Left foot, right foot, repeat. If only starting to run were as simple as this! The reality is that running can become “natural” once you get and follow a sustainable running program. Whether you are a beginner runner or jogger looking for a running plan, training for your first 5K, or needing a few running tips to start running again… this guide is designed to give you the techniques and motivation to get started and keep running properly.
Why Do You Want to Run? – Discovering and Setting your Running Goals
Before the first physical steps in your running schedule, step one is to understand why you want to run. While one factor may the most important, having multiple reasons for running provides the balance required to keep on the roads. Especially true if an injury occurs or a little mental burnout creeps in.
As an example, do you want to achieve better mental health while supporting a cause close to your heart by running? Write these down and keep them front and center to remind yourself why you endeavored on this path.
Find Your Reason to Run
When I was a competitive college and post collegiate professional runner I became so focused on the competitive aspects. When I had a major injury (more on dealing with running setbacks later), it has taken years (almost two decades) to get back into proper running… and surprise, it wasn’t for the same reasons. So get out your pen and paper, and consider why you want to run.
A great place to start is by listing out your running goals using an “I want to…” methodology. An example is “I want to lose 10 pounds” or “I want to finish a 5K” or “I want to run a Ragnar Relay“.
Starting small is critical. A great resource for how to start small is Michael Johnson’s book entitled “Slaying the Dragon” which speaks to his running journey from first steps, setbacks, and finally Olympic glory. You may find that his story and your own (while maybe not pursuing the Olympics) follow the same path!
Set Your Goals for Running
Now, back to the task at hand. When listing out your goals, you have to remember that they are exactly that… Your Goals. They should be small enough so you can get some early victories and build up confidence, but not too small where you don’t feel accomplishment once the goal is met. For example, if you stated that you want to lose 10 pounds by running, how about aiming for 5 at first? If you really want to take on a 10K race, why not give your running career a boost with a 5K? Try to get at least three different reasons/goals for your running plan so if you meet one, or if one doesn’t go as planned, the others carry you to the finish line of a becoming a runner.
Physical and Mental/Emotional Benefits of Running
The first benefit that comes to mind when running is typically for weight loss. However, there are several other substantial benefits that cross into the physical, mental, and emotional realms. This ranges from physical benefits addressing bone mass and heart disease all the way to mental and emotional benefits gained such as preventing mental decline and fighting depression. Deep dive into the benefits of running comprehensive guide to learn how running can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
Companionship through Running/the Running Community
The running community is one of the most inclusive, friendly, and supportive groups in the world. Through our shared plight and pain, we bond and make relationships that can not only last a lifetime but support our running. Even those highly competitive, leave me alone type runners, still come to races and “feel” something being part of the greater running community… or they wouldn’t show up at all (even beating someone in a race means they are part of the community!).
From Couch to Triathlete
One of my favorite stories to tell is of a close friend of mine who after being a spectator/supporter of my running came up to me one day and said he wanted to run 5 miles… Well, in a short time he discovered a whole new world, lost weight (physical and mental), met his wife and running partner through a running club, had kids, and is still running marathons and triathlons to this day!
This is not to say that running is a way to meet that “someone special”, but rather that you may quickly find a lot of special people in your life who will help you get up for the 5am run, set goals, lift you up when you are injured, and share in your greatest triumphs and tribulations… because that is how runners are. They are no losers unless you stop running all together, and even then, once you had been labeled a “runner” you are always a runner in the eyes of the community (it’s just a matter of whether you are actively running or not).
Running Clubs for Support
There are running clubs across the world that train and run races together, with training often being the best part. In fact, the Road Runners Club of America has a great listing of running clubs in the United States for those looking to join one. Those who are pursuing a more alternative running slant, may want to cautiously consider House Hash Harriers. In either case, I highly recommend joining a club, it’s a low barrier to meet and get support from the running community.
So you want to compete as a runner? The first thing to understand is that there are so many different levels of competition. Will you aim to be the top local runner in your age group? Compete nationally? Olympics? Before you go any further, competitive running can be a challenging landscape, but equally rewarding.
You Are the Running Competition
The most important thing to remember when considering running for competition is that you should always compete against yourself/measure against your own goals… and if those goals align with being the fastest in your division, great! Where competitive runners have issues is when they tie their competition to another person to “beat” in a race. What if that person stops running? Who will you compete against? What if you never catch them? Will it dissuade you from ever running again, as it has for many who tie their success to others?
What is Running Success?
A better tact is to clearly define your success; not what others are able to do. I am not saying to ignore others you are racing against, but rather use the times being posted as a baseline to race against. When in a running race, it either comes down to who runs the fastest time or who runs the best race. Many races become tactical versus everyone pushing themselves for the fastest times (it’s why very few World Records are set in the Olympic Finals for an event).
Realistic Running Goals
Coming back to defining your success as a competitive runner, sets you sights reasonably, and be specific. Success may be racing against yourself for a personal record or how you fair in a local running division. In the end, we all race against the clock. So if you are focused on winning your age division, ask yourself what sort of time are the top runners in the division running, and if you can run a fast time, surely you will be in the top of your division. The entire focus is, and should always remain, on your capabilities.
Resetting Your Running Goals
As competitive runners age, resetting goals becomes important as winning or placing high in a race overall tends to turn towards placing well in a division, such as the Masters Running Division. It’s a tough transition all runners face, but one that should be welcomed as the community of competitive runners is generally one of mutual support where you may find that your strongest competitor is actually you closest friend!
Running for a Cause/Charity
Running for a charity or cause is one of the most rewarding experiences a runner can obtain. Ironically, the runner gains as much reward as the charity or cause being benefitted by the race or event. Charity and cause based running are more than just raising money for a cause, as the awareness generated is just as important.
There are many causes that all the money in the world can’t cure, but awareness can spread and raise the profile of a need. Just review a list of races to see a list of causes you never heard of! Aligning these to something you are passionate about will help you get up in the morning to run. Running becomes more than you… but about the community around you. This community also includes several caused based running groups, such as Team in Training, so you never run alone… but team up to fight terrible diseases through your running.