a beginner’s guide to running: the mental edition

This is for all my ladies and gents out there who have said to themselves at one time or another “I could never run that far.” Remember Chef Gusteau’s motto from Ratatouille “Anyone can cook”? Change one word and that sums up my feelings exactly, *anyone can run.

*who doesn’t have severe back injuries, knee injuries, a lack of two functioning legs or other debilitating health issues. If you do not have any of those things, be grateful, sheesh. And stop being afraid of running.

I wanted to publish a beginner’s guide in The Happiest Runner on Earth last year, but somehow it got away from me. In all honesty, giving people advice about running intimidates me probably as much as running itself intimidates you. Offering advice implies that I actually know what I’m doing, which is not something I usually feel confident about when it comes to anything athletic, BUT, I ran a Half Marathon last year. I ran the entire time. I have to accept the fact that I must know a thing or two about endurance running or I would not have been able to finish without serious injury, mental or physical. Suddenly I feel like sitting up a little straighter, letting my nose ever so slightly rise up into the air. That’s right! I DO know some things. I’m no Jeff Galloway, and I am not a role model for speed, but I am an amateur runner who has learned a great deal from my running adventures, and who has a strong desire to inspire people who are afraid of running, to run. It’s fun! Let’s get to it:

Preface: as I alluded to above, I am a complete amateur. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I don’t mean to talk myself down but I want you to know that I have never consulted with a professional trainer about running and every piece of advice I can offer comes completely from personal experience. These are the things that work for me. Running is such a personal sport in so many ways. Not only are you competing against yourself and relying completely on your body, your will, your spirit to get you across the finish line, but what you discover works for you will not work for a hundred other people, and what works for a hundred other people will not work for you. The following techniques have steered me clear of injury and discouragement. Give ’em a try. If you end up disagreeing completely with what I have to say, let me know and let’s start a healthy dialogue. Or we can yell at each other. That’s fun too.

  1. ANYONE CAN DO IT. Finishing a Half Marathon, Marathon or Triathlon displays three things about a person. 1) She likes running. 2) She is patient. 3) She is determined. (Or “he.” So what, I had to pick a pronoun and writer’s ALWAYS pick “he.” Drives me bananas.) If #1 applies to you, then anyone and everyone can accomplish #2 and #3. The part about liking running, well, you either do or you don’t. Craving the experience and loving the sport are both very important components to becoming an endurance runner. Now, there’s a bit of a tricky catch to this. You may think you hate running because you’ve never given it a fair shot. Or maybe you’ve been running with bad form, or trying to force yourself to run too far too quick. All things that would turn off even the most seasoned athlete. It’s like sex. If every girl forecast her sexual future based entirely upon her first time, there would be no new babies in this world. Thank God we take it on a wing and a prayer that “it’s not always going to feel like that, right?” Same with running. You may discover, if you do it the right way, that running and you go together like Rebecca and Ice Cream:

    mmmm, i love ice cream

    To all the running/jogging haters out there, follow my advice in this guide and see if it changes your outlook. If you truly do hate running, then I’m afraid I can’t help you friend; but I can point you in the direction of the lap pool or the spinning studio. Try those out.

