Running: The Idiot’s Guide (PART I)

I’ve now been running for 1 year and 8 months. In that time I’ve run nearly 1,500 miles (that’s almost Dublin to Rome according to google maps). That to most of my fellow runners isn’t a mind blowing feat but for those who knew me before I started running it’s a little more surprising and I also find people that don’t run at all find those kind of numbers startling.

Many people have seen the positive changes I’ve made and want to try running for themselves. A few people I know have succeeded and I’m pleased to say are still regularly running and feeling the benefits. For many people though it just doesn’t seem to stick. There can be lots of reasons for this. Some are good, some are bad. I decided I’d post these tips to hopefully help give you the best chance of making it stick. Some of you will find stuff like this easy and won’t need this post (turn away now). I didn’t find it so easy and if your journey starts anywhere close to where mine did then hopefully it’ll help. These are the things I’ve learnt on my journey from Fat Bastard to Forrest Gump. I’m certainly no expert (in fact I’m an idiot – hence the title of this post) but I do love a good run now and hopefully something below will be of use to you so you can enjoy running as well.

This first set of tips will focus on some basic things like motivation and expectations. Think of them as Disco’s general running philosophy. I’ll follow this up with some more practical type tips in PART II covering things like clothing, gear, blisters, nipples etc. (yes nipples!)

1. Understand Your Reasons

If you’ve embarked on reading these tips then you’ve probably already made the choice to give running a try. I think an important part of succeeding is understanding why you’ve made the decision to run in the first place. The reasons behind you wanting to give this a try are going to be the most powerful weapons in your mental arsenal. They will be needed to keep you motivated and battling on if things feel hard later on. When you first start out keep these reasons in your head and running through your mind. Running is always more of a mental challenge than a physical one. That’s good news. It means however unfit you are you can succeed you just need to be mentally strong. That strength comes from finding a good source of motivation.

2. Manage Your Expectations

If I gave you a lump of stone, a hammer and a set of chisels and two days could you make me a beautiful statue worthy of a place in the national gallery? Nope. Why not – you have all the materials you need? OK this may be a silly example but this is one of the most important things you need to figure out about running. If you’ve not run before or for some time (and I mean run any distance over 1000 metres) then do not expect to just go out and run for 30+ minutes at a decent pace without stopping. Unless you are already pretty fit, it just won’t happen. Don’t feel bad about it that is completely normal. When I started I could not run around the block without stopping 3-4 times and having an asthma attack. I can now run 20+ miles with reasonable comfort. The only change is that I’ve stuck with it for 20 months and allowed my body to adapt.

You have the raw materials ( if you can walk you can probably run right?) but it will take time to get them ready to work in this way. Your body is a very clever machine but give it time to adjust and manage your mental expectations around this. Don’t run twice and decide it isn’t for you because it felt hard or you didn’t achieve the distance or pace you think you should be capable of. It took me about 10-12 long weeks of running 3 times a week until I could run non-stop for 30mins(5K/3.1 miles). I followed a ‘couch to 5k program’ which helps you manage these expectations and build up slowly. You start out walking more than you run and gradually change thing around. These programs are not for everybody but I’d suggest well worth a try. These days you can get apps for your phone, podcasts for your mp3 player, watch timers and all-sorts to give you some help. They do everything for you but the actual running. Just google C25K if you want to try.

Whatever method you try, keep in mind it will take some time for your body and mind to adjust to the point you feel comfortable running a reasonable distance (5km is a good target to get you going). Having your motivation straight in your head will help you to keep going out and keep trying. Just because results don’t happen instantly does not mean they won’t happen. Stick to it. What’s your hurry anyway? Doing something is better than doing nothing so give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the journey (however long it takes).

The other thing to keep in mind is your pace or speed. When you start out take it slow. Real slow. Worry about getting quicker once you can run solidly for 30 minutes. Until that point think slow slow slow.  Not speed walking but a slow jog/run. Nothing quicker. Once you get more into running you’ll get to realise that even accomplished runners don’t do every run as fast they can. If I run 4 times a week only one or possibly two of those runs will be at a quick pace. Running at a comfortably slow pace has several training benefits so get used to it from the beginning and feel happy about approaching the run in that way.

