Of course, there is a wealth of information on the internet. And I’m far from the expert on all things running. But today I just touch on some of what I found worked for me as I went from couch to 5k and on to a half marathon in just over 1 year. Hopefully you can take away something to add to your routine if you are interested in becoming a runner. Remember, all it takes is one small step at a time!
Take Care of your Body and Health
First off, always consult your doctor and any relevant medical professionals before starting this or any other exercise or diet plan. If running will be too stressful on where your body is, choose a lower intensity form of exercise instead.
If you need to address your diet or supplements, get those in order. For me, in addition to my normal supplements I also started taking an Omega 3 supplement which has been shown to help athletes with exercise-induced asthma.
Types of Runs
Did you know that running was more complex than just shoes to pavement? There isn’t just one way to run or one training schedule you have to follow. Compare a few, try them out and then pick what works for you.
There are so many ways to keep it interesting and pushing your body. Depending on the type of run, you can build strength one day and endurance the next. This graphic does a great job highlighting some of your options.
I did a quick search on Pinterest and found lots of recommendations depending on distance goal and how many weeks. I’d say the majority are 10-16 week plans. Since I had a much longer period until my planned race, I went old school made an excel spreadsheet with my exact number of weeks and weekly schedule and posted it on my bathroom mirror so I could easily see if I was on track and add notes of anything important that impacted my plan.
But there are also so many apps available such as Couch to 5k or Couch to 10k or a comprehensive mile tracker like RunKeeper (all free), which I did use to track my total miles ran in the year.
How to Set your Goal Times
Pace, or the number of minutes you can run one mile, depends on a number of factors, including your fitness level and genetics. How fast you run is important in distance running because you may need to conserve energy to finish strong.
A noncompetitive, relatively in-shape runner usually completes one mile in about 9 to 10 minutes. If you’re new to running, you might run one mile in closer to 12 to 15 minutes as you build up endurance.
To find your average pace per mile you can easily reference your fitness tracker #ad or you can calculate it yourself by mapping out a one mile flat surface at a track or around your home and timing yourself running one mile. MapMyRun.com or OnTheGoMap.com can help in measuring your route.
Once you know your pace, you can calculate your estimated finish time for a given distance or race. Below is a quick reference chart. Many races ask for your goal finish time when you register. For in-person races, a pacer, or an experienced runner that runs at a set speed, is provided for various paces. You “keep up” with this person and it keeps your mind off worrying about your pace and finish at your desired time. They help you conserve energy, avoid weaving in and out of other runners, keep a steady pace, and can even motivate you and cheer you on.
Get the Right Gear
Runners aren’t exactly known for their beautiful toes. Blisters, calluses, and even lost toenails or worse…but you can get the right gear to help minimize the ugliness. While you can start out in whatever cross trainers you have, if you are going to dedicate some time to running, your shoes can make a huge difference. Choose ones specifically for running. Running stores can help measure your feet and arches and answer all your questions. I love my Brooks Ghost shoes and am almost ready to get new ones since you also should switch out your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles!
I definitely started getting blisters on the tips of my toes the more miles I put in. I quickly upgraded my socks and on the longest runs would prep my toes (and other likely-to-chafe places) with some body glide. #ad
Speaking of chafe, picking proper running attire is super important as well. I personally love to run in shorts and tanks with sports bras and switch to a lightweight moisture-wicking long sleeve top and legging in the colder temps.
Shifting from contracted or shortened muscles to stretched ones quickly increases the risk of injury. So it’s important to stretch before AND after a run. It can also improve the quality of your workout. Historically, a pre-run warmup included static stretches like touching your toes or arms stretched across the chest but new research suggests dynamic stretching, gentle repetitive motions, is much preferred. It replicates the motions of your workouts and gradually increases motion and circulation and includes stretches like arm swings, lunges, or knee swings.
For me personally, when I don’t stretch enough I get “runner’s knee.” I learned how important pre-and post-run stretches are but not just for the knees. A lot of knee pain can be related to weak hip and glute strength so those areas should be exercised and stretched as well.
Recovery is another important component of your training as well. Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that helps loosen muscle tightness. You use a foam roller to roll out tight muscles. #ad
Hydrate and Fuel
Since I already eat a pretty healthy balanced diet I didn’t focus on a specific meal plan during my training but I highly recommend looking into eliminating things that don’t make you feel light and energetic. So I’m going to focus on the top two things that can help everyone regardless of diet: hydrate and fuel. Bring water with you when you run, or run on a route with water available, so you can stay hydrated as you train. Some local running groups provide water along popular routes in our area. I prefer to use a belt and take my own water. It’s also great for holding my phone, etc. #ad
When you don’t eat before a run and don’t fuel during a run, your body has no carb store to draw from and it burns fat. So, you need to not only carb-load, but also fuel during your race with a sports drink and a gel or chew. You have to practice this during training runs and figure out what kinds of fuel work for you. There are many different ones out there to choose from, and they vary from texture to taste. My favorite ended up being Honey Stingers chews. #ad
Breathing and Posture
The two biggest learnings I had on my journey were about breathing techniques and posture while you run and what I huge impact they have on your success. There are obviously different methods and recommendations out there. I kept it simple and visual and am sharing below what I used:
Let’s sift through all the little tricks to remember and go straight to the American Lung Association as the experts. Remember to use belly breathing and a 5-step pattern: 3 steps as you inhale and 2 steps as you exhale (i.e. As you step: inhale left, right, left; exhale right, left, right; inhale left, right, left; exhale right, left, right). This 3:2 pattern will give you a lower heart rate and help you get more oxygen. As your pace gets faster, keep this balance but aim to take 2 footsteps for each inhale and 1 for each exhale as shown in the graphic below.
