Starting and Re-Starting Running – Back to the Basics

Shannon Leach is an independent management and operations consultant (focusing on ice cream companies in particular) and has worked as the VP of Operations for several start-up food companies. She has a BFA in Acting from the Guthrie Theater Training Program and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management, both from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She loves everything to do with food (gardening, cooking, eating). Her favorite distance to run (right now!) is 13km.

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Scene 1

The Runner Enters. She is calm and content. Stretches and smiles at the audience. 

Shannon enters. Hair undone, wearing a well-tailored suit, untucked and disheveled. Carrying a bag that’s open and spilling out personal effects as she explodes into the scene. She has the air of someone who just came out of a tornado. Frantic, fussy and a little annoying. 

Shannon: Ya know what? I should train for a half marathon again.

Runner: (smiles knowingly): How about you put on your shoes and just do a run…? Don’t go for mileage or time, just get back into it. 

Shannon: (throws bag down): Go big or go home!!!!!

Runner: … you should put on your shoes.

Shannon: (pulling out over-sized calendar and maker): Oh man I got this- I’m going to run 4-5x a week on the Nike Run Club 14-week program and I should also do 3-5 non-running workouts each week, too, so I don’t get injured. I’ll go pick up some HoneyStingers this afternoon. 

Runner (gently): Yep. But also, just Put. On. Your. Shoes.

Shannon: (pulling out bra from her bag): I should go get a new sports bra because last time I did this, I noticed I only like the pink one. Also I’m going to track my calories and diet and then I should get some more sunscreen. First, I’ll do some yoga. 

Scene 2

Shannon doesn’t go on a run. 

For many of us runners, the internal dialogue might look a little different but the underlying theme is the same: we get in our own way when it comes to running for the first time or re-starting after being away from it. It can be overwhelming before you even start. Running becomes complicated and we forget that it’s the simplest and most natural thing in the world. 

Put on your shoes. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe. Repeat. 

Hi there running friends- I’m Shannon and I consider myself a casual but consistent runner- not super competitive but I occasionally sign up for a race, join a fun run or join a running group. As a person who struggled to run in the first place and then struggles every time I re-start running, I’m here to share that the struggle is part of the journey and I want to share some tips on how I barrel through that struggle. Distractions, lofty unrealistic goals, self-doubt, inconvenience, laziness and being bummed out tend to be my pitfalls. 

Troubles Starting: Negative self talk or preconceived ideas of running are the two biggest hurdles to start running for the first time. “I’m not athletic”. “My knees/shins/ankles/hips are weak”. “I don’t have a runner’s body/ I’m just not built for running”. “Running hurts”. “If you see me running, something is probably chasing me!” I said all of these things to myself before I started running in a sustainable way. 

We have an often-repeated joke in my family regarding my running as a little kid: “Shannon! Run on the grass!!!!”. My hips were turned in when I was born and I wasn’t particularly coordinated. Running usually ended in scraped knees and as soon as I saw the others kids speeding ahead of me, I thought running was just not for me. Theatre, band, reading books and cooking food became my identity and the running I did was for required PE classes and I did it begrudgingly. 

In college, I ran with a friend mostly because it was a way to burn calories to drink more beer. I hated how fast she could run and I hated running up and down steps- ugh. We were running her style and pace and it wasn’t mine- I didn’t even know I had my own version of running at the time. 

Fast forward several more years: I wanted to feel healthier. I didn’t want to spend money on a gym membership so I took my shoes out of the closet and went on a run. I remember having the strangest thought on one beautiful, crisp, winter day: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could run 5 miles?”. I decided I didn’t care how fast I ran or how many tries it took – I just wanted to see if I could keep adding more miles each week. 

