I was so excited by the response from my running post last week, and all of the emails I received asking questions, that I decided I had a bit more to say on the subject. Things that I found to be helpful to me that would maybe help you out on your attempt to love running. And please, if you have any more questions feel free to leave it in the comments or send me an email.
1- Shoes- Having shoes that fit well and give you proper support is very important. I know there are stores that actually help fit you into the right shoe for running, but being the cheapskate that I am I usually just go to Kohl's when they have huge sales. I got my last pair of Nike's on sale for $40 down from $70. Very exciting. Adidas and Asics also have some great running shoes. If you feel you need outside help from a salesperson that is probably the best way to ensure a proper fit, but I just try on the shoes (both of them) and see how they feel. I walk around the store for a while and make sure my arch (I have a very big arch) is supported, that they are snug but not too snug, and that nothing is rubbing on my toes, ankles or heels. I can always tell when it is time to buy a knew pair of running shoes because my shins and ankles get sore after every run.
2- Clothes- It takes a while to find clothes that you are comfortable running in. When I first started running I went out and bought these running shorts that were made out of a windbreaker type material. I was so excited to try them out and when I did I hated them. As I ran my thighs rubbed together (there! you caught me! my thighs touch. dammit) and the material gathered and inched upward leaving an upside down V at the hem of my shorts in between my legs. I felt like an idiot AND the material chaffed my legs. I kept pulling at them the whole run and it was so distracting. After that I switched to spandex (I know, I know) and there was no slippage. I wore an extra long tee shirt to cover my K-Lo caboose and have been happier ever since. Each person is different and you have to find the clothes that make you comfortable. Even your socks can make a difference as I've found thinner socks work much better than thicker socks for me.
3- Sports Bras- Speaking of clothing, let's talk about sports bras. I've been asked by quite a few people what is recommended for big breasted women who want to try running. Not like I'd know personally (double dammit). I definitely do not have to worry about that. But a few of my friends are very well endowed and when they run they wear two or three sports bras at a time and found it works great. I actually wore two sports bras when I ran while I was still breastfeeding and it truly did help. If that doesn't work, um, try duct tape?
4- Water & Food- Drinking enough water is crucial. If I don't drink enough water I get really itchy legs and sometimes even migraines. On a day you know you will be running try drinking water regularly throughout the day. When you get closer to the run slow down on the water. Every time I try to make up a water deficit right before I run I get a major gut ache.
It is very important to eat well when you are running. Some people want to cut out carbs while they are running but I always find I don't have any energy if I don't have some carbs before a run. Go for the healthy carbs. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter is a good one but the best food for running is a banana. It is said that a banana can sustain you through a one hour workout or run. Try not to eat too close to the time you are going to run. I eat an hour or two before I run.
5- Posture- Try not to lean your upper body over your knees as you run. You want to keep a fairly straight posture. Running up a steep hill is the only time I allow myself to lean a bit. Too much leaning forward not only indicates that you are super tired, but it can give you a backache too. If your nose could cross a finish line before the rest of your body it means you either have a huge nose, like me, or you are leaning way too far forward. Think straight.
Also, when you plant your foot on the ground you want to set it down heel to toe. Heel toe, heel toe. Your foot should not make slapping or stomping noises when you run. It should be fairly quiet. Placing your foot heel to toe puts the least amount of strain on your knees and joints.
6- Clock Watching- We've all heard about the watched pot. And it is true. When I am on the treadmill I always cover up the faceplate with a towel so I am not constantly watching the clock. I learned pretty quickly that watching the clock makes the run feel like forever. Ten seconds feels like a minute. The same is true when I run outside. I wear a watch to time myself but I don't look at it until I get to my mile markers. If I am on the treadmill I have the TV on to pass the time. If I am outside I look at the houses, the cars, the lake, the trees, and the people to distract myself. Much better than watching the clock.
7- Weather- I love running outside. The time seems to pass so much more quickly when I'm outside then when I'm on the treadmill. I used to feel the opposite because when you run outside you are contending with the weather. And here in Wisconsin we get all kinds. Hot, humid, cold, rainy, snow, sun, windy. You name it. Running outside always added another level of difficulty for me but once I really gave it a good try it really was much more enjoyable for me. The one thing that I can't live without when I am running outside is a baseball hat. It not only keeps my hair out of my face and off my neck but it shields my eyes from the sun and rain and soaks up the sweat that otherwise runs into my eyes. I can never keep my sunglasses on when I run and tire of pushing them up my nose every 5 seconds so the baseball hat is a lifesaver.
