So, you want to run?
By Sean Cook
Some of the more frequent questions I get asked are how do I run a marathon or how do I start running or I used to run and need help getting back into running. I have answered these on a case by case basis but when my cousin asked me I thought I owed people a better explanation about running and how it is for everyone. So, I went about gathering a couple notes, ideas, and a little bit of my history to help you all along. Remember in 2015 I ran my first half Marathon, Marathon, Ultra, 50 Miler, and 100 Miler. It was a crash course maybe not the best for everyone but if you believe in yourself and you trust in your training you can do anything you put your mind to.
The first thing you must know and respect about running is that it is, well they like to say it is, 90% mental. For the most part that is true. The mental part of running comes into play when you think about motivation to run, dedication to running, and commitment to the task at hand. You need to first decide in your mind that this is what you want to do. You also need to determine what is it you want to get out of this experience. For some people, it is a health benefit, for some people it is a life change, for some people it is a social event, for some people it is an escape, and for some people it is an activity that keeps your mind busy and lets you think freely.
When I got into running, hardcore, it was on a dare to enter a legendary race, Leadville 100. Before this I had run off and on during my military career but I never was a guy that went to road races or ran trails. However, looking back there were a lot of signs I was a runner I just never turned that corner until 2015 at the ripe age of 42. In High School Football, I won the “Lap Award,” for having to run the most laps for missing a block or something like that. In College, I always found myself on the other side of the rulebook, it was a military school, and I walked almost 300 tours, 287 to be exact. You walk these back and forth on a checkered quad and 1 tour equals 1 hour. Also in College, I went to the Air Assault school and was the 12-mile Road March Champion, which at the time I thought was a prestigious event. During my 20+ year career in the Army I competed in the Best Ranger Competition and did a couple of other fun events but always ran in the 3-5-mile range. I never saw myself as a distance runner because I played rugby and I lifted. The older I got the more I realized the benefits of running and saw this as a new challenge for me in life. It was something I grew to love. Looking back, I never thought I would enjoy jogging 10 miles every other day but now I realize how it makes me feel and what it does for my body and I respect that. I only mention all of this because you must find yourself and know yourself before you jump into the deep end of the pool and start running marathons or ultras.
So, where do you start once you realize this is for you and you realize what you want to get out of your running adventures? The first thing you need to do is some research. Read some of the blogs on running by other runners, especially new runners. Look up some of the websites that give you examples of couch to 5K successes. These are great tools and useful when you start planning your journey to your goal. Something you need to be is realistic along this journey. You cannot pick up running and decide to do a 5K next weekend and expect to do well. The practical person would set a goal, if it is a 5K, 6-8 weeks out which should give you enough time to get your legs, feet, and mind ready for this task. There is also a machismo thing to get up and out the door and run like you are being chased or the house is on fire. You must know who you are and what your body can handle before breaking it down. Know your limits and build up to higher limits as your body gets stronger. If your goal is that 5k then you might want to see if you can run 5K without stopping at any speed. If you can then that is your base time you work from. You can then either build up to a faster time and your training progresses or you can change your goals to maybe a 10K or Half Marathon. Just be careful you don’t bite off more than you can chew in training and races. You can certainly sign up for a Half Marathon and finish it but at what cost? Are you going to walk 8-9 miles of it and run 4-5 miles of it? If your pace is 10-11 minutes while running and 15-17 while walking you are doubling the time on your feet. You are stressing your body out for longer than you may have ever stressed it in training. Rule #1 don’t sign up for a race unless you have previously run that distance in training. Your only exception to this rule is a 50 Miler, 100K, or 100+ mile race. Those are meant to be grueling but if you can run a 50K you can run a 100K with the right amount of training. Remember no one is born with running shoes on. Everyone must start somewhere to climb the mountain.
