After a long and dreary winter, the weather has finally taken a turn for the better here in Cleveland! To my delight, I’ve seen a steady stream of runners meandering through the streets of my neighborhood on a regular basis over the past few days. At this time last year, I used to look at those people, laugh, and wonder why anyone would ever want to pursue running as a hobby. (Silly me!)

I’m willing to bet, though, that there are more than a few people out there who look at those striding along on the pavement and think, “Boy, I wish I could do that…but I just don’t know how to get started.”

When I started running in June 2012, I was blessed with several family members and friends who took me under their wings and provided me with a variety of basic tips about every aspect of the running process. Without their advice, I’m pretty sure that I’d still be making many of the same mistakes that I made during my first few miles last summer.

Throughout the journey from 0 to 3.1 and beyond, I’ve also been able to come up with a few pieces of advice that I wish people had told me when I first laced up my Mizuno Wave Inspire 8s.

Without further ado, here are five of the most helpful pieces of advice that I could give to any first-time runner.

1) Make stretching a part of your daily routine. Stretch in the morning, before and after you run, and before you go to bed at night. The mental and physical benefits are enormous!

I know people who don’t stretch before they run. Frankly, I have no idea how they are able to run and I honestly believe that it’s only a matter of time before they suffer a major injury. Pro athletes don’t spend hours stretching before a game because they want to check out girls in the stands; they do so because they know that doing so minimizes their risk of injury and allows their muscles to be limber and ready for athletic activity!

If Shaq thinks it's necessary to stretch, you should too. (Photo obtained from inspiralmotion.com)

If Shaq thinks it’s necessary to stretch, you should too. (Photo obtained from inspiralmotion.com)

I’ve gone on runs when I did not stretch properly beforehand and I’ve also gone on runs on which I was as loose and stretched out as Gumby when I started. On the former type of runs, I had trouble getting going and my legs felt like big pillars of concrete. This led to a great deal of frustration at the start of the run which stayed with me through the rest of the run. In contrast, my legs felt like giant springs when I was stretched out properly. This allowed me to get off to a great start that helped carry me through my daily mileage.

I’ve also failed to stretch afterwards when I’ve been in a hurry after a run, and I’ll never forget waking up the next morning with extremely tight and sore legs.

Onto the mental benefits! Stretching allows me to get into a good frame of mind before I run. When I’m conquering a new distance, I listen to some motivational music and block out all of the distractions of my day while I stretch. My stretching time keeps me from transitioning right from work into running and allows me to get into a proper frame of mind. At night, stretching helps me calm myself before hitting the hay. When I stretch before bed, I tend to fall asleep much more easily than when I hop right into bed.

 

2) Carbonation is the enemy!

When I first started running, I noticed that I would get severe pains in my side every time I ran. Since I began running in the summer I thought that this was due to dehydration, so I started intentionally making sure that I was hydrated before I headed out. Nevertheless, these pains persisted.

I told my stepmother about this and she asked if I drank carbonated beverages. When I confirmed that I did, she told me that these “side stiches” were due to carbonation in my stomach and encouraged me to cut down on my intake of carbonated beverages.

Unfortunately, I love my diet soda, so I haven’t been able to totally cut back. (I know that there are several arguments against drinking diet soda, but I just can’t kick the habit!) However, I have begun making an effort to release the carbonation from my beverages by stirring them and by leaving two-liter bottles open on our table for several hours at a time. “Flat” pop doesn’t taste great, but at least I still am able to drink my diet soda without incurring massive pains on my runs.

I'm a sucker for marketing like this...but I do wonder if the polar bears get side stitches from carbonation when they're swimming?

I’m a sucker for marketing like this…but I do wonder if the polar bears get side stitches from carbonation when they’re swimming?

 

3) When you find that your running is becoming a bit boring, do something differently the next time. A small change in route or music can make an enormous difference!

Last fall, I was training for my first 5 mile run, which was a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I was diligently doing my training runs three times per week, steadily increasing my distance without risking injury, and all was going well. Except for one thing…I was finding that I was getting bored on my runs and dwelling on my discomfort far too often!

