We Are All Runners Now

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Don’t let that smile fool you; I was trying not to die at this moment.

Sheltering in place has brought out some weird behaviors. An example is puzzles. Four months ago I would have never done a puzzle, now I love them.

For some people, that strange new hobby, one they would have never ventured to before, is running. Running has become one of the last forms of exercise that we can do with gyms being closed and all team sports essentially cancelled until further notice. Sure, you can do workout videos in your home, but with the warming weather, running is an excuse to go outside.

I know that running is gaining in popularity by the sheer number of people I see outside. I run nearly every day. I’ve been running in this neighborhood for almost two years, and I know most of the faces of other local runners. In the last month, I’ve seen A LOT of new people out there.

This is great, of course. As a longtime runner who is extremely passionate about the sport, it’s wonderful that so many people are finding their way to this activity that is more than just good for your body. Running has been a lifeline for me, both in joyful and uncertain times, and I know the therapeutic effects that simply going out for a run can have on one’s soul.

That being said, the running world is incredibly intimidating. Running is branded as cruel; the sport other sports use as punishment, as the t-shirt saying goes. It comes with a complex stereotype of what you have to look like and barometers you have to reach to be considered “a real runner.” There is also so much information on where to start and what you need that it’s often too much to sift through. Also, running hurts. No matter if you are going out for your first mile or 20th marathon, at some point, it will be painful.

But it will also be glorious, and that’s why so many of us keep coming back.

Myself, I’ve been running for 23 years. I’ve completed two marathons and an ultra marathon, along with a handful of half marathons and 5Ks. I even work (or I did, but plan to go back to the store when I can) at a specialty running store fitting people for shoes and talking them through race nutrition, socks, and other things running.  Throughout my running tenure, I’ve been more consistent, as I was this past winter when I ran 100 consecutive days. But, I’ve also taken breaks for months at a time, such as when I had hip surgery and expected to never run again. I’m not super fast nor do I have the thin yet muscular legs of many runners, but I run like real people do. I’ve run to lose weight, I’ve run to chase the pain away, I’ve run to celebrate, and I’ve run to understand my own strength.

With so many people now running, many new, I thought that I would share some of my running advice that I’ve learned over my years of running. I am no means a doctor or a running coach, but the below are things that I’ve learned and thought I would share in case you are thinking about running and had some questions.

How do I even start?

Go to your closet. Find comfortable shorts, a shirt (try to avoid cotton, if you can), some athletic shoes, socks, and a bra. They don’t have to match, and in fact it’s better if they don’t. They don’t have to be this brand or that, rather today we are starting with what we have. Put them on. Then go outside and try to run 10 minutes. If you can’t do that, try running for five minutes and walking for five. If it’s easy, add another 10. Don’t worry about pace or distance, just run. When you are done, stretch your legs using any of the moves you remember from high school P.E. You will be sore, and if you are extremely sore, rest the next day. If you feel good, try again tomorrow. Either way, go again. It’s easy to run once, but going a second, third, fourth, or fifth time is where the grit comes in. When you feel good, try running for 10 minutes, walking for five and then running another 10. Or, start with equal amounts walking and running or any amount that feels good to you. As you can, increase the time. There are lots of couch25K plans you can follow as well as walk-run programs. You can start with something simple and then look for a plan, or start with a plan. Just start.

But isn’t bad to walk? 

No. I know lots of people who walk-run marathons and walk as they need. Walking-running is a good way to ease into running, and it’s OK if you always need to walk a bit during your runs. The key is your moving your body and still getting the benefits from running. If someone is shaming you for walking, they are the foolish one.

Do I really need shoes that cost more than $40? 

Yes. Most good running shoes will cost $100-$180, depending on support and cushion. I’ve seen a lot of people come in with bad ankles, knees, or whatever because they’ve been running in improper shoes. I promise you those Kohl-sale shoes are not doing your joints any favors. Especially, if they are old. A good set of running shoes last anywhere from 350-500 miles, so depending on how much you run and what else you use them for, that’s 6-9 months. You may get a year out of them, but then it’s time to replace the shoes. If your knees suddenly start to hurt, that might be an indication it’s time for a new pair (don’t quote me on that, though, I don’t got an MD).

What kind should I get then?

I recommend going to a run specialty store to get fit. They are going to tell you your size (which IS different than the size you wear for everyday shoes), how much you pronate, and what kind of shoe would not only fit your foot type but the activities you do. Most retail shops are closed, but Fleet Feet Chicago is doing virtual fittings. These are ALWAYS free, so even if you just want to see your options, it’s not costing you a cent.

But, Heather, I just want to know what brand to get. I don’t want to have talk to anyone. 

Fine. Brooks is my favorite. New Balance is also good.

I heard Nike is putting out these really amazing shoes that will make me faster like that guy who ran a marathon under two hours. I hoping to do a real fast 5K when I can race. Should I get them?

No.

I really hate running and need music to listen to. Is that OK?

