To the unknowing spectator, running appears to be a simple sport — physically demanding, of course, but not requiring much more than speed and endurance. To the runner, however, it is far more than just slipping on some running shoes, tying up your laces and running a set distance.
Running is undeniably as mentally demanding as it is physically, if not even more so. Running requires determination, mental strength and clarity, plus the ability to listen to your body on top of the physical demands. For beginners, this is a hard concept to grasp, and there can be an overwhelming amount of running advice available. As you progress as a runner, the best advice will come from those who will help you see the whole picture.
Avoid lofty goals. Do not begin your journey to become a runner by setting the bar too high. Pick one goal: speed, form or distance, whichever you choose. As a beginner, choosing one aspect of running to focus on will help you see the improvements that are occurring. If you focus on two goals, like increasing your pace and your distance, you may find yourself burned out and discouraged. Many beginners cannot increase pace and see their distance increase at the same time — it requires double the effort. Focusing on one goal allows you to get a full understanding of how you tick as a runner. Set mini goals — goals that require a shorter time frame and that you will have an easier time achieving. Having a smaller goal to focus on for a shorter amount of time will help you avoid the overwhelming feeling of your ultimate goal and will help you get to that finish line.
Find a race and set a date! If you are just starting out as a runner, setting your sights on your first race can be frightening. As you progress, registering for an even longer, tougher race can be just as frightening. Researching races in your area and registering as soon as possible can mean the difference between being fully prepared or giving up, because there is nothing holding you down. Having a race paid for and a date set means you are less likely to back down from your goal. No one wants to waste money! Set a date and go for it!
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Log your runs. Writing down the details of your runs can help you discover a number of important details about who you are as a runner. Are you enjoying shorter, faster runs more than the slower, longer runs? Is there a distance you are getting hung up on? Are you “hitting the wall” at a certain mile? Are you finding it difficult to overcome hills? What is your best time of day to run? Do you prefer a certain type of weather? Writing down the details of your runs will allow you to physically see the improvements you are making in your training, as well as help you reflect on what you love or hate most about running.
Celebrate milestones. Celebrate your milestones, even if they are small. Give yourself the credit you deserve for every mile you run farther, for every personal time record you set and for every hill you overcome. Knowing how far you have come as a runner boosts your confidence, increases your motivation to continue and helps you determine your next goal. You put in the hard work, so why not give yourself the credit?
Focus on your own identity as a runner. The hardest part of running, as with any sport, is the balance of competitiveness and sportsmanship. As a beginner, it is crucial to remember that you are just starting out and will not be able to be the fastest or run the farthest. Running may come easier to others, but hard work pays off. Make your runs and your races about your own personal accomplishments. Everyone comes from the same place — the very first step — and there is only room for improvement. The more pride you have in how far you have come, the easier it will be to improve. Remembering that a mile is a mile no matter how fast or how slow you run it can help you get through those moments when you “wish.”
Invest in your feet. See a professional to have your feet fitted for the right shoe. We all run differently. Sports specialty stores usually have staff on hand that are trained to study your stride, your gait and other important details of your form as a runner. These details may even change as your time as a runner goes on. Purchasing the right shoes for you specifically can help make the transition from non-runner to runner easier and less painful. It can also help prevent injury. Do not be afraid to invest a little bit of money in your shoes (and other gear) if you are planning on running seriously — the cost will be far less now than if an injury occurs.
Don’t be afraid to go “naked.” Very few runners can go long without noticing that their “stats” are constantly rolling around in their heads. Especially if you are training for a specific race, watching your GPS watch can have you focusing on the technical side of running more often than you want, which can be aggravating. iPods are also a popular gadget for runners, allowing them to drown out the mental aspect of running. Leaving your Garmin and your iPod at home can help you refocus. Focusing on your breath without loud music can actually help you steady your pace. Leaving your Garmin behind can help you avoid the dreaded question “I have how much to go?” Running “naked” can help you learn to embrace your surroundings and enjoy your run.
Surround yourself with support. Having family and friends around to support you as a beginner is crucial to your success. Surround yourself with people that are runners and those that are not. Having both on your side can be great for any obstacle you may find yourself trying to overcome. Being able to turn to other runners for advice can help you understand what may be holding you back or whether you are overanalyzing your runs. Having friends that do not run can mean the difference between hearing you inspire them to try or not. Knowing that you are inspiring others or that you are doing everything just fine can help you get through the tough times you may encounter.
Visualize your success. If you can see it, you can be it. Visualize that sprint crossing the finish line. Daydream about that medal being placed around your neck. If you allow yourself to think your way to success, you are more likely to succeed in reaching your goals. Doing this allows you to build yourself up and believe in what you are doing. Running is not an easy sport, but it truly rewards those who work hard.
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