3. Hard Work and Pain

Running will hurt. It will be uncomfortable. You will sweat (LOTS!). Your legs and feet (in fact all of your body) will hurt or ache like they never have before. You will struggle to breathe. You may suffer from stitches. You will have to run in the rain and when it’s cold and possibly dark. At some point you will encounter some kind of pain related to running. This is the truth of running. Those people on the television adverts making it look easy and cool…..They Lie! Welcome to the real world. OK I’m exaggerating slightly but again this is about knowing what to expect when you start running so it does not come as a surprise and make you stop.

The good news is it does get easier (much easier). The more you do it the less painful it becomes and if you take it slow and build things up gradually you will make it easier for yourself. Once again concentrate on your reasons for starting this in the first place to keep you going through the discomfort. Mental strength will be required to overcome the physical shortcomings. Once your body then adapts, your mind will be given the odd day off and can start to enjoy the run; plan what your having for supper that night etc. Keep in mind the benefits you will get if you can make it through the other side of the pain . . . you’ll have a healthier heart, you will lose weight, you will sleep better, have more energy, be happier, less grumpy, effected less by stress and anxiety, have a better immune system, improved confidence, better sexual performance (don’t snigger it’s true), have increased mental agility. I could go on and on about the benefits but basically this comes down to the old adage NO PAIN – NO GAIN. Expect pain, plan for it, have a mental technique to get you through it and you will see the benefits.

4. Celebrate Your Successes

This one is simple but of huge benefit if you can get it right. Weirdly for most people I’ve noticed it doesn’t come natural. Stop being Negative! Don’t finish a run and focus on what hurt, what you didn’t achieve.  Focus on what went well. Did you go further than last time? Were your quicker? Was it less painful? Hell you got off your arse and went for a run….It doesn’t matter how crap it might have felt you should give yourself huge props for getting out and giving it a go. Did you enjoy the view? Obviously you do have to be critical to a certain extent to push yourself to improve performance but find some balance and middle ground. Don’t fall into a spiral of negative thoughts.

It’s not always easy to do and in fact I often forget (like I said I’m not perfect) but if you can crack this you’ll always think about running as  a positive thing and that will always make it easier to then build into your routine.

5. Challenges and Goals (once you’re ready to move on)

The other technique I’ve used to good effect is to give myself some improbable targets. Once I started running 5k I saw the benefits, kept doing it and before long was able to just about run 5-6 miles. At that point I decided I’d enter a 10 mile race. I’d never ran 10 miles let alone ever entered a race and my body and mind were telling me it would be impossible. The reality is giving myself enough time (3-4 months) to train it wasn’t impossible at all, just improbable.  Once you can  achieve your first goal you soon realise nearly anything is possible if you set your mind to it. After 10 miles, I entered a half-marathon and decided to try and run 1000 miles in the calendar year. Then I decided to run a marathon for my birthday. Next year it will be a marathon race, the Grizzly and whatever other improbable targets I can come up with. These are all just tools to keep me motivated and keep me working hard. The harder I work the greater the benefits. Max Effort In = Max Gain Out. Simple mathematics really.  The process of setting a tough goal and then beating it is pretty addictive. Be warned! lol. If you are just starting out keep your goals simple. Just getting out and running should be enough but once you feel like it has become routine then start to up the stakes a little. Push yourself.

These changing goals feed back into the motivation and your reasons to run though. Many of the reasons I started running for I no longer have to worry about or they don’t hold the same power for me now I’ve come this far. Some still do. I have to keep revisiting this and creating new inner-demons or crazy challenges to battle. It’s all just one big mind game.

I’ll leave it at that for the moment as hopefully there is enough here to get you started. Let me know if you’ve found this useful in the comments section and I can then start work on Part II. Likewise if you’ve tried running and it didn’t stick and want to give it another go then tell me about it, what went wrong and I may be able to give some advice.

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