Off to a Running Start: Five Tips New Runners Need to Know

This article was originally published in the March issue of Colorado Runner Magazine. Please feel free to add your own rookie mistakes in the comments.

Just copying and pasting this post into WordPress is making me miss running so bad. The idea of me running right now is simultaneously the most hilarious and painful thing I could imagine. If you have a chance to run today without carrying an extra 30 pounds and the feeling that your insides might fall right out, enjoy it!

Running is simple. Just put one foot in front of the other as fast as you can, for as long as you can right? Not necessarily. Every runner has made his or her share of rookie mistakes. Follow my tips below and you will avoid these classic beginner fumbles. Or be the stubborn fool that you are, and make your mistakes yourself. You’re a runner now, so don’t worry- it’s not your fault. Stubbornness comes with the territory.

Rookie Mistake #1: Wear your grandmother’s shoes

If your running shoes are the same ones you’ve been wearing since high school basketball or the ones that were perfect for the step class you loved in 1998, Do Not Pass Go. If you bought your running shoes because they match all your new running clothes, do not pass Go. And, for the love of God, do not wear your grandmother’s running shoes. (My friend actually did this for her first 5k. It did not go well). You need a pair of running shoes that will support your body and your gait pattern. Go to a local specialty running store, where the knowledgeable staff will analyze your gait and help you select the shoe that will work for you. You might pay a premium for the shoes but you will save yourself a bundle on physical therapy, chiropractic, and deep tissue massage.

Rookie Mistake #2: The Lone Wolf Approach

It’s hard to be the new kid on the block. I’ve been there. I get it. And I don’t care. Sorry to go Tough Love on you but you must put on your big girl (or big boy) underpants and join a running group. Once you find your wolf pack, your running peeps will hold you accountable [read: you will not hit snooze instead of running] and they will teach you all the secrets runners know about nutrition, hydration, the best training routes, and strategically placed Vaseline. I joined a running group when I was training for my first marathon. We met every Sunday at 7am.  On a good day, there were a just a dozen of us. Most of them were much faster than I was. Precious few of them ran at my pace. Week in and week out, I faithfully showed up. At worst I ran alone and my long run was complete by about 9am. No matter what, I logged the miles that would be the money in the bank I would withdraw on race day.

Rookie Mistake #3.  The “But everyone else is doing it” Training Method

And now I need to totally contradict myself. Training with a group is awesome. Doing everything your friends are doing is not awesome. Just because you’re invited to do hill repeats with your neighbor on Tuesday, a track workout with your friend on Wednesday, and a tempo run with your co-worker on Thursday doesn’t mean you need to join them. Peek at any beginner or even intermediate training plan. You will not see back-to-back hard workouts. Your body can only become stronger when it has time to recover. Remember those Public Service Announcements from the 80’s? They were right. Just Say No.

#4. The More is Better Philosophy

If a two-mile run is good, a four-mile run must be twice as good, right? Maybe. Ask yourself if you can complete your two-mile loop easily. If you can’t maintain a steady conversation or sing a few verses of a song (quietly), do not increase your distance. Running should feel stupidly easily before you even begin to think about adding mileage. The same goes for adding intensity. Track workouts, hill repeats, and long runs may be alluring, but there is nothing sexy about nursing an injury. Those nagging aches and pains, consistent fatigue in your legs, difficulty sleeping, recurring illnesses, lack of motivation to run- That’s your body trying to tell you something. You’re a runner now. Stupidity and pigheadedness come with the territory. But try to step back and listen to your body. It’s smarter than you are.

#5 Racing By the Seat of Your (New) Pants

Now that you’re a real runner, you’ve signed up for a race. Congratulations! If you are a little scared, that is normal. Use that fear to your advantage. Race day nerves convert to speed you never knew you had. That is, as long as you are not nervous about your outfit, your hydration, or your nutrition. It may be a mental lift to wear new socks and a new top on race day but your spirits will be in the toilet when you’re struggling with unexpected chafing and blisters. Speaking of the toilet, if you are not used to drinking or eating during training, race day is not the time to experiment, unless you want to get intimate with the port-o-potty. Do a “dress rehearsal” before race day, where you wear, eat, and drink the same stuff you will wear, eat, and drink on race day. If you have a chance, you can drive all or part of the course prior to the race. At the very least, review the course map. Although there should be signs and volunteers to help you navigate, ultimately, knowing the route is each runner’s responsibility. Then you can focus your jitters on important stuff- like beating the eleven year-old who just passed you like you were standing still.


4 thoughts on “Off to a Running Start: Five Tips New Runners Need to Know

  1. Randy says:

    I agree with most of your points. Everyone has to find the training methods that will work for them. Be flexible and try some new things, but the important thing is sticking with it. And the importance of good runnings shoes cannot be overstated.

    • Pam says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Randy! I agree- the one time I changed my shoes over the past 13 years, I got injured!

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