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Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running

You are in luck today. If you are thinking about starting a running program or are just taking your first few steps on your journey, then here are some of the things you need to know to ensure a smooth and safe transition to becoming a true runner.

My Story

I am 29 and have been running for pretty much the entirety of my 20’s.

In fact, I became a regular runner circa 2005 and, back then, I probably wasn’t an excellent one.

The reason I took up running was to lose weight, and that was it.

Running is hard—especially during the early stages. I still remember my first few runs (pain makes for strong memory lol), experiencing everything from breathlessness, knee pain, chest pain, chafing, to blister and back toes, and wondering what on earth I’m doing out in the cold and having no idea how to proceed or what to do next.

Nonetheless, as time passed, and as I got fitter and stronger, I slowly gathered more experience until I became the type of a runner that I’m today: motivated, disciplined, happy, and most importantly, injury-free(ish).

But please, don’t get me wrong. This whole learning process took a long while. So it wasn’t an overnight success

I learned by talking to other runners, reading every book and blog running-related topic, and generally trying to figure things out by trial and error as I go along.

Therefore, today I decided to share with you, my dear readers, a few of the things that I wish someone had revealed to me about running before I took the first steps. These practical tips will make your running adventure a little easier and a bit more effective—if you are into it.

In fact, my running life would have been very different if I had a future version of myself travel in time and give me all of the training secrets and realizations I know now.

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Image Credit – Archi Trujilo via Flickr

Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running

So what were these things I wish I had known back in the old days?

Well, here we go…

1. Running Gets Easier

This is one of the profound running (and fitness) lessons you can ever learn when you are just starting out.

When you take up running for the first time, the high-impact nature of the sport can take a toll on your body (and mind), leading to soreness, cramps, blisters, injury, or even burnout and mental fatigue.

Nonetheless, as you get stronger and fitter, your body will adjust to the level of physical activity. As a result, if you are a newcomer to the sport of running, then practice, practice some more, and never give up.

To make your body adapt to the rigors of running and strengthen your lungs and muscles, aim to run at least three times a week, scheduling your sessions the same way you schedule an important work meeting or family event.

But don’t go running long distances from the get-go. If you run too much too soon without giving your body ample time to adapt to the sport, then you could end with a burnout, injury, or worse, a disdain for the sport.

Instead, start with a realistic distance such as two miles and build it up using the walk-run method. You need to run—or walk/run—at an easy and comfortable pace for a realistic amount of time.

Once you can run for 15 to 20 minutes without much huffing and puffing, then gradually increase your mileage.

How long will that take you is a question you will have to answer yourself. Every person is different and unique in their own way.

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Image Credit – Smart Nutrition via Flickr

2. You Cannot Outrun a Bad Diet

That might sound like a cliché, but it doesn’t make it less real. Proper diet is king—whether you are looking to lose weight or beat your PB marathon timing.

This one realization would have saved me at least two years of a struggle that consisted of losing weight then gaining it all back, just because I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was putting in my mouth back then.

In fact, there is no amount of running you can do that balance out a bad diet.

Your body needs the right kind of fuel to run at its best and help you reach your fitness goals, whether they are weight loss, or performance related. There is no way around it.

As a result, whether you run regularly or not, you have to fuel yourself with the right stuff; otherwise, you will struggle and blame it on the running when it’s your diet choices the that are behind the mess.

The right things include complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat. So make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, greens, whole grains, poultry, fish, fruits and healthy sources of fats such olive oil and avocados.

For more diet guidelines, check these four posts:

And please, get rid of the junk food. It’s not doing you any good.

3. The Right Gear Matters (and it’s not just the shoes)

Of course, running is very convenient and totally free, but it’s not that cheap—especially if you are looking to reach your full potential.

As a runner, you are more likely to stick with your running program if you are a comfortable and happy runner, and having the right gear helps a lot. In fact, in my opinion, proper running gear is the most vital investment you can make—for both the short and long terms.

When I started running, I wore whatever sports shoe I had, tennis shorts, cotton socks, and cotton T-shirts and wondered why I was suffering from painful blisters, all sorts of chafing, and my feet were always in pain because I was, obviously, running in the wrong pair since they were, at least, half a size small.

So before you settle on a running pair, head to your local shoe store and ask the experts there to help you figure out what kind of shoe you need for your foot type and running gait.

