Why I Decided to Start Running (and what I’ve learned so far)

The Long Intro

I remember it clearly; it was before a party one night when one of my college friends made the remark that she loved to clean. My other friends and I looked at her in astonishment; that is until she gave her reasoning. She clarified by saying that she loved cleaning because she could see her progress immediately and gain a sense of accomplishment from that.

I never thought about it before hearing this, but sometimes it seems like we’re not making progress on anything even if we’re actually working constantly. Usually this is because our work is difficult to measure. As a graphic design student in college things often felt this way for me. My fellow design students and I were constantly working on projects. Even when we weren’t actually working on them, we were thinking about them. So, while all this work was in fact progress, it wasn’t progress that was easily measured. Often, it was frustrating to realize that we had put days of work into a project without having anything tangible to show for it. This, for my friend, was where cleaning came in. It was a release; a way to feel accomplished.

This feeling of not being accomplished despite putting in a lot of hard work didn’t bother me that much in college. It wasn’t until after I graduated that it began to take a toll on me. After graduation it seemed like nothing was happening and I didn’t have the power to make anything happen. To combat this feeling, I wanted to work on something in which I felt in control and could actually track my progress. Long-distance running came to mind as the perfect thing not only because it would be good for my health, but also because it’s always been incredibly challenging for me.

My Surprise

The fact that long distance running is challenging for me originally struck me as surprising. It seemed effortless to me when I was very young; I could run for miles without giving it a second thought. I was active with track, volleyball, and softball through junior high. I continued playing softball until the end of high school. I also loved walking and rollerblading and continued these activities through college.

Why It Shouldn’t Have Been That Much of a Surprise

What I didn’t consider was that all the activities I participated in required short bursts of energy on my part. In track I was a sprinter; my longest event was the 400-meter dash. This was an all-out sprint of one lap around the track. My best event in track was probably the 200-meter dash which, of course, has a length of half of a 400. I also ran the 100-meter dash. In all of these events, I would use up all my energy in a short time to propel myself as quickly as possible down the track. This is basically the opposite of what’s required in long distance running.

The activities required in softball and volleyball were relatively the same. These sports involve a lot of standing at-the-ready. When required to catch a ball, run the bases, or bump the volleyball, it’s a matter of swiftly executing, then it’s back to standing at-the-ready.

Walking and rollerblading are a bit more similar to long distance running. This is because the effort required to accomplish them is spread over longer periods of time, but not nearly as much effort is exerted as in running. Therefore, these activities are easier to undertake.

How I Started Running (Again)

I mentioned before that when I was younger, long distance running seemed effortless for me. Well, when I started running again after college, it was anything but that! Running for even a few minutes left me winded and I caught myself checking my stopwatch every few seconds to see how much longer I had to endure. I knew if I wanted to continue running, this wasn’t going to work. So, I did some research and found the Couch-to-5k podcasts of Robert Ullrey. You can download them here or search for them on iTunes. (They are free!)

Ullrey’s podcasts are interval runs that alternate between walking and running. As the podcasts progress, the running intervals get longer and the walking intervals get shorter. Ullrey narrates the podcasts by telling you exactly when to run and when to walk. This way there’s no temptation to repeatedly check the time. During the podcasts Ullrey offers up some sometimes much needed encouragement. The podcasts also feature some pretty good running music. This is a 9-week program with runs scheduled three times per week.

My Experience with the Podcasts

At first the podcasts were pretty tough for me. I couldn’t wait for the walking intervals and dreaded the running intervals. But, in time, I felt less winded during the running intervals and didn’t dread them so much. I struggled with making the jump to 20-minute runs. I had to repeat this particular podcast a few times until I could finally finish it. Making the jump to 30-minute runs was also kind of difficult. But, again, I repeated the podcast until I got it.

I started the program not being able to run comfortably for 5 minutes straight. At the end of the program, I could run for half an hour! It was such a great feeling! I remember one day looking behind me at the course I had just run feeling so accomplished. My exact thought was, “Wow! I can’t believe I just ran that whole way!”

After the Podcasts

I didn’t want to just stop running after I finished the Couch-to-5k podcasts, so I decided to build on what I had accomplished. I would warm up by walking for 5 minutes, run for 30 minutes, then do a 5 minute walking cool-down. This worked pretty well and kept me feeling accomplished … until winter came.

During the winter I tried to keep myself active by doing workout videos and occasionally running whenever the weather would permit. This spring when I started running again, though, I found that my endurance had decreased quite a bit. I could only run for about 15 minutes at a time. This was a little disappointing to me, but 15 minutes was still better than where I started this little journey. So, I was ok with it.

Then I decided

I decided since I was doing so well with running that I would sign up for this local program that teaches you to run a 10k. It’s a 12-week program with runs scheduled three days per week. On the first day of the program, there was a mile-long run to see which running group each person should be placed  in. Much to my disappointment, I ended up being placed in one of the very slowest running groups. …and here I thought I had been doing so well…

What Was Wrong

After the initial pouting phase, I got over it. I realized that 1) I’m relatively new to long distance running, so being slow is alright …and 2) I may have been focusing on the wrong things while running by myself.

Since I used to be a sprinter, I had major issues with slowing myself down when I first started running longer distances. I would start out way too fast and be out of breath within the first couple minutes. To combat this, I began starting out my runs by running very slow; much slower than my natural pace. This helped me maintain a consistent speed throughout my runs. The only problem with this is that I should have been increasing this speed as my endurance increased. But, I wasn’t.

How I Plan to Get Back on Track

When I’m running on my own I like to use tools that tell me my distance and time. This way I’m not tempted to keep checking my watch; this can be torture if I’m having a particularly tough run. The best tool I’ve found so far is the Nike+ Running App. It’s free through the Apple App Store. You can use it for a timed run or a distance run. It will tell you when you’re halfway through, when you’re almost done, and when you’ve completed your goal. You can also use it along with your favorite music app. I love it so much! I plan on using it to track my progress and try for better times with each new run.

I’m also planning on committing myself to the local running program that I’ve signed up for. It’s nice to have people who actually know a thing or two about running to keep me motivated and moving forward.

An Overview of Stuff I’ve Learned (plus a few more things):

1) The Couch-to-5K podcasts are an excellent way to start running.

2) The Nike+ Running App is amazing.

3) Drink lots of water throughout the day, especially on days that you run.

4) Get good running shoes. You should get new ones every 300 to 400 miles. Although this number does depend on your weight and the type of running shoes you wear. (The Nike+ App will help keep track of this for you!) Also, if one is available in your area, go to a shoe store that specializes in running shoes. They will examine your gait and determine the best type of shoe for you. They’ll even make sure the shoes you pick out fit you well.

5) Don’t think about running while you’re running. Sometimes I find it best to not think about anything in particular. Listening to music or running with someone else helps this.

6) Don’t compare yourself to other runners; only to yourself.

7) Try not to run on back-to-back days. Three days per week (with a day of rest in between) is a good rule of thumb.

More To Come

There will most likely be more posts about my running adventures to come. My hope is that my experiences as a beginner runner will help others out there who are just starting out. …I’ll keep you posted. :)