What I Learned About Running in 2013

2013 was a big year for me and running. It is the year I officially went from “I like to run” to “I’m a runner.” While many people say that just running makes someone a runner, it wasn’t until this year that I really felt I could call myself a runner. I ran my first half marathon in 2:05 and then took what I learned from that race and ran my second 6 months later in 1:52. I learned a lot about running this year both from a lot of research and reading and also from personal experience. I thought I’d share what I learned for anyone that is trying to go from “I like to run” to “I’m a runner.”

Snowy trail during my last run of 2013.
Snowy trail during my last run of 2013.

Getting into shape sucks
It really does. I’m convinced this is why a lot of people that are the least bit athletic and could enjoying running end up quitting. 3 minutes feels like an eternity. Everything hurts. Feet, legs, back, arms. After a mile it feels like anything further is a goal out of reach. It’s not. Getting in shape just sucks. Stick with it, keep going. Train for a 5k – 3.2 miles is a completely achievable goal. Start with a mile, when that feels comfortable move on to 1.5 miles. Just keep going, don’t quit. DON’T QUIT. Running is enjoyable – sometimes even easy, once you’re in shape.

Find a training plan you like, then adapt it for what works for you
I’ve read a lot of beginner running advice that simply states “Find a training plan and stick to it.” Yes, stick to it, but adapt it first. Many training plans call for working out 5-6 days a week. Start out with the exact training plan, then find what works for you. 5-6 days a week did not work for me. My body wasn’t getting enough time to recover and my runs were sluggish and tough. What ended up working for me was running 3-4x a week. I did two shorter runs and one long run on the weekend and sprinkled weights and a tempo run in here and there. My future goals include adding more core/weight to help strengthen my body, which brings me to my next lesson…

Mini-goals are everything
My goal wasn’t just to finish a half marathon, it was to train for and finish a half marathon. This meant more than just registering and half-assing my way through the race. It meant sticking to my training plan and not making excuses. I found having the mini-goal of completing my training for the week really helped me push through until the race. Mini-goals are essential for finishing bigger goals.

Running is expensive
I’ve heard people say “Running is the most inexpensive sport. All you need is a pair of shoes!” Right? Wrong. Good shoes are expensive. Good gear is expensive (I’ll get to that later). For my last race I carried my luggage on the plane. For one day of running (Shoes, pants, shirt, sports bra, running rain jacket, socks) I had over $300 worth of gear in my bag. Running is not a cheap sport, but it’s worth every penny.

Stretching is essential
Stretch. STRETCH. Don’t forget. I was that person that blew off stretching post-run. Training for my second half I made it a goal to stretch after my runs. It made a difference. I was less sore and feel my future runs went better when I had stretched after the previous run. I even asked for (and received) a mini-roller for Christmas. Here are Runner’s World’s Best Post-Race Standing Stretches.

Don’t be afraid to try new shoes
My very first piece of advice to any true beginner is to go to a running store and get fitted for shoes. Running store, not sports store. Go to the experts! That being said, don’t be afraid to try a new brand. I ran in the same brand since high school (when I played lacrosse) after being fitted into them numerous times, but recently that particular brand changed their shoes and they just felt too narrow. I switched to a new brand and was amazed at the difference. I had always had a problem with hamstring pain, but suddenly my hamstring pain was gone. The shoes aren’t perfect, but I did notice a huge difference in how my legs felt after my second half marathon when I was wearing a different brand. This brings me to my next lesson…

Brand-name gear makes a difference
If you’re planning to train for a distance race, those $60 running pants will make a big difference. I used to run in knock-off pants from a non-sports retailer and one day I decided to splurge – woah what a difference it made! No sweaty butt, warm legs that were also dry and not hot. The same issue came up when I decided it was time to buy a rain jacket to run in. A Facebook friend posted a status asking for running rain coat advice and many people said “Just get a cheap one from Target.” I asked a friend that is a marathon runner for her advice and she said, “One from Target is fine if you’re only planning to run 3 miles, but you won’t stay dry if you’re planning to run for an hour or more.” She found me one on clearance from an brand-name that I actually wear all the time now. (If you’re wondering, it was $100 on clearance.) After this past year, I am a big advocate for brand-name gear. Just try it! I promise you those companies are in business for a reason. You will be much more comfortable on those long runs. I’ve never had a problem with chaffing – I’m convinced it has to do with the investment I’ve made in what I wear when I run.

Motivation comes from within
I’m an early-morning runner. If I’m running outside I’m out the door by 6 am and during the winter I’m in the gym by 5:45 am. I once had a friend ask for advice on how to get motivated to get moving that early. I had nothing to tell her – I just do it. I prefer to get my workouts done in the mornings so when I get home from work I have the whole evening to do whatever I would like. I have coworkers that get their workouts in during lunch. I know people that prefer to workout straight from work. The point is, find the time you like and just do it! No excuses! Once you get moving you’ll be glad you did, but there is no magic secret to getting motivated. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to get up when my alarm goes off at 5:15 in the morning in the middle of the winter. It takes self-discipline, but I am always happy once I get back from my run.

Running isn’t for everyone
Some people don’t like running and that’s just how it is. There are other ways to exercise than running. Yoga, Crossfit, weights, cycling, swimming. I, the daughter of a certified yoga instructor, do not like yoga. Some have said to me “Well you just need to find the right kind of yoga.” This drives me nuts. NO. I don’t want to do yoga. I think it’s boring. Yes, I’ve tried power yoga. It doesn’t do it for me. I don’t like group-exercise classes in general. When someone says they hate running, I never say “Well you just need to do something differently to like it,” because the reality is that some people just don’t like to run. Find what you love, become obsessed with it, and enjoy exercising and feeling your best!

What is something you have learned about running this year? What advice would you give to first time runners?

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