience fitting you in the proper shoes.  Finally, you will find that runners have a bond and they love helping others in the sport.  Reach out to your community and find a local running club.  It is a great place to start.

See you on the roads soon.

Coach Dan

Coach Dan Blankenship

Coach Dan Blankenship

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