Bored runners often quickly find themselves becoming non-runners, so I decided to make some drastic moves. I put on music for the first time when I ran and the difference in my attitude was dramatic. I didn’t think about the pains in my legs and feet at all and the miles flew by.

Of course, my music mix soon became stale. On a whim, I decided to start listening to my finely tuned Pandora 90s rap station—“I Do It For Hip Hop”—while I run. I rarely get the same songs twice and 95% of the songs put a smile on my face.

dre

I can’t believe I’ve been listening to Dre and Snoop since 1992. I’ll never forget buying Dre’s first CD for a friend’s birthday and being forced by his parents to return it because they wouldn’t allow it in the house!

Changing up your route can also make a big difference. Knocking out your miles in a new neighborhood or park can add a much-needed change of scenery and invigorate your running. Last week, I had one of the most stressful weeks in a long time—work was rough and Sheila spent time in the ER (more on that to come). After overcoming 20,000 obstacles standing in the way of my run, I went for a run in a park on the other side of town. Although I ran 6.75 miles, I felt like I had only run one mile when I was done.

 

4) Even the world’s best runners struggled to run a few blocks when they began. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t run much at the start. Do what you can and try to increase your distance a little bit each week. If you keep at it, you will get better!

When I first started running, I knew that I couldn’t go very far and I set my expectations extremely low. This was helpful because I was able to set and accomplish a number of distance-related goals in the first few months of running, providing me with a confidence boost that inspired me to keep striving for bigger and better goals.

Some people, though, tend to get frustrated if they’re not good at running right from the start. Don’t. You may not be able to go for more than a few blocks. That’s totally OK. Run one or two blocks at a time for a few days and then try to do three or four blocks at a time. After mastering three or four blocks at a time, try for five or six. Before you know it, the blocks will start to add up into your first mile! As you steadily and slowly add more and more distance over time, one mile will become two miles…and you’ll be knocking out your first 5K in no time!

 

5) Register for a race and use a training plan. Your focus during your training will improve, your distance will improve, you’ll guard against injuries, you’ll have a great time, and few emotions beat the high of crossing the finish line for the first time!

Believe it or not, I actually made a trifling attempt at running during the summer of 2010 while Sheila was studying for the bar. I was desperate to figure out how to lose weight and I had a lot of free time. I failed miserably. Why? I had no direction or goal.

However, as soon as my stepmom registered me for my first 5K and equipped me with a training plan, I developed a laser-like focus on the goal of running 3.1 miles. I followed my training plan as closely as possible and hit the streets multiple times per week because I had a goal in mind and I wanted to accomplish it. Although I didn’t run the entire 3.1 miles from start to finish, I was able to run the majority of the race. Most importantly, I’ll never forget the pride and joy that surged through my veins as I crossed the finish line. Although I’ve conquered longer distances since then, I still haven’t felt as much raw positive emotion as I did after I finished my first 5K.

If you’re looking to start running, I encourage you to pick a race and plunk down the registration fee. Start off with something easy—you don’t have to do something big your first time out. Some people may know that a mile is all that they can do. That’s fine! Others may know that they’ll be able to handle a 5K (3.1 miles). That’s fine too.  There will be plenty of time in the future to tackle longer races, and while it’s good to dream big, picking a long race and being unable to train successfully for it is setting oneself up for failure. Don’t do that!

As soon as you hit “submit” on your online race registration and obtain a training plan, you’ll find that your training will be infused with a sense of purpose and focus. As you complete your first few training runs, you’ll be filled with a sense of accomplishment that will spur you on to distances that previously only existed in your mind as random numbers on bumper stickers. Once you cross the finish line on race day, not only will you be able to take pride in the fact that you set a goal and completed it, but you’ll also be bitten with the running bug and start planning the next time that you’ll be able to get out there and do it all over again!

 

I hope that you found these to be helpful. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions about anything I wrote; I’d love to help encourage and guide you as you develop into a lifelong runner!