I hated running for most of my life. So when I accidentally made it a hobby a few years ago (you can read about how I got into running here), I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. Now that I have a bit more experience and a good amount of ups and downs under my belt, here are the 10 things I wish I knew before I started running.
- Injuries are normal.
In fact, they’re quite common. Around 70-80% of all runners get injured at least once every year. That is a staggering number. I’ve had a history of knee and ankle issues, and I always thought there was something wrong with me. If I had known that almost all runners experience similar struggles, I think that would have helped put me in a more positive mindset and seek out resources to help resolve my issues.
- Strength training/cross-training is so important.
Do your core work. Strengthen your quads.Work out your calves. Build hip strength; this will help you avoid iliotibial band syndrome, aka knee pain.* This is called injury prevention and it is so important (although you probably won’t start taking this seriously until you get injured, as most runners do).
- You don’t need Gatorade.
Gatorade is essentially just sugar water, with some electrolytes. It’s not necessary for runs 1-2 hours long; water is enough. For runs that last more than 3 hours, you will probably need to replace the electrolytes lost while running, but there are healthier (and cheaper) alternatives, like chia seeds, coconut water, and fruits/veggies.
- Gels aren’t the be-all and end-all of fuel for a long run.
You can recharge just as well with natural, whole foods. I don’t take any food with me unless my run is at least 1.5 hours long. My go-to fuel is dates, which always sustains me. It’s recommended to eat 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour. In the case of dates, this would equal two per hour. To be honest, I’m not very good about this and don’t reach this goal most of the time (because of lack of appetite, not feeling like I need it, laziness), but YOU SHOULD!
You can take other dried fruit like figs, cherries, or raisins. Dried fruit is a good source of fuel because they are rich in potassium, are easily digestible carbs, and have little fat. Another alternative is pretzels– these are good for their sodium and potassium.
- Run slow.
This is extremely important, and is something I overlooked until just a few months ago. I used to try to beat my last time every time I ran, which was not smart and probably contributed to a lot of my pain and injuries. You should be running at a pace where you can converse or breathe out of your nose for most of your runs. I do one speed workout a week– that’s it.
- Sign up for a lot of races.
This will keep you motivated. Training for them will also help you meet new people. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired or stuck, I can always count on a race to lift me right back up and re-energize my love for running.
- Don’t increase mileage too quickly.
The general rule is that you should only increase your mileage by 5-10% each week once you’ve reached a comfortable mileage point. New runners should only increase mileage once a few weeks/months of running 1-3 miles a few days a week feels comfortable. For me, my comfortable point is 20-25 miles per week. Therefore, I should only increase my mileage by 1-2 miles a week. Increasing too fast can lead to injuries. Take my word for it– it’s better to take it easy than be sidelined for weeks because you were too eager.
- Proper form is crucial.
Here are the 6 things I try to focus on while running: 1. Take quick, small steps. 2. Land with your foot under your knee, not in front, so that you’re striking the ground with your midfoot. 3. Lean forward without bending at the waist. 4. Look ahead (not directly in front of you/at your feet). 5. Relax your upper body. 6. Keep your core tight.
Bad form leads to… take a wild guess…Yes, INJURIES! Knee pain, stress fractures, shin splints, the list goes on.
FitbyTrazy wrote a fantastic post about running basics, and I love this diagram:
- Foam rolling isn’t necessarily good for you.
I’ve written about this before, so read that post if you want more details, but I am a bit skeptical of the benefits of foam rolling. You may be damaging your tissues more than you know—that’s why I stick to stretching.
- Buy multiple pairs of shoes to rotate between.
I used to stick to one pair of shoes for each training cycle, but I think a key to successful, injury-free running is to rotate between shoes. I currently have Saucony Kinvaras for shorter runs (lightweight, less cushioning), an older pair of Nike Zoom Pegasus that I bought in March for longer runs (neutral shoes with a bit more stability and cushioning), and I just bought a pair of Brooks Ghost 8s to replace my Nike Pegasus.
* My hip strength workout for ITB rehab: http://strengthrunning.com/2011/02/the-itb-rehab-routine-video-demonstration/