8- Warm up & Cool downs - Many of you have asked me if I have warm up exercises that I do before I run. I really don't. I was taught to warm up into the run. Meaning, you start out jogging slowly and then work up to a decent paced run. Jogging is a sort of warm up in itself so I have never really stretched much before a run. It may not be what a trainer would recommend, but it works for me.
I have found that the cool down is an absolute must for me. Never finish a run and plop yourself down in the grass to catch your breath. Todd warned me of this many times and told me of the importance of a 5 minute cool down but I didn't listen. I would run for 30-40 minutes and then just walk in the house and sit down. Every time I did that the same night I would feel like I was getting the flu. My muscles ached and I was chilled to the bone. Todd kept telling me that my muscles didn't have a good cool down and that is why I felt so crappy. Finally I decided to listen and after every run I would walk for 5 minutes. I've never had that same cold achy feeling after a run again. I HIGHLY recommend walking at a decent pace for at least 4-5 minutes after each run.
9- Traffic- When you are running outside you have to be very aware of the cars on the road. Some drivers seem to be completely oblivious of runners. You need to watch out for them because they may not be watching out for you. And just because a car has it's turning signal on doesn't mean they will turn. I have almost been hit crossing the street a number of times. If you must run in the road run on the side of the oncoming traffic. That way you will see the cars that are closest to you much sooner than if they were coming from behind you.
10- Dogs- I love dogs. But when I'm running, not so much. It seems that when dogs see someone running their natural instinct is to chase. Even the friendly dogs. But it is a distraction whether the dog is friendly or not. I have been nipped at by three or four small dogs (they seem to be the sassiest) and have learned to cross the street (even though one dog followed me across the street) every time I see a dog to hopefully avoid any kind of interaction. It usually works.
-Quick story. Todd was running down the street (he always runs in the road) one morning when out of the corner of his eye he saw a pit bull come tearing out of a yard and begin chasing him down the middle of the road. Without thinking Todd turned around and began running top speed at the pit bull, growling and barking. Luckily, Todd was scarier than the pit bull and the dog skidded backwards and took off down the road in the opposite direction. I think if it would have been me I would have peed my pants and probably been a goner. A teenager and her mom were coming out of the church across the street and saw the whole thing. The teenager said to Todd, "That was the coolest thing I've ever seen!"
11- Pain- If you are going to be a runner you need to learn to think past the pain. There will be pain. There will be cramps, gut aches, feelings of heaviness, shoulder tightness, and all kinds of pain. Running is a sport of mental toughness. It is all about pushing yourself. I didn't become a runner until I learned that. Instead I would always give up and start walking the minute I felt pain. If I got a gut ache I would stop running and walk. Once I learned to push myself I found out that the gut ache goes away if you run just a few more minutes. If you get a gut ache after 4 minutes of running and always stop running to walk you will ALWAYS get a gut ache 4 minutes into the run because your body has never been pushed further. Try running through the gut ache and next time you may not get it at the 4 minute mark. Maybe you'll get it at 10 minutes. Or maybe not at all. Push, push, push yourself. That is also why it is important to start slowly. You can't go from not running at all to expecting yourself to run 3 miles. That is not only unrealistic, it is dangerous. If you work up to it slowly your body will be able to adjust better and have less recoup time. Be smart about the pain. You know the difference between pushing yourself through manageable pain and pushing yourself through pain that could cause damage (a pulled muscle or something).
12- Music- I honestly can not run as well without music. Listening to music gets me pumped up and gives me so much more energy when I am struggling through the last mile of a run. I have an iPod shuffle that clips on to my waistband and the earplugs actually stay in really well while I run. I am so grateful for that iPod. It is my running lifesaver.
I am very choosy about the music I listen to when I'm running. Nothing slow or relaxing. I listen to fast-paced music that makes me feel excited, angry, or scared. I know that sounds funny but I run really well when I am ticked off or freaked out. I also listen to music that maybe I normally wouldn't listen too. For instance, Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson. That song scares the crap out of me and it makes me run super fast just to get the song over with. It makes me feel like I'm being chased. Or Still of the Night by Whitesnake (although I do actually like Whitesnake). The drum beats and his voice just sound angry to me. It pumps me up. Then there are the songs that I love listening to no matter where I am. Even if I hear them in the car they get me excited and make me feel like running. Stronger by Kayne West, Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm, Intergