Tell me if this sounds familiar: You decide to start running, whether because you want to lose some weight, relieve some stress, or you just always had a goal of finishing a race. The first day, you’re pumped. Lacing up your shoes, you head out the door picturing images of graceful deer or maybe a gazelle leaping across the plains. You are strong! You are graceful! You are a runner!
Within three minutes, heart pounding, lungs burning, legs screaming, you stop. Hunching over, clutching the stitch in your side, you wonder, “Who in their right mind ENJOYS this?!”
Ah, my friend, you have succumbed to the one mistake most beginning runners make.
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You are Not a Gazelle
Sorry to inform you, but while some runners make running look easy (Hello, Shalane Flanagan!), for us mere mortals, runners is a slow, hard process. Yes, you will get to the point where you do feel strong and “gazelle-like” during your runs, but when you first start out, you feel more like an elephant or maybe a hippo – lots of noise and effort, but no real progress.
Believe me, I’ve been there! The first cross-country practice I ever had, we were suppose to run 2 miles. I made it about half a mile before I stopped, grabbed the pain in my side, and seriously considered quitting.
I didn’t. I kept going, but not until I learned a very important secret: Beginning runners start out TOO FAST.
It’s an easy mistake to make. If you’ve never run before, or are coming back after YEARS off of running, you may have no idea how fast to go, so you just run. The problem is most beginning runners chose a pace that is unsustainable for them to keep up for any more than a few minutes or a couple of blocks. It’s miserable, and it immediately turns them off to any further running.
So let me share a couple of my favorite tricks to help you find a better pace.
The Talk Test
First of all, when you start out running, your aerobic ability is probably not very well-developed. Aerobic base training (basically, working your muscles WITH oxygen), is super important to make you a more efficient runner. By training aerobically, you allow your muscles to become very efficient at using oxygen. This is kind of important, since your muscle’s ability to use oxygen can be the difference between finishing that 5k, or collapsing at the half mile mark of your race.
One really great way to ensure that you don’t start out to fast is to use the “talk test.” The talk test means that you can hold a conversation while running. This works great with a running buddy, since you have someone to actually talk to, but go ahead and talk to yourself if you prefer to run alone. You don’t want to be singing show tunes, (that’s TOO easy), but if you can carry on a conversation, your starting at the right pace.
The Heart Rate
Another way of measuring pace is to use a heart rate monitor. One method that can really be helpful for beginning runners is to use the MAF Method developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone. He uses the heart rate formula of 180 minus your age to find the heart rate you should be training at. (There are other factors that can contribute to finding your heart rate, which you can check out here.)
For example. I’m 34 years old. To find my target heart rate, I take 180 – 34 = 146. This means that when running, my goal is to keep my heart rate at 146 beats per minute. So if it spikes, I have to slow down to bring it back to 146. This may also mean taking walking breaks. (See next point.)
I read Dr. Maffetone’s book, The Maffetone Method a while ago, and would highly recommend it to anyone just starting out and wanting to improve their health. He goes into the concept further and also addresses other health related topics like diet and stress.
The one downside is that this method does require a heart rate monitor (like this one), but the feedback you can from it can be very helpful.
Take Walking Breaks
If you’ve ever seen or attempted a couch to 5k program, you may have noticed that in the beginning weeks of training, there are scheduled walking breaks. It might look something like “run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes.” As I mentioned before, this helps the novice runner build the very important aerobic base by allowing your body recovery breaks between running.
There is no shame in talking walking breaks if you need them. Taking a break and resting might be just the thing you need in order to finish the run.
The final trick to try is to start short. You gotta crawl before you can walk, amiright? There is nothing more disheartening then going out for a three mile run only to stop and head home before you’ve even finished a mile.
If you’re brand new to running, I would recommend running by time instead of distance. Start with 10 or 20 minutes of running, using the talk test, or talking walking breaks as you need them. Then as you get stronger, you can gradually increase the time, and if you want, switch to distance.
You can bet, even after nearly 20 years of running, once Baby Girl is born, I will be using some of these tricks so help me build my base back up again. That first run out the door is going to be tough and very, very slow.
But I can almost guarantee you, within a couple of weeks, you will get stronger. It will feel easier. You may even surprise yourself at how far you can run, or how long you can keep going.
You may even start to feel like a gazelle.
Are you a runner? Looking to get started? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear from you!
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