Up to this point I haven’t written a thing about running on this blog. It’s been all about cooking, particularly vegetarian or almost-vegetarian cooking. I’ve tried to choose recipes that are hearty and nutritious (remember “vegetarian” could also mean Coke and fries) and could complement a training program, but certainly one could enjoy this food without ever thinking about running or exercising.
My assumption is that most of the readers of this young blog are interested in healthy eating but are not runners, which is nothing to be ashamed of since even a slight interest in not eating yourself to death sets you apart from vast majorities of Americans. But still, in writing about running for the first time, there is some risk of alienating those readers who have grown accustomed to enjoying the recipes and the pictures of me eating food. But you know what, it’s not called No-Meat Television Watcher, so I’m willing to take that risk.
That said, I’m not going to immediately start discussing how to take ten minutes off your marathon time, how to avoid chafing, or prerace Port-a-Pot strategy (although come to think of it, vegetarian Port-a-Pot strategy might make a great post later on). These are topics best left to blogs specifically about running. Like RunnerDude’s, which I just found yesterday and have added to the “Links” section of this blog. On just the first page there’s information about shoes, energy bars, technical apparel, and yoga for runners, so if you’re at all into running then check this one out.
My focus here is more on introducing you to running (and when I say “running,” I’m referring to distance running, 5k and longer). I’ll be the first to admit that running is not the healthiest sport out there. The rate of calorie burning is something like 1000 per hour, but it’s high-impact and therefore tough on your joints, bones, and muscles. Truthfully swimming and cycling are probably lower-risk endurance sports, but the fact is that not everyone has access to a pool or decent roadbike. And my favorite thing about running: you can put on a shirt, shorts, and a pair of shoes, and literally go from desk jockey to road warrior in three minutes.
When I talk to non-runners about running, their response is usually “That’s awesome that you like running that much; I love the idea of doing a marathon, but I just hate the actual running.” A well-known variation involves replacing “hate” with “suck at.” Well here’s a secret for you: I don’t really like running much either, and I’m by no means gifted at it.
As recently as sophomore year of college (eight years ago is still recent, right?), I hated running. I decided to do a marathon precisely because it seemed impossible, and for whatever reason, things that seem impossible are as exciting to me now as they were to that stupid college kid. So a couple of friends and I gave it the old college try, and while the results weren’t pretty, all three of us crossed the finish line in San Diego a few months later.
Like I said, we were stupid. We didn’t know anything about training, and we went about it all wrong. It didn’t occur to us that maybe when we have to run n miles tomorrow, we shouldn’t drink n+1 beers tonight. So while the process didn’t do much to ease my hatred of running, it did accomplish something else. It made me realize that I love training. There is a subtle but important difference here. I still don’t particularly enjoy doing an eight-mile threshold run where the specific instructions are “maintain an uncomfortable pace,” and there’s nothing fun for me about running 20 miles on a precious Sunday morning when I’d prefer to leisurely do the crossword puzzle with a cup of coffee. But when I step back and realize that I’m training for something, that the sacrifices I’ve made and the pain I’ve endured will allow me to do something that a few months ago was impossible, then I realize why I run. And it sure makes the pizza, milkshake, or whatever else I reward myself with taste a whole lot better.
I’m not asking you to start running if you don’t run already. You probably have plenty of other pressures in your life without my nagging, and besides, it’s not for everyone. All that I want is for you to reconsider your reason for not running, and to appreciate that you don’t have to enjoy the actual act of running to get a tremendous amount of gratification out of the process of training for something which, to say it again, on some level seems impossible. And please don’t misunderstand me; the actual act of running does become much more enjoyable as you train your body to perform more efficiently. The bulk of my actual training mileage is done at a comfortable pace, and in fact all of yours could be if that were your priority. Finally, if for whatever reason you physically cannot run, then everything I’ve written could apply to biking, swimming, or something else that you are able to do.
Running Tips for Beginners
So for those of you who are just getting into running or want to start, here’s the advice I can offer based on my experience and learning:
- Choose a goal, be it an event, a weight, or anything else that motivates you. Don’t make it a reasonable goal; reasonable goals don’t get you out the door when it’s raining. Make it unreasonable, something that will make your friends laugh at you when you tell them.
- That said, don’t hurt yourself. If you’re new to running and want to do a half marathon, you had better make sure you have many months until the race. Do research and figure out how long you need.
- Find a good training plan online or at the bookstore to give you some direction.
- Run slowly! This is the biggest thing I can think of that will make running tolerable if you currently hate it.
- Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent each week, even less in the beginning.
- Put a bunch of different types of songs on your iPod and see what works for you. Having music makes a huge difference for me. Just don’t get hit by a car.
That’s what I have for you. I realize it’s not much, but if you choose to get into running, you’ll find it easy to get lots more information. Please, runners or other athletes, if you have anything to add, leave a comment! Thanks for reading, everyone. Food and pictures of me eating it will be back tomorrow!
[UPDATE- See How I Plan to Qualify for the Boston Marathon for more running info!]