Next, get the right gear for every possible weather, too. The best running clothing is made of technical fabric that wicks away moisture and helps keep your skin dry and warm, which is crucial for preventing chafing and blisters, as well as helping you stay comfortable throughout the workout.

Other items you need to consider investing in include water bottle belts, GPS watch, mid-run fuel, running books, more shoes, etc.

Therefore, search the web for the best deals and don’t be fearful to stock up when you find the kind of gear you love on sale.

4. There Are Apps for Everything—Running is Not an Exception

I used to bike my running routes to figure out mileage until running apps, and the GPS technology came into wider use, and that was a complete game changer. In fact, nowadays I believe that running and running apps go hand in hand—especially for committed runners.

And the good news is there is plenty of runners apps you can get for free (or the paid versions for more options).

These fantastic apps can track your speed, running distance, elevation gain, training pace, calories burned and even map your route, as well as offering all sorts of fun games and challenges to keep your mind busy while challenging yourself every time you hit the pavement.

Having the ability to keep tabs on your running program is one of best ways to help you gauge your progress (or lack thereof), which can help make the most out of every workout so you can reach your full potential as a runner and keep on improving all the time.

What’s more? There are a myriad of apps for every runner out there, so regardless of your running goals, whether you are just starting out, or training for your 18th marathon, there is an app for you.

5. Running is a Mental Game, Too

Running is also a mental game, and if you don’t train your mind the same way you train your body, you will definitely fall short of your achieving your running goals.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that running is way more mental than physical. If you just can’t use that thing between your ears to your advantage, then you are definitely heading in the wrong direction.

Therefore, to become the best runner you can be, you need to accept the fact that your inner state (thoughts, feelings, and emotions) and your outer state (performance) are interrelated, with each one having a profound impact on the other.

In other words, mental training can be best summed up using this simple equation construct:

Thinking –> Feeling –> Performing

By accepting that fact and experiencing it first hand, by then you will be on route to gaining control over your mind and mastering your inner game as opposed to being the victim of whatever mental state you happen to be in any given day.

And the good news is that you can develop this trait.

One technique that helped me a lot was visualization. In fact, I do believe visualization to be a useful tool that you can use to build mental toughness and keep your motivation going strong in every aspect of your life—not just running. That’s why this powerful imagery technique is used by elite performers in all fields of life.

Here is how to use mental imagery to become a stronger, effective and happier runner: Take at least 10 to 15 minutes every day and visualize your running goals as clearly as possible.

To do that, start by putting yourself into a relaxed meditative state, then as vividly as possible, begin constructing a series mental images of your running goals, then mentally rehearse these “mind movies” over and over again. Just make sure to visualize every little detail, picturing yourself succeeding in your mind’s eye before you actually do it in reality.

Also, believe you are capable of going the extra mile, and always remember that most of the discomfort you feel during a run is impermanent and will eventually go away once you build enough (mental and physical) endurance.

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Image Credit – Moonjaz via Flickr

6. Breathing Matters

I remember breathing technique to be one of the first things I tried to Google and learn more about. As a matter of fact, it’s sill one of the most common questions I get on from my clients, running buddies, and blog readers.

And chances t you are also aware of the importance of proper running breathing—even if you haven’t run a mile in your life.

When it comes to running, taking conscious control (at least for the first few months) and learning how to breathe right is one of best things you can do to improve your running performance and increase training enjoyment.

So how should you breathe while running?

Well, for starters, you need to stop breathing from your chest—that’s how most beginner runners breathe. Chest breathing is really inefficient and will only lead to you underperforming.

Furthermore, this type of breathing is too shallow and quick and will not help you bring in the maximal amount of oxygen needed to perform your best.

Instead, you should opt for diaphragmatic breathing, also commonly known as “belly breathing.”

What is it all about?

Belly breathing involves using the whole muscles of the diaphragm—aka your belly—in the action of inhaling and exhaling.

Focus on using your diaphragm to breathe, drawing your breath deep down from your abdomen. The deeper you breathe, the better you will breathe and the more oxygen you will feed your muscles and body.

7. You can Run With Others—and Have a Blast Doing it

I’m an introverted person. As a result, during the early days of my running career, I ran mostly by myself, and I avoided every opportunity to run with other people like the plague.

