Last year I eagerly gave in to the pull of the (socially-distanced) crowd. I’m not exactly sure what prompted this new journey. Possibly it was the pandemic-imposed time at home, or all the couch-based surfing of running accounts I follow on social media. Or maybe it was just middle age attempting to insert its increasingly-wrinkled face into my world. Whatever the reason, running quickly raced up to podium-level status on my weekly schedule.
Running has a well-documented and extensive list of benefits. As my miles gradually increased, I started noticing its ripples extending through many areas of my life, even despite my snail-like running pace. My sleep improved. My legs look stronger. My mood wasn’t quite as unpredictable with my teenagers and students. I had something to look forward to daily, weekly, and in the future (training runs to races).
When I re-started running, I felt like a beginner again. Even though I’ve run on and off (mostly) since my early thirties, it suddenly felt like a brand new sport to me. It was like falling madly in love with an old flame. If you’re flirting with running or experiencing your first crush with this on-foot-based world, here are a few nuggets I’ve discovered during my year of running-renewal:
1. Get fitted for the right shoes.
By this, I don’t mean take an online quiz or read a million reviews about which shoes other people like. Go down to your local running store (NOT a big box store that hires non-runners). Take a good pair of running socks with you and be prepared to spend up to an hour. The right shoes are an important investment that will keep your legs/feet/body healthy for many miles. Additionally, your local running store is often a treasure trove of resources: information, running groups or buddies, advice, inspiration. Buy local!
2. Do strength training consistently.
My first five marathons all ended in me hobbling/limping/crying pathetically across the finish line. I wouldn’t run again for the next few years, only to repeat the ridiculous experience again and again. Yes, I’m a slow learner. When the pandemic hit, I was locked into a tiny house with two smelly teenagers, while trying to teach my first grade class via zoom, and desperately clinging to a few shreds of sanity. I started running (again) a few times a week. The runs became more and more enjoyable, and a spark of a dream flickered into life: to run an ultra marathon. But how on Earth could I accomplish that ultra-feat when I couldn’t even run a marathon without getting injured? I hired a coach from a podcast I enjoyed and she immediately had me start strength training a couple of times a week. I’ll admit that being consistent with my strength training is something I’m still working on. But even just somewhat-regular training has made a big difference in my resilience to longer runs. It turns out that those recurring knee pains were mostly related to muscle weakness in my back and glutes. Now I’m looking forward to running long and strong for the next fifty years at least! Julie “Hurricane” Hawkins, I’m coming for your incredible new world record…
3. Conquer those insecurities.
Have I mentioned that I’m a slow runner? Really SLOOOOOOOW. My lack of speed comes with its very own sparkly set of challenges. From lack of running buddies willing to run my pace, to extra time needed to train, I’ve had to learn that my journey looks nothing like those fabulous super-runners I follow on Instagram. I started my own running Insta-account (@regulargalrunning) and document my own journey for the world to see. It’s not particularly pretty or popular, but it’s me being out there loud and proud. Shine your own light as much as is comfortable in your own way, and enjoy your solo journey when needed. There is a big world of runners who are slower/bigger/newer/(insert personal insecurity here) than you. It may take some time, but eventually you will find your niche.
4. Be safety-conscious.
When possible, run with a buddy. If, like me, you have trouble finding a buddy, take steps to feel as safe as possible when running alone. I run with pepper spray and my hubby gets a Strava tracking alert whenever I’m out on the trails. Find some interesting podcasts or Audible books to listen to on those solo longer runs, but make sure you can still hear your surroundings (wear only one headphone, use “ambient noise” setting, try bone-conduction headphones). Ensure someone always knows your run plan, if possible. Think about adopting a canine running buddy from the local animal shelter (Hello, new BFF!).
5. Something is better than nothing!
If your life is as beautifully chaotic as mine, not every day will gracefully grant you the opportunity to do your planned run or strength workout. Some days we just have to do what we can with the time we available. Try to carve out a regular time to do your runs/workouts, but don’t be rigid and unforgiving with yourself. It can be a delicate tightrope to accept doing less than planned without giving in to the magnetic pull of slothfulness. Resist the urge to throw it all away if you miss a workout. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get right back up on that pretty running pony again. After all, we’re in it for the long run (pun intended).
6. Running is NOT a diet (and you shouldn’t be dieting while training for something).
Yes, running burns lots of calories and your body will change over time as you follow a running and strength training plan. BUT dieting is like a backstabbing, fake friend to running. Our bodies are designed to move by burning fuel. We can’t do that successfully if we are restricting healthy fuel. In fact, trying to train while restricting fuel can result in our bodies pulling the energy from our muscles, bones, and other necessary functions. This can eventually cause long term health problems. Choose to fuel yourself with healthy, delicious food. Yes, Mom, I’m eating my veggies!
7. Set your own goals.
Not every runner needs to qualify for the Boston Marathon. If that is your goal, I salute you from afar. Personally, I set goals that make me happy: run a certain distance (without injury), experience a new type of running (currently I’m working on becoming a trail runner), set a new PR (personal record). Just like your wardrobe, running should compliment YOUR personality and fit into YOUR life.
8. Embrace technology (or not).
You don’t need to have the latest and greatest Garmin watch to have a good run. Sure, technology is fun and can be a fantastic motivational tool — I love to watch those miles (slowly) add up! There are, also, a number of excellent, free phone apps that can give you plenty of information on your run (distance, speed, cadence, elevation gain, and more). My two faves are Strava and Map My Run. It’s a good idea to carry your phone on your run (safety and audio-entertainment), so why not use it to track your run? I carry my phone in my tights/shorts pocket or in a hip belt when I’m wearing traditional running shorts (Hips-sisters makes my favorite one and it’s available on Amazon).
9. Add up those miles!
There’s something so satisfying about entering your miles and workouts into a logbook! It also serves as a record of things that worked (or didn’t) in training. I often leaf back through my logbook to see if my times on certain runs are improving, or to remember details about certain workouts. Another thing I track in my logbook is total number of miles run in each pair of running shoes I own (I’m rapidly becoming the Carrie Bradshaw, or is it Imelda Marcos?, of running shoes).
10. Have fun!
I often hear about professional runners who do it because they enjoy the pain. Considering that I’m unlikely to ever grace the winner’s podium at the Western States 100-Miler, I feel okay admitting that I don’t run because I enjoy pain. In fact, I run because it’s fun. When I think about running, I feel a giant, sunshiny-yellow bubble of happiness in my chest. I highly doubt I would get out of the door for training runs if it was to go put myself through some more pain. At a recent half marathon, a coworker said every time he passed me on the out-and-back course, I had an enormous smile on my face. That’s what running should be: your Happy Place!
Running is a blessing in my life. It’s easy to throw on my shoes and head out to clear my head wherever I find myself during the day. In the words of one of my favorite shoe brands, go out and RUN HAPPY!