Running Away From the Couch: 5 Tips To Become A Runner

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The weather in NY has been almost perfect the past month: sunny most days, with temperatures between 60-70 degrees, and relatively no humidity.  In other words, it’s the perfect time to take up running.  Whenever I discuss running, I find there are two types of people: those who are ‘runners’ and those who ‘hate to run’.  I used to be one of the latter.  I had friends who ran marathons, and I thought running for that long was just plain crazy.  It’s not because I’m lazy; I’ve always been an avid exerciser.  For the past 10+ years, I’ve visited the gym 4-5 times per week and have had pretty much the same routine: cardio followed by stretching and weights. This past winter, I became overwhelmingly bored with this regimen. With my 30th birthday on the horizon, I wanted to set a lofty new fitness goal for myself.  I decided that I would run a race.  It would not be just any race, but a half marathon.  I called up my sister, who runs regularly, and told her my plan.  We both decided to put our names into the lottery for entry into the NYC ½ marathon. In December, both my sister and I won the lottery and ended up with a bib for the NYC ½ marathon.  This may seem crazy, but I had 4.5 months to work up 13.1 miles.  I was determined to do it.  When I tell runners that I went from not running more than 2 miles to running a ½ marathon in less than 5 months, they think I’m nuts.  But I did it, and I learned many lessons along the way.  With my experience and my education in nutrition/sports nutrition and exercise science, I want to share 5 easy tips that are sure to help anyone become a runner:

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1)   Start slow and easy.  It’s unrealistic to think that the first time you head out for a run that you will be able to run a 5K (3.1 miles).  When I first started running, I was running two miles at time.  I would do my longest run during the weekend, and I would add 0.5 or 1 mile each week to that run.  Very slowly and steadily, I worked up to 10 miles (everyone assured me that was enough to run a ½).  Run at whatever pace you can handle for however long you can handle.  It’s perfectly fine to run 1 mile at any pace and while stopping to walk multiple times! Next week, maybe you will run 1.5 miles and not have to stop as much.  You will hit your goal distance before you know it! Obviously, a little push is needed to gain endurance and speed, but don’t push yourself to the point of torture in the beginning.

2)   Set a goal that you won’t cheat on.  For example, register for a race or join a running class.  These are two things that cost money and make you accountable. In the beginning, the fact that you paid money for a class or have a future race will be a good reason to keep running.  For those in NYC, NY Road Runners has weekly running classes, which I participated in when training for my ½.  The classes are really great, as there are many different levels that serve as a support system of others at the same fitness level (not to mention a beginner group).  Each group is lead by a trained coach, who determines a workout, sets a pace, and answers questions.

3)   Know your nutrition.  What you eat before, during, and after a run is SO important.  Nutritionists always refer to food as fuel and, consequently, use the analogy of the gas tank.  You wouldn’t try and make your car go without gas, so why would you run without proper fuel? I won’t go into an extensive Sports Nutrition 101, but use this table as your guide on what to eat before, during, and after running.  Feel free to contact me for further explanation.

Timing: Meal composition: Food examples:
Pre-run 3-4 hours before running Rich in carbs with small amounts of protein and fat Peanut butter & honey on toast + instant breakfast drink, Turkey and Swiss sandwich + fruit + sports drink
Pre-run 30-60 minutes before running High carbs, low protein and fat Piece of fruit or toast with jam+ Sports drink
During running Running lasting up to 1 hour Water
Running over 1 hour Sports Drink (about ½ cup every 20 minutes) Gatorade
Post-run As soon as you can after running (ideally 30-60 minutes prior) High carbs, moderate protein and fat Vegetable omelet with toast (or egg sandwich), Graham crackers with peanut butter + low-fat chocolate milk + banana, Rice bowl with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado + whole grain tortilla chips or whole wheat tortilla

4)   Get the right running shoes.  When I first started running, I was running in my gym shoes that looked like this:

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Every time I hit the ground, I felt it on my entire foot.  I didn’t think I needed new shoes because I was a beginner runner, but I spent some time researching new shoes anyway. I used a guide from Runner’s World Magazine and ended up buying these shoes:

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Boy, do shoes REALLY make a difference! The first time I ran in these, I felt like I was running on pillows.  Having the proper running shoe will make running so much more enjoyable, and they are less likely to cause injury.  There are plenty of stores in NYC that will actually put you on a treadmill in the store and fit you to your perfect running sneaker.  Try it- it’s definitely worth it!

5)   Start running with the proper form.  During the NYC ½, there are photographers who snap your picture and then the pictures are sent to you via email. One of pictures caught me as my foot was about to hit the ground with my heel down and my toe pointed straight up.  That is proper walking form, but it is not proper running form.  Heel striking can actually cause injury to a runner.  The annoying thing was that I developed bad form and had to correct it after several months of running this way.  This video on the proper running technique helped me tremendously, but I still had to work to undo my bad habits.  I highly suggest making sure your form is correct from the beginning. As the video shows, your ankle, knee, and torso should be in line and your foot should hit the ground flat.  Shoulders should be relaxed and arms move from front to back, not side to side.

*One last note:  Although this is tip is not applicable to everyone, I highly suggest running outside and not on a treadmill.  I understand that there are limitations to this, i.e. no sidewalks or it’s easier to go to the gym or terrible spring allergies.  But, believe me, running on a treadmill is absolutely torturous. If you have the option to get outside, running will be much more enjoyable.  We all need a little more fresh air in our lives, so why not take it in while getting a workout?

Happy Running!

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