I am a long-distance runner, but not the kind of runner you might picture. I am not young, I am not skinny, I am not fast. I do not have super cute or pricey running clothes. I eat junk and drink too much soda. But, I do run…marathons, Ragnar Relays, and more sane distances like half marathons and 5ks. Even though I’m older every year, my distances continue to increase and my times continue to decrease. In fact, at this rate I should be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon when I’m in my 50s! And I’m okay with that because I’m in running for the long haul.
If you have ever secretly wanted to be a runner, I am here to tell you that you can do it…you really can! I’m a 40ish mother of four who ran her first marathon at 35 and who keeps running despite stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and a bad disc.
I am definitely not an expert on running, but I do have some experience on my side, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. My primary running goal is longevity so my running choices revolve around staying as injury-free and motivated as possible. With that in mind, here are my top 10 running tips:
1. Enjoy your run. If you don’t enjoy your running time, you will never stay with it. Do what you need to so that it is fun. Listen to your favorite music, run with a friend, reward yourself with something you love after your run, slow down, buy some new shorts.
Enjoying your run, though, doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard…it is exercise after all. But don’t torture yourself and make it as punishing and miserable as possible. If you do, you are completely missing the point to all that running.
2. Choose a running program that works for YOU! Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk program is my favorite. I run faster and farther and recover more quickly by using this program. I even shaved 15 minutes off of my last marathon time using a 4:1 run/walk ratio. I have heard people criticize this method as “not really running.” Interestingly enough, this criticism has only come from non-runners.
3. Good shoes are important, but don’t make them too important. Born to Run completely changed a lot of my running attitudes…especially on shoes. Before, I had them custom fit and had progressed to adding special orthotics, Now, I buy a couple of pairs of trail shoes every year at my local Big 5. I even do a bit of barefoot running when the weather is good.
This doesn’t mean that I run in any shoe that looks like a running shoe. I still choose shoes made specifically for running and I replace them once I’ve ran around 300 miles in them…I can always tell it is time because my knees start to hurt. For some reason, color matters to me, so I will always choose a shoe in the bluish range if possible. And a running shoe needs to be 1/2 size larger than you normally wear to allow for swelling.
4. Good socks are important, very important. If you don’t want to suffer with lots of blisters, make sure you are using good socks that pull the moisture away from your skin. There are lots of brands out there, just make sure they are labeled as moisture-wicking and that they are a mid-weight fabric.
5. Run with a running partner, and/or a running group. Some of my very favorite people have been my running partners at one time or another. When you spend that many hours with someone, you really get to know them and care about them. It is a great time to talk through your concerns and get feedback. A running partner also keeps you motivated, focused on your goals, and running at a good pace.
6. Run alone, but be safe. It is also great to run alone. In fact, some of my most spiritual moments occur when I am out running and thinking. When my body is going hard physically, my mind settles down and I’m able to really listen and feel. There is nothing like a great trail run where there is only you and your music.
I’m never totally alone, though, because I always run with one or both of my dogs, and a can of pepper spray. I was attacked and sexually assaulted in high school during a run. It was terrifying, so I am very careful now about where I run and who I run with. If I am running in my neighborhood or around lots of people, I will run alone, but I still carry pepper spray for mean dogs.
7. Use running tools. Map My Run is a great tool to use when you are making or choosing a running route. It works really well for me because I prefer to do most of my running on dirt roads and trails. I’ve also used the Nike + IPod Sensor, and had good luck with it.
8. Add some yoga to your running routine. Yoga has changed my body and made running so much less painful. When I ran my first marathon, my knees were so sore during training that I couldn’t even bend them enough to kneel down, and stairs were a killer. I started practicing yoga about a year after that, and I have had no knee problems since then. I can’t say enough about the benefits of yoga for a runner…just try it and you will understand.
9. Run some races. Races are so much fun and one of the main things that keeps runners running. A race might seem intimidating until you participate in your first one. Then, you realize that the running community is full of beginners who aren’t racing to win, but as a reward for all of their hard work and training.
I’ve discovered that if I’m not consistently training for a race, then my running becomes stagnant. When I’m in a great running mode, then I like to have another race lined up before I complete the one I’m training for. If I’m injured or burned out, I’ll take a break, but it isn’t usually too long before I’m deciding on my next race. I’m currently training for the Wasatch Back in June, and deciding on a half-marathon in the fall.
10. Don’t be afraid to give running a try. I promise you are not too old, too unfit, too pudgy, too slow, too anything. If I can do it, you can! And you can probably do it a lot better.