Yes. Do what you need to do to get through the run. I often listen to music or podcasts on my runs. But then there are times where I am really in the zone, and I prefer nothing at all except the songs of the birds and the beat of my breath. However, when I do have something in my ears, I try to be safe. Make sure you can hear your surroundings. Try one headphone in and one out. This is incredibly important, especially in a city where cars and bikers like to sneak up on you. I highly recommend AfterShokz, which sit on the outside of your ears and offer bone conduction sound.

Do I need any special clothing or gear?

For now, not really, especially for the warmer months. Stay away from cotton to avoid chaffing, but really anything that is comfortable works. I have lots of secondhand clothes for running that my mom picks up when she is at garage sales. One of my favorites is a used Under Armour turtle neck that is my favorite base layer for colder runs. If you decide to start training for a marathon, you will need gear to carry water and nutrition, and winter running requires more layers, and while I’ve done it in all Target-purchased pieces, quality (like wool over fleece) does make a bit of difference here. But don’t worry much about those things now. Just get yourself a good pair of running shoes and maybe some non-cotton socks, and you should be good. If you really want, put on a hat and some cool sunglasses.

Should I stretch?

OK, this is my dirty secret, I am terrible at stretching, but you shouldn’t be. Most experts recommend a dynamic workout before hand (think high knees and grape vines) and static stretching after.

What pace should I be aiming for? 

Pace is irrelevant and is not nearly as important as you think it is. Go off how you feel. If you start entering races and want to achieve a specific time, then pace becomes more important. However, most people run easy runs way too hard, and that leads to injury and burnout. When I was training for my fall marathon, I was concerned about what pace all of my runs were and would get discouraged when an easy run was slower than I thought it should be. My marathon was terrible, and I bonked and ended up running about an hour slower than what I thought I was capable of. Then, I started running whatever pace I wanted to during most of my daily runs and tried not to care about pace. When I raced a half marathon three months later, I PRed by about eight minutes and hit a huge time goal. My easy runs (outside of workouts) were an average of 90 seconds to 2 minutes slower per mile than my race pace. So, yeah, pace isn’t everything.

I need to run alone now, but I want running friends. Where do I make them? 

First, I will be your running friend. Second, join Strava. It’s like MapMyRun meets Instagram, and it tracks all of your runs. I’ve made a lot of running friends this way and have found different and fun places to run because of it. Then, when this is all over, find a local running club. I know, I know, you don’t like running with people, but give it a try. I used to think I was a solo runner, but then I started running with my neighborhood group and it forever changed my running. It’s way more fun, and I’ve made really good friends from it. Like people-who-will-go-out-of-their-way-to-do-really-nice-things-for-me friends.

So, I see neighbor out running and she is way faster than me. It sucks. 

I know that I of all people shouldn’t be handing out advice on comparing oneself to others, but I promise you that is a quick way to end up hating running. Run for you. You will be much happier.

What kind of precautions should I take running with COVID-19?

When I get frustrated with lots of new runners out on the road, it’s because they aren’t thinking of others. Running is still something we can do, and to keep it that way, we all have to do our part. Run alone and at off-peak times if you can. I recommend a buff around the neck to pull over your face. I like this because when there aren’t as many people out, I can push it down. The one I have is super low-tech and something I got from a race, so you can probably find them online easy enough. Also, this is the big one, distance yourself six-feet from other runners and walkers. Yes, this may mean going into the street if it is safe to do so, onto the grass, or to the edge of the curb. If another runner is coming at you, and they can’t move any further on their side because there is a fence or wall, it’s your responsibility to move. Please don’t be the jerk who could move over but doesn’t.

It’s raining. I guess I can’t run today. 

Running in the rain is the best kind of running. It’s cool, refreshing, and there are less people out. I run outside all year because a treadmill is slow-form torture, and I suggest you try running in the elements. Just once.

I think I really like this running. Where can I get more running inspiration? 

Books! I love running books, and here are a few favorites:

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way To Victory by Deena Kastor

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal 

26 Marathons: What I’ve Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, And Life From Each Marathon I’ve Run by Meb Keflezighi

Hansons Marathon Method: Run Your Fastest Marathon the Hansons Way

Strong: A Confidence Journal For Runners And All Brave Women by Kara Goucher

Podcasts are also big, and honestly, unless you follow the sport of running and know the major players, they may not be as interesting. But, here are a couple that I like are: I’ll Have Another With Lindsey Hein,Ali On The Run Show, and C Tolle Run.

And, watch some fabulous race finishes. Some that are incredibly inspiring are:

Meb – 2014 Boston Marathon

Shalane Flanagan – 2017 New York

Des Linden – 2018 Boston Marathon

Eliud Kiphchoge – Fastest Marathon at 1:59:40

You’ve written almost 2,500 words and I STILL have questions. 

Great! Leave a comment with your question, and I promise to respond!

2 Replies to “We Are All Runners Now”

  1. Great post! I have been considering getting into running for a while now. At the gym I used to do a lot of incline walking on the treadmill but now since quarantine its just been walks outside with the puppers. Maybe I will try going on a short run this weekend! Thanks for the motivation

    Like

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