In October 2012, I started a run/walk class called “Anyone Can Run” at my local YMCA. I joked that if I completed the training, they’d have to rename the class, “No Really… ANYONE Can Run.” Eight weeks later, I ran my first 5K. Since then, I’ve trotted my way through a few more 5Ks, some relay races, and a half-marathon. This year, I have big goals – run two more half-marathons and complete my first full marathon. Even typing those words sends little thrills of nervousness and excitement through me! I registered for the Bass Pro Conservation Marathon yesterday, and that got me thinking about the first running goal I ever set and what I would share with someone – especially a non-athletic person like me – who is brand new to running. Here are five lessons I would pass along:
1. It’s a discipline before it’s a delight.
When I first started running, it required a lot of self-discipline. I willed myself out the door to run for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. It felt like (and was) an enormous effort. In contrast, very few of my runs today require the kind of discipline and willpower it took to start a running habit. Honestly, most of them are a delight. I look forward to seeing my running buddies, conquering hills, working up a good cleansing sweat, and feeling the rush of endorphins and quiet satisfaction at the end of a tough run. In the beginning, those benefits were overshadowed by how difficult running was for me. If that’s you, keep pushing. Most skills we master are difficult before they are fun, and running falls into that category. Don’t give up before you get to the fun part!
2. Energy and fatigue come in cycles.
This was something I realized when training for my first half marathon. I would get tired two miles in and think, “Holy crap! I’ve got seven miles left and I’m already exhausted! Will I even survive?!?” But I told myself to keep going (partly because I had to make it back to my car), and out of nowhere, a burst of energy would come and I’d feel renewed. This happened over and over on those long runs. I got to where I could predict the exact miles when I’d feel tired and when the next burst of energy would come. There is a point of exhaustion when your legs simply refuse to move anymore, that’s true. But most of us on most of our runs, do not reach that point. If you get tired, calm down, slow down, and tuck in until the next burst of energy comes. Be patient. It’s on its way.
3. Buy real running shoes and a running outfit that makes you feel awesome.
As you shuffle along during those first, tough months of running, good shoes will prevent many injuries to your body, and a cool running outfit will prevent injuries to your pride. Plus, if you look like a runner, that will go a long way toward making you feel like a runner. And when you feel like a runner, you begin setting goals instead of limits. If a trip to the local running store can accomplish all that, it’s worth every penny, right?
4. Running will teach you to cheer for yourself. Try to embrace this lesson.
There is a lot of negativity in the world, and I would venture to say that for most of us, it’s easier to criticize than encourage ourselves. I learned pretty quickly that negative self-talk would get me nowhere in running. Telling myself I ‘m weak or I need to suck it up is not nearly as powerful as telling myself I am strong and I can do it. Actually, one time (maybe the heat was getting to me?), I told myself I was an elegant racehorse. If you’re not used to treating yourself nicely, filling your mind with positive affirmations feels awkward at first. But running exhausts your mind as much as it does your body. I need mental fuel to accomplish my running goals, and positive affirmation is like a cool drink of water or a Cliff gel to my brain. Plus, every time you finish a run, you prove yourself right. You ARE strong. You CAN do it. You DO slightly resemble an elegant racehorse (or at least you have a ponytail). If cheering for yourself is still hard, ask yourself this, if you saw another runner struggling up a hill, would you cheer her on? Why not offer yourself the same courtesy?
5. There are awards at races, and we all admire fast people, but there is no hierarchy in running.
When I showed up for the first night of “Anyone Can Run” at the YMCA, I was nervous. Like on-the-verge-of-throwing-up nervous. I was so intimidated, and like a lot of new, non-athletic runners, I was facing down years of believing I didn’t belong with sporty people and didn’t have what it took to accomplish any athletic feat. This was so firmly established in my brain as “fact” that I assumed everyone else thought the same thing about me. I was surprised, relieved, and encouraged to learn that the running community doesn’t think that way at all, about anyone. Anyone who is making the effort has our respect, and that includes beginners. Especially beginners. They’re doing the hardest part, and we all remember what that feels like.
Although I’m nervous about training for a marathon and the difficulties ahead, I’m also excited for a new challenge. I’m excited to be a beginner again and venture into unknown territory. What does it feel like to run 14 miles? 18 miles? 26 miles? By November, hopefully, I will know. In the meantime, when I think about the grueling training that lies ahead and start to feel afraid, I keep telling myself that I’ve conquered this fear before. After I ran a 5k, I thought, how in the world does anyone run TWICE this far? After I ran a 10k, I thought, how in the world does anyone run twice this far? After I ran a half-marathon, once again I thought, how in the world does anyone run twice this far? I hope to answer that question one more time and conquer that same old fear this fall.