5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Running: A Coach Explains

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I’ve been a runner for 24 years, more than half my life. I wasn’t always a runner, though. My first fitness love was swimming, a sport that requires an inordinate amount of coordination, physical fitness, and dedication. However, swimming doesn’t require an abundant amount of equipment, it naturally protects against nasty injuries like stress fractures, and somehow the sanctuary of the water offers a modicum of privacy—a security that seems to belie the scrutiny of others.

When I first started running, I detested it; I considered myself a swimmer who ran for conditioning. I paid little attention to how I ran, because, truly, I just counted the minutes until I was done. But at some point, running became more than an onerous task to augment my swimming...I actually started to like it.

My newfound zeal for running came with some reprisal. I could no longer ignore how I ran and I could no longer ignore that running equipment was as important as how I ran. I learned these two truths in the worst of ways: I got injured.

Luckily, I have become a lot more knowledgeable over the years, which has only amplified my love for running. I hope my five tips for new runners will help you love running as much as I do.

1. Pick the right shoes, and know how long they’ll last.

There are so many types of running shoes on the market, it is hard to know where to begin. The new rage is maximalist shoes that have beefy, cushioned soles. On the other end of the spectrum are minimalist shoes that supposedly mimic barefoot running in order to promote better biomechanics. Some shoes have a very high 12-mm heel-to-toe drop, while others are level front-to-back. When you mix and match the combinations of possibilities, the choices can be overwhelming.

Research has been mixed on what type of shoes can prevent or cause injuries. One study indicated that minimalist shoes could create more efficiency and better biomechanics; however, another study indicated that they can cause injury in heavier runners. Yet another study found that level of heel-to-toe drop didn’t seem to affect mechanics. The best method of choosing a running shoe? Find the shoe that is most comfortable when you run in it.

You may be wondering how long a running shoe lasts. It’s a good question, without a great answer. The standard answer is 200 to 400 miles, but this will vary wildly depending on the shoe and the runner. A running shoe’s life does not depend on whether it is dirty but how worn down the underside becomes. Some shoes will last only 100 miles while others may last over 400 miles.

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2. Choose the right sports bra.

Ladies, there is no reason the girls should be uncomfortable. Bra-fitting expert Kim Hawksworth tells me that a sports bra should be comfortable but a little snug, and most importantly, there shouldn’t be any breast tissue coming out the top, sides, or underneath the bra. (If this happens, your bra is too small.) On the other hand, Kim says, “If your bra strap rises in the back or if you can pull the strap more than an inch away from your skin, the bra is too large.” Women who experience bounce should look for a bra that both encapsulates and compresses, to provide maximum support with the least amount of movement.

3. Overcome your self-consciousness.

I have a very distinct running stride. My feet turn out, my elbows are wide, and my mouth is always hanging wide open as if I am trying to catch flies (and I have caught more than a few). I have tried to perfect my running form over the years, and in many ways I have. But I still do not look as natural running as I do swimming. When I see race photos, I often cringe, but I no longer worry about how others perceive my running. It took some time to overcome that self-consciousness, but, ultimately, once I understood that I really enjoyed running, it superseded how I looked running. Running in public can garner feelings of discomfort; it does take courage to get out there, especially in the beginning. Rather than focus on what other people are thinking (which is probably nothing, anyway) focus on the euphoria, health benefits, and satisfaction.

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4. Work on form to prevent injury.

Here in Boulder, there are all manner of runners, from world-record holders to beginners. With so much diversity in ability, there is also tremendous variety in running mechanics. Some runners look like gazelles while others look like they are struggling mightily. It is easy to ignore the fundamentals of running; working on running form is not nearly as much fun as running itself. Certainly, running form is like a fingerprint; everyone has their own unique style. But there are certain -isms of running that apply to everyone that should be blended into the natural gait.

I believe that the most important form tip is running at a high cadence of 90 “beats” per minute (i.e., 180 for both legs) or above, which is more efficient and can help prevent some running-related injuries.

You can obtain your cadence by counting each time your right foot hits the ground over a 15-second period and multiplying that by four (if you double that number you will have your whole gait cycle). If that number is below 90 (or 180), your cadence is too low.

Here is a drill that can help with your cadence:

5. Make it fun

The best way to stick to a running program is to make it fun. Make your training social. Sign up for a race. Find new routes. Travel somewhere new and explore the area on foot. Attend a camp, clinic, or group run. Enjoy nature. Meet new people. Run with your dog. Enjoy the weather. Mix up the intensity and terrain of your runs.

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