by Dane Rauschenberg
ASEA Athlete, Endurance Runner
I have the great fortune to meet, on a weekly basis, runners who are completely new to the sport or still learning the ropes. One would think with the wealth of information at our fingertips, runners could inform themselves with the ins and outs of being a newbie runner. Unfortunately, separating the wheat from the chaff can be hard. The good information is hidden out there beneath a swirl of falsehoods, more ideas, and anecdotal experiences.
However, I have put together some tips I have culled from more than 15 years of running and more than 150 marathons under my belt that are guaranteed to help you advance. Information not shared is wasted. The greatest thing about knowing something is to using it to help others get to an understanding quicker than it took you to get to that same point. So, please use these nuggets to help you get out the door and stay running safely and healthily.
Remember that rest days are training days, too.
So many newbies are afraid of putting a zero in their log book. They see it as weakness or as wasted opportunity to do better. I understand this feeling, especially if you are trying to get back into shape. The desire to do it as soon as possible is high. But the only way your body will repair itself is if you give it a chance to do so. Any good training plan sees rest as paramount.
Join a Running Group
A great way to stay accountable to your workouts is by joining others in a group. You should definitely do some solo runs, but having the knowledge and energy of many people available to you is extremely helpful to all, especially those who are new to the sport. You can glean so much in such a short amount of time. Plus, surrounding yourself with people who share your interest is so much better than listening to your aunt tell you that running will destroy your knees.
Build Mileage Gradually
Most running injuries come when those, flush with the desire to better themselves, try to erase 10 years of neglect in 10 weeks. Take your time. Allow your body the chance to remember what it is like to exercise again. And the amount of miles you do is not nearly as important as how well those miles are run.
Don’t Dread Taking Walk Breaks
Slowing down can actually build strength and endurance to benefit your running. In fact, it is amazing what a few seconds of walking can do, even in races like a half-marathon. Once you graduate to marathons and ultras, the key to success often is knowing when and where to walk for a minute or two. Or ten.
Keep a Training Log
Just as you shouldn’t be afraid to put a zero in your training log for a day of rest, you shouldn’t be afraid to have a training log in the first place. And there is literally no excuse not to have one anymore with all of the ways of doing so online. Or just use an Excel spreadsheet. (Mine is legendary for the details it has. I can seriously tell you where I have been in this world on any day since January 1, 2006. But I digress.) The best way to look at trends in your running is to have the information available. This becomes very important when you feel you haven’t had a good run in a very long time just because the last three have been sub-par. Your log may tell a different story.
Mix in cross-training to supplement your running.
If for no other reason, cross-training allows you to exercise when you are not running. But it is also a good idea to work on non-running muscles to help balance out your total workout. No one needs to run all the time.
Set Small, Achievable Goals
Break down your aspirations into daily, weekly, and monthly goals. And then view them as such. Keep both the big picture in mind while looking at the daily picture. It is cliché to say that Rome wasn’t built in a day but, well, it wasn’t. And that new PR in your 10k won’t be made after one week of running. Also, once you have set your goals, allow yourself the ability to change them if you underestimated yourself or, as is often the case, maybe you bit off a tad more than you can chew at first. Re-assessing is a sign of an intelligent runner, not one who has failed.
Fuel Yourself Properly
Find the foods that work for you and eat them. Don’t buy into fads or diets or anything like that. You know eating a pound of chocolate is likely not going to help you, so don’t do it. But most importantly, don’t deprive your body of the fuel it needs in even more demand now that you are running. Furthermore, as you will be much hungrier than you are used to, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can outrun a bad diet. We overestimate how many calories we burn and how much we eat all the time. Keep count, not to limit yourself, but to know what you are consuming.
Learn From Your Mistakes
The only bad mistakes you make are the ones you make over and over. We are constantly learning and processing information. If anyone tells you they have it all figured out, it is because they are trying to sell you something. Nearly 300 races into my career, I am still learning from doing things that weren’t right for me.
You ARE a Runner
Not once you set a PR. Or when you get that new Timex. Or after you finally run a marathon. Right now. Before even putting on your shoes. Humans are made to run. You are a human. Ergo, you are a runner. The speed you run and the distance you go just tell you the type of runner you probably enjoy being. But nevertheless, if you haven’t had an official welcoming, let me be the first to do so.
“Hi, Runner. I’m a runner, too.”