Knowing your body and knowing what you can and cannot do is extremely important and I cannot say it enough. Now there will be days where you don’t feel like running, your feet hurt, you have blisters, you have a lost toenail, you have plantar fasciitis, you are suffering from a cold, it is raining out, you forgot your Garmin, or whatever reason it is. There are 1001 excuses and exceptions to running you can come up with. I will tell you this, rule #2 know your body and know what you can and cannot do. On some of these days you need to find alternative activities and I will discuss a couple of them I have used and done to help break up the runs or pain/injuries from runs. The first thing I HIGHLY recommend is HOT Yoga! Regular yoga is good and it does what you want in that it stretches your body and relaxes it all at the same time. The thing I like about hot yoga versus regular yoga is the heat adds another level to your practice. For me it feels better on my joints in a hot yoga class. It also gets me to sweat more than a regular yoga class and on days that I don’t run, an hour or hour and a half hot yoga class is amazing to your body. The best thing is if it is cool out and you leave the studio and walk outside and breath some nice crisp cool air. It is one of the best feelings in the world besides being on the trail alone and in the dark. Just kidding about the dark part LOL! The other thing that I have done in the past but not as much since I started running was CrossFit. Everyone has their different views on CrossFit and that is fine but there are some fundamental techniques and exercises in CrossFit that are good for runners. If it involves a dynamic lift and flipping a bar or something over my head with too much weight as fast as I can….I will skip it. But I do enjoy some of the exercises like rowing, running, front squats, running, core work, lunges, and some other body weight type movements. Anything bodyweight is usually not going to be bad for you (dips, push-ups, sit ups, etc.) when done correctly. I usually only go like once a week. Finally, the third thing you can do instead of running on off days is active stretching or dynamic stretching with a roller, ball, or anything else you want to add to it. You can find these stretches online or in running magazines. Take about 15-20 minutes a day and do this to help relax the joints and tense muscles/tendons. Stretching goes like this…it is the first thing you will forget to do before and after a workout. It is the first thing that when in a time crunch you will cut out, the second thing here is sleep and you can read my article last week about sleep and how it impacts you. So, the golden rule here is when you aren’t running or you have a day off, make good use of it and take care of your body in the process. It will help you stay on track.
So, we have talked about a lot of concepts and said a lot of things but at the end of the day it is you who decides to or not to lace up your shoes and get outside for a walk or a run. You also can do other things to help yourself in the journey and we talked about cross training and other activities you can do. Three of the important things you need to consider are sleep, stretching, and eating. These are three basic things that many people take for granted or DON’T do right! It is easy to get fast food. It is easy to just take off on a run or just hop in your car when done. It is easy to mis-manage sleep when you are up against a busy work or family schedule. At the end of the day the more prepared you are and the more planned out you are results in the more likely you will do it! Plan in your stretching pre-and post running. Google these concepts and come up with a good 5 minute warm up and cool down prior to running. Read my last blog on sleeping for a couple ideas on managing your sleep schedule. Finally, when you want to eat good you need to plan. Don’t walk into a grocery store without a plan or you leave looking like you are a sugar addict. Stick to natural foods. Avoid sugars when possible. Avoid processed foods. Those are a couple of my tricks. I like to cook for the wife so I plan my meals and usually cook 3-5 times a week. I don’t add much of anything to foods excepts salts and lots of flavor. I use left overs for lunch supplemented with water, black coffee and lots of fruits or natural fruit type bars (Larabars). You should be smart about this and it has to be a joint approach if you are married or have a family. Really this all comes back to you. How bad do you want to get out the door and run? Why not do it on optimal sleep with a balanced diet helping you. Think about it, you can do more than you think you can! Plan.
At the end of the day it is you that must look in the mirror and come face to face with the effort and work you have put into you becoming a better you. Besides the facts of getting healthy, feeling better about yourself and living longer there are thousands of other benefits from running and living a healthy lifestyle. Each one of us has a different reason for why we run and what you need to do is find that reason and turn it all the way up and enjoy the journey!
See you on the trail!
‘Live Free Run Free’
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