  2. DON’T BE AFRAID. Running is the art of the possible. When I talk to non-runners about finishing a Half Marathon, I often get the response “I can’t believe it! I could NEVER do that!” I feel proud of the accomplishment, but I kid you not when I say, it’s really not that big of a deal. You (yes I mean YOU) could do it, and I’m going to tell you how. If your joints have been kind to you, if you enjoy running, and if you have time enough to train, then you can most definitely run a long distance race. Believe it. If you don’t believe it to the very depths of your being, then you won’t finish.
  3. IT’S ALL IN THE MIND. If you’re going to start out on the quest to become an endurance runner, be prepared for some healthy mind games. Don’t think about how many miles you are going to run. Think about the first step you are going to take. Can you take a step? Then you can run. Don’t think of the mountain, think of one foot after the other. There is no reason to be afraid of a series of steps, but I would understand feeling afraid of 26.2 miles. When I approach the final leg of a long run, I cannot finish if I focus on the front door of my apartment. I have to give myself small goals. “Can I make it to that tree? Yes! I made it to the tree. Can I make it to that lamp post? Yes! Made it to the lamp post.” Before I know it, I’m at my front door. You must be very Zen about the whole thing. Focus on the moment, the journey, not the destination. Of course the point is to finish the race, but the finish line itself has no inherent value. It’s all the little strides in between that give it meaning. Relish those.
  4. ACHH! GET OUT THAT DOOR MISTER! The last major mental hurdle you will have to jump over if you want this running thing to happen for you is waking up to the days that you simply cannot imagine hitting the treadmill, and doing it anyway. Ideally you should run 3-5 times a week at the very least to build up your endurance. It’s alright to miss a day here and there. Lord knows I do. Studies show that missing one or two days out of your week every once in a while will not adversely affect your training, but endurance does steadily decline after one week off. One week! Just one widdle bitty week and you’re going to lose what you’ve worked so hard to build up. Don’t let that happen. Just get out the door. Even if you only run half your intended distance, even if you have to walk part of it, even if you curse my name the whole time, get out that door. I’ll finish with a little anecdote. About a month ago, I remember having a particularly lazy day. The last thing I wanted to do was run. I’d had a long day at work, I was tired, hungry, exhausted. Brad kept tempting me with going to a movie or cooking a delicious dinner instead of running. Sharky had jumped up onto my lap and made it almost impossible to get up. I mean, that furry face. How could I? I honestly did not know where I was going to find the motivation to get on the running trail. I was looking everywhere for even just an ounce of inspiration and found myself at a complete loss. I knew I couldn’t miss this run, so I translated some acting advice the late great Jim Spruill used to give us at Boston University: fake it ’til ya make it. Sometimes in a scene, you don’t feel the emotion. You can’t find the key in. If you start breathing a bit differently, start wimpering, start physically crying even though you don’t feel it, 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up with warm tears running down your face. The body remembers when the mind doesn’t. I knew this technique could be applied to this situation. I figured maybe if I just get off my you-know-what and change into my running clothes “something” will happen. I got up off the couch thinking “don’t want to run don’t want to run,” walked into my bedroom “don’t want to run don’t want to run,” went into the closet and put my running clothes on “don’t want to run don want to run… don’t… well, hold on,” laced up my sneakers “kinda sorta…. starting… to…,” looked in the mirror and voila! The simple act of putting on a sports bra and running shorts made me feel like going out for a jog. I knew I wasn’t going to find the inspiration from within, so I just walked through the motions of getting ready, zombie like, and it worked. The moral of the story is, training is hard. No matter how much I love running, there are days, many days, that I do not want to do it. The test of a true athlete is not on the easy days, but the difficult ones. It’s easy to do something good for yourself when you feel like it, but it means so much more when you do it in spite of the little lazy devil on your shoulder.

There is so much to cover in a beginner’s guide to running. We’ll call this the “Mental Chapter,” covering the mental/emotional hurdles associated with beginning running. Next time I’ll tackle some physical challenges like how to protect your knees, running form, the burnout factor, breathing and pace, things like that.

All I can hope is that there is someone out there reading this who has been completely intimidated by the prospect of signing up for a race, yet now feels a bit closer to searching Active.com for a nearby 5k. In fact, how about this. If you’re still feeling apprehensive and need that extra nudge to sign up for your first race, I’ll push you, literally! Sign up for your first 5k and my schedule allowing, I will run it with you. Just let me know which race you have in mind and we’ll do it together. How’s THAT for motivation?

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One thought on “a beginner’s guide to running: the mental edition

  1. Pingback: national running day comes but once a year!… and i missed it « Running to Tahiti

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