I looked up different running plans / programs /apps and eventually settled on picking Nike Run Club guided runs based on how I felt. What’s a speed run? What’s a tempo run? Maybe I feel like running for 22 minutes today or I feel like running 3 miles. I picked away at different types of runs and started to feel stronger and more confident taking on longer and longer runs. I got comfy shoes that felt good- not just ones that looked cool. Eventually, I hit that 5 mile mark but I was really surprised by what I found: Hitting 5 miles didn’t feel much different than 4.5 miles. SPOILER ALERT: Those accomplishments/ times/ milestones are critically important but they only can be accomplished because you run every single meter and mile before that moment. As soon as I realized that, I got it in my head that I wanted to run a half marathon. By using the same principles as getting to 5 miles, I already knew that it was possible. I’ve been able to run that half marathon distance (and I actually just did the Trail Sisters Half Marathon in Buena Vista!). All the while, I learned that the most important part of my training was the question I asked daily: How do I feel today? 

Tips: 

  • Find a *FREE* app that resonates with you- try a few. Looking at the map of your route and tracking your speed is fun.  
  • Stretch a little before and a little after, even if you don’t want to and it’s boring (especially your hamstrings and butt- those big muscles can act like big, annoying rubber bands if you don’t loosen them up a little and they will stop you from running if they feel tight and miserable)
  • Start every single run at a slow trot- don’t think of the first few minutes of the run as running- you’re just starting to arrive on the run.
  • Whether you like it or not, you are a runner. You’re a human being so you’re a runner. 

Troubles Re-starting: It’s tempting to look at past accomplishments, mileage, frequency of running throughout the week, or times as a measure for where you should be. It seems obvious to say but if you’re struggling to re-start running I’m here to say the obvious: You are not the same person you were when you did those things! You have to allow running to take shape with the person and the body you are now. You can be inspired and motivated by numbers and goals but do not let that limit your chances of doing something great now. 

Tips:

  • Start by running a distance or a time that “doesn’t even count”. Something so achievable you’re almost embarrassed by it. Set your achievable goal. Run it (don’t do any more than what you set out to do!). After that first run- do something fun/ joyful to celebrate it. Make sure you tell a lot of people who love you, “Hey guess what! I’m starting to run again!” 
  • Do that again the next day. This time, allow yourself to relax and run a little farther or faster at the end if you feel like it. Celebrate. 
  • Now set some goals for the week ahead. Just the next 7 days! Jot them down on a piece of paper or put them in your calendar. Block out realistic time to run by looking at your actual life (not the one you think you should be having). 
  • Repeat weekly. Take a little time on Sundays or Monday mornings to block out your run schedule and stick to it. 
  • If you have to change a run or not do a run- THAT IS OK! Don’t let that sidetrack you into thinking you’ve failed. You’ve just adjusted. Now go back out and run again tomorrow instead. If you drop the ball on your schedule, you just pick it right back up the next day and no guilt-trips allowed. 
  • Find transition times to plunk in a run and you’ll find that you do more throughout the week
    • Mornings: if you’re a morning person, consider setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier. Drink some water. Put on your shoes. Head out the door before the day even starts! What a great wakeup. 
    • Lunch: I’m a late morning runner myself. I need my coffee and my slow wake-up first. If your work schedule is flexible, block time on the lunch hour and head out the door. Hot runs do suck but they are better than no runs. 
    • After work: don’t get comfy yet! Go straight from work, get into those running clothes and process that transition between work and home by running it out. Your family will thank you. 
    • Evening: It is nice to run when it’s cooler out, dinner is settled in your stomach and you’ve got a little crepuscular energy. Headlamps and sexy reflective outfits welcome.  

I like to think of this initial phase of starting and re-starting running as gently deceiving your brain and body. You’re telling yourself it doesn’t count, it’s not even running and in taking the pressure off, you’ve already accomplished the scary feat of starting or re-starting your running practice!

About the Author

Shannon Leach is an independent management and operations consultant (focusing on ice cream companies in particular) and has worked as the VP of Operations for several start-up food companies. She has a BFA in Acting from the Guthrie Theater Training Program and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management, both from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She loves everything to do with food (gardening, cooking, eating). Her favorite distance to run (right now!) is 13km.

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