10 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Beginner Runner
It’s almost exactly six months since I started running and over the weekend, as I was running along the country lanes close to my parents’ house, I got to thinking about the steep learning curve I’ve been on. Running was something that was completely alien to my body, and apart from a few short treadmill sessions, I started as a beginner at the end of March. It’s fair to say that I had little idea of what I was doing and I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way – through bitter experience. Having said that, there are some fantastic running blogs that have taught me a lot (have a look at my blogroll for some ideas) and magazines and books can be a good resource too.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned in my first six months as a runner. There are a lot of things that I am still figuring out too …
1. Entering a race is fantastic motivation
I’d tried running several times before and given up after only one or two short runs. I always thought that I just wasn’t a natural runner and I should stick to the gym, exercise classes and circuit training. Then I started reading blogs and realised how much fun taking part in races sounded. I used to think they were super-serious and you had to be able to run fast to enter. I know now that all sorts of people enter races, especially the big organised ones.
I committed to the Leeds Run For All 10k as soon as I decided that I wanted to learn to run. Knowing that I had my first race coming up gave me something to focus on and my inner determination took over. I wasn’t disappointed – I really enjoyed running my first 10k and I was much faster than I thought I would be!
2. Find a training plan that is achievable and starts slowly
I really had no idea of how to start running, so I relied on following a plan pretty closely. I had heard of the Couch to 5k Plan, but due to injury I didn’t really have time to build that slowly to my 10k. I had a good base fitness before I started running, so I decided to follow the Zest 10k plan straight away. It still started with running and walking intervals, which I think are absolutely essential when you’re first starting out. The first time I ran for 15 minutes without stopping was a huge achievement, but within 10 weeks I was running 6 miles.
So many people think that they can’t run and give up because they don’t build up slowly enough. Running 100 yards might be a huge effort and running a mile might seem impossible, but perseverance really does pay off.
3. Go to a specialist shop and get fitted for a proper pair of running shoes
I had read about how important it is to get properly fitted for running shoes, so before I started running I went along to my local shop and got my gait analysed. They were horrified by my flailing feet and sent me straight to a podiatrist. Without the staff at that shop I might have caused myself further serious injury and pain.
Even better, I ended up buying a pair of New Balance running shoes that have been excellent and suited me really well. My only complaint is that they are a bit lightweight for running on uneven surfaces, so come payday I might be paying another visit to the shop to get a heavier pair.
I’ve heard so many horror stories of injuries caused by ill-fitting shoes … it’s just not worth it.
4. Don’t ignore injuries
I actually learned this very painful lesson before I started running. I’d been having pain in my right big toe for months, which got worse and worse until I could hardly walk on it. Getting my gait analysed finally gave me the push to see a podiatrist and I discovered that I had broken my sesamoid bone. I had to rest from impact exercise for over two months and it’s still healing now.
I easily fall into the trap of thinking that an injury isn’t serious and it will go away if I ignore it. Sometimes I’m lucky and it does go away, but I’ve learned never to underestimate how serious an injury could potentially be.
5. Invest in decent running socks, or live to regret it!
I learned this the hard way just last week. All my running socks were in the wash, so I dug out a pair of sports socks that were very thick and a couple of sizes to big for my feet. I thought we would only be doing a short run, so it would be OK. I ended up doing nearly 6 miles and developed a blister on my toe. A couple of days later I still hadn’t done any washing, so I wore another pair of second-rate socks for my 10-miler. When I stopped running I was in agony and absolutely dreading having to peel my sock off my damaged foot.
As soon as I got home I went online and ordered a pair of 1000 Mile running socks.
Source (not exactly the ones I’ve got)
I used to think it was silly paying over £10 for a pair of socks, but now I know that it’s the best investment that you can make!
6. Wearing appropriate gear can make a big difference
This is an extension of the sock lesson. I could make a huge list of the wardrobe malfunctions that I’ve had since I started running. For example, on the same 10 miler last week I wore a top with a zip that I’d never worn before. The zip nearly chaffed a hole in my chest, major fail! I’m also not great at dressing appropriately for the weather – a few weeks ago I wore a waterproof jacket when it was really warm out and I nearly spontaneously combusted.
This is my favourite running top:
I got it in the sale at a ridiculously low price, but it’s comfortable, it doesn’t chafe anywhere, it’s sweat-wicking and fabulous for running in the rain.
7. Working out what to eat before and after a run is really hard
This is definitely my biggest problem. I have had loads of runs where I spent the whole time thinking that I’m going to throw up. I had a really bad run yesterday because I didn’t leave enough time between lunch and running. It’s best if I only eat a small snack before a short run, and before a long run I eat a mini-meal a couple of hours before.
Lately I’ve been having porridge:
Working out what to have after a long run is just as difficult. I’ve come to the conclusion that something quite liquid like a smoothie or soup is best.
8. Fuelling during long runs is a revelation
Up until a month ago I had never exercised for more than an hour, so I had never had to think about eating during exercise. When I started running longer distances I wondered why I started to flake out at mile 7 or 8. None of the runners in my club ate, so I thought it wasn’t necessary, even though other bloggers said I needed to take on fuel.
Last week I finally decided to give Clif Shot Blox a go and ate three during my 10 mile run … and I was flying. I felt like I was energised throughout and my legs felt light and mobile instead of heavy like lead. I can’t believe that I suffered on my long runs when there was a way to make them seem so much easier.
9. Staying hydrated and replacing electrolytes is vital
I drink loads normally, but after long runs I wasn’t drinking enough. I’ve now started to take a water bottle with me to sip from along the way. I also drink a glass of water half an hour before running and a glass of water with a Zero tablet in it straight afterwards. It’s made a huge difference to the way I feel after I run and how quickly I recover. To me, feeling dehydrated is one of the worst feelings ever.
10. Bad runs happen – sometimes there’s a reason and sometimes it’s just a bad day
Not every run can be awesome. Last week I had three amazing runs and one really bad one where I ended up switching off my Garmin and getting home in whatever way I could – a bit of running, a bit of jogging and a lot of walking.
Also, I’ve learned to accept that my body won’t just bounce back from things like illness and giving blood – there will be a few difficult and slow runs until I’m back on form. It’s important to rest and then take it slowly to build back up.
If you’re a runner what have been your biggest lessons?
In general, what have you learned about health and fitness?