But as I soon discovered it can be really isolating to run alone, and there is so much fun (and lots of benefits) to peering up with others when it comes to running.

Running with a partner—or a group—is an impressive strategy to help push you out of your comfort zone, brush up your running skillet, becoming a better running in the process.

Not only that, running with other people will also keep you accountable for your actions—crucial for consistency.

Plus, as I have already stated, bad runs are a part of the deal, and training with a partner is one way to ensure that you keep pushing forward—even when every cell in your body pushes you in the other direction. You don’t need to suffer alone.

As a result, schedule, at least, one run per week—preferably a tough workout, such as a long run or hill session—and make sure to do it with a partner or group. Ask your running friends to join. Or join a running club.

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Image Credit – Bogdan Krasic via Flickr

8. Cross Training is Awesome

After a couple of years of running, I thought that was it, and there is nothing more I can do. Then I discovered P90X, Yoga, CrossFit…and my whole approach to training and fitness changed dramatically.

Sure, running is awesome and all. But no one can run 7 days week, 4 weeks a month, and 12 months a year. And if you only run and do nothing but running all year long, then this will undoubtedly lead to boredom and may also result in a painful burnout, overtraining and severe injury.

On the other hand, if you are serious about exploring every aspect of your fitness, and why not, become a well-rounded athlete, you need to start cross training and doing other sports that don’t involve pounding the pavement.

Why is Cross training awesome?

Well, for starters, cross training can help you strengthen your non-running muscles, which is critical for fixing muscle imbalances that lie at the root of many an overuse injury.

Not only that, the right cross training regime will also help improve strength, power, speed, mobility, stability, balance and proprioception—keys elements in becoming a well-rounded athlete. When all of these fitness facets are improved, you will be able to become more of a complete runner.

In fact, runners who keep their training program comprehensive and well-rounded are often the fittest and the healthiest.

Also, if you are in a running rut, adding variety to your training program can also help ward off boredom and keep the fun and enjoyment in your training program.

So whether you are a newbie or an elite marathoner, you can benefit a lot from adding variety to your training program.

Some of the finest cross-training activities for runners include cycling, yoga, swimming, weight lifting, and why not if you have the time and willingness, CrossFit.

9. There is no such Thing as a Bad Weather

One of the toughest lessons I had to learn early on is that there is no such thing a perfect weather for a run. Sure, spring is here, and the weather is awesome, but what about when it’s too cold in winter? Or when it’s too hot in the summer?

Well, if you are gonna become an all year round runner, then you will have to learn how to keep your runs consistent under all sorts of weather. No exception.

In fact, running in bad weather won’t kill you. Au contraire my friend, running in the cold and or the heat will make you feel unstoppable and do up your confidence.

So please don’t let the bad weather stand in the way of your success.

Provided that you have the right gear and have taken the right measure, it’s possible to run when the weather isn’t perfect, therefore, have the right gear for the job and be smart about it, and it will be over before you know it

Just be smart here and dress right for the weather. Opt for running clothing made from special fabric that wicks away moisture and helps keep your body warm and dry.

Here are two guides to help you run in the summer and winter with ease.

10. Running Sucks Sometimes

Motivation is a fleeting mistress.

It comes and goes, even for the most disciplined and serious runners, and that’s completely normal.

In other words, bad runs, bad workouts, bad days, even bad weeks, happen, and you shouldn’t be beating yourself about it.

For idealist folks, this is a hard one to swallow. Being a perfectionist myself, this was one of the toughest running lessons in my life. I always felt like that every and each one of my runs should go as smooth as possible. But that’s not how things happen in the real world.

A bad run, just like a bad day, is a part of any sport. You can’t avoid it no matter how hard you try. Even after becoming an elite runner, bad days are a part of the running deal.

On some days you will feel great for the whole workout and on other days you will be struggling just after a few minutes into your run.

Why? There can be a million reasons: lack of sleep, overtraining, injury, stress, bad nutrition, etc., but all in all, some runs are just gonna suck, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Therefore, embrace that fact, and realize that you can’t expect to love every run and have enough motivation every day of the year. You just need to have faith, trust the process and know, deep down, that if you keep going strong, you will eventually reach your destination.

Featured Image Credit – Alleh Lindquist via Flickr

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David Dack

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