Also important to study is your running posture. I love referencing a graphic because it becomes visual for me to replicate with my own body. For me, my natural inclination is head down to “push” ahead, right? (Plus I may be watching for possible snakes if I’m outside!) It’s actually proper to run looking straight ahead and press forward with your pelvis. I also suffer from the “hands too tight” error and have to remind myself to unclench my fists and relax while running. Sometimes I even shake my hands out briefly.
Keeping your motivation up is hard if you have a long time to train until your race. Here are a few things that helped me keep going when the going got tough.
- Just sign up! In-person or virtual, having paid the money and penciled the date on my calendar made it real and made me push myself harder. Some of my favorite race offerings with fun medal to collect:
- Race for a cause! Join a race that supports a cause you really believe in. It’s also a great way to invite friends to run with you.
- Join themed races where you are encouraged to wear costumes like these fun tutus and tanks #ad:
- Earn actual CASH for your efforts with MyAchievement.com – Choose from 20+ popular apps including AppleHealth, FitBit, RunKeeper, and Strava and start earning points for activities such as running, walking, meditating, logging meals, and answering questions about yourself. Earn $10 for every 10,000 points, redeemable via PayPal, direct deposit to your bank account, or by donating your points directly to charity. Rewards are paid within 7 business days.
- Celebrate yourself! Get a bracelet or shirt as a reminder of all you worked for. And I hang all my medals in a prominent spot in my closet to remind myself of all I’ve accomplished. #ad
- Join some online accountability/run groups. Facebook likely has some from your local area. Local running stores can also have their own community group.
Running Through My Mind (Pun Intended!)
My mind is all over the place when I’m running. For me, I either need to distract myself (from the thought that I’m ready to quit lol!) or focus in on what I’m trying to accomplish. Here are a few things I’ve found that help. I rotate through them depending on my mood that day and what type of run I’m doing.
- Repeat a mantra inside your head can keep you focused on those words and not on your fatigue. Also, putting encouraging, motivating words in your head helps you eliminate all negative words. Having a few “running mantras” really helps me push through the miles when I’m feeling like stopping before the distance I’ve set. I just repeat them over and over in my head to the rhythm of my feet on the pavement. Here are some of my favorites:
- Think strong. Be strong.
- I own this run. I own this outcome.
- My legs are stronger than my brain.
- I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m finished.
- Play a mental game with yourself to pass a mark. When you pass that mark, set a new target. This helps keep your mind on the physical target and not on how tired you are. When I feel like I don’t know if I can make it any farther, I pick a landmark (stop sign, bench, etc) and just focus on getting to that point. Other times I start counting to 100…my only goal in that moment is to take 100 steps. It feels manageable and then I just start the next 100 and realize I can go a little farther than I thought I could.
- If you are running indoors on a treadmill or track (or feel you can safely run outdoors with an earbud in #ad -see below safety tips), I highly recommend listing to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
- My favorite find: run to a playlist based on beats per minute or BPM for an subconscious way to keep or increase your pace. As a basic guideline, the tempo range is 120 to 125 BPM for a slow run and 140 to 145 BPM for an all-out effort. If you’re aiming for synchronicity (to keep your running at a consistent pace, or if you’re trying to increase your cadence), then the ideal tempo range is 150 to 180 BPM. Search “running” on Spotify to find a long list of playlists based on BPM or choose another playlist from the running genre.
- I made great use of my year long Audible Christmas gift subscription. There are free running motivation tracks that will give you a pep talk in your ear specific to your mileage goal or go for a good motivational audiobook from strong women like Mel Robbins, Brene Brown, or Glennon Doyle. #ad
Safety Running Outdoors
I would be remiss to not also note that you should always take precautions and be aware of your surroundings when running outdoors.
- Run against traffic and follow all road rules including cross walks.
- Run in well-lit areas and wear reflective gear in the early morning or evening hours.
- Run with a friend, family member or dog if possible. If not, tell someone where you are going. Carry ID and/or phone with you in case of emergency.
- It is recommended that you don’t wear headphones when running on roads so you need to be able to hear traffic around you and remain aware of your surroundings. As long as I’m in a safe area or running with a buddy, I like to put just one earbud in so that I get my music/audiobook (see above) and can still hear my surroundings.
- Wear sunscreen!
Race Day Checklist
Congratulations! You’ve been building up the miles and are ready to conquer! Take the fear out of the unknown and talk to others who’ve raced a similar race before. Here are my final recommendations for a successful race day:
- Lay out your clothes and accessories the night before.
- Eat a good breakfast (one that you’ve eaten before practice runs!).
- Bring throw-away clothes (checkout second hand stores) and peel off layers if you are racing in colder temps.
- Make a plan with your support crew/spectators at checkpoints and finish line meetup.
- Go to the bathroom before your race starts.
- Line up near your estimated finish time pacer.
- Don’t take any fuel from race stations unless you’ve tried it before. But do take water at every station. Better yet, take your own tried and true fuel and water in a running belt. #ad
- Plan for post-race recovery. Drink extra water, have a snack, keep walking/stretching for a while afterwards, and don’t plan anything too strenuous for the next few days.
- Enjoy! Take in the scenery, the spectators, and your fellow runners.
If you’ve already run a long distance race, what beginner’s tips did I miss?