I ran my first mile the week before I turned 21 (in 2008) and fell in love with the sport a year afterward as I “trained” for my first 5K and started setting my sights toward longer distances and different races. After almost 7 years, I have a lot of experiences to reflect on and a lot that I wish I could have done differently.
1. Get proper shoes and gear: this is the most important and I can’t stress this enough. Your first reaction will be to try to save money by buying discounted shoes that look cool or by using a pair you’ve had since that one time you were going to take your New Years resolution seriously that have been collecting dust for years. For the love of God, go get fitted by a profession for a proper shoe. I bought a pair of ill fitting shoes while training for my first marathon then tried to break them in on a 20 miler. This led to weeks of icing my feet and praying I hadn’t done irreversible damage. Also, wear moisture wicking and properly fitting clothing. Baggy cotton clothing will lead to uncomfortable running sessions and will probably cause you to chafe. This is the worst. Old Navy, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx have great options at very reasonable prices.
2 Be realistic: When I decided to run my first 5K I set a goal of 22 minutes. TWENTY TWO MINUTES FOR THREE POINT ONE MILES. That’s a 7:04 pace. My actual time was 30:33 and my current PR is 26:27. You have to be honest with your fitness level of where you’re beginning and how much time you can put toward your goal (whether that’s a race or just planning out how much you’ll run/work out during the week). This will set you up for success and not to be disappointed by missing your goal time by 8 minutes (I still can’t get over this).
3. It does get easier: I know people are sick of hearing this, but it’s the truth. The first time you run, go to the gym, transition from the treadmill to the humid outdoors, or do anything new for that matter you’re going to be slightly uncomfortable. It’s going to feel weird. You might question your motives and abilities, but if you just keep it up you’ll become more confident. Just keep going.
4. Learning to breathe is the hardest: I struggled with this for the first year of running and even now I still have to be mindful to keep my breathing under control when I get tired. I used to hear my breathing become labored and panic. “Other people will hear me breathing hard! I have to calm down!” Having inner freak outs would only make it worse. And wasn’t I out there to WORK? Shouldn’t people hear my breathing and think to themselves, “good for her. She’s killing it?” You really have to be present and keep your breathing steady if you’re trying to maintain your pace (on a log run for instance) or be ok of your breathing level increasing (on an interval or tempo run for example). This may mean not blasting your music, keeping one head phone out or no music at all (a scary thought, I know, but it’s not as bad as you think).
5. Do things besides running: You may think I’m crazy, but working muscles in ways besides running (spinning, crossfit, cycling, lifting, swimming) will make you stronger overall and can lead to better running performance. I’m injury prone and this has been reinforced by my physical therapist and training coaches. If you’re stronger overall, you’ll be stronger in your run because you’ll be more stable. This will also help reduce the risk of getting burnt out.
Bonus: Find a friend: finding a running buddy is like finding a spouse. It’s forming a sacred bond as they’ll see you at your best and your worst. They’ll see you struggle and you’ll also have the Vance to motivate each other toward success. You’ll probably cuss at each other AT LEAST ONCE, but you can’t take these things to heart. It’ll help break up the run, make it more fun, will help you become more accountable to your workouts (you’re less likely to skip if you know someone is waiting for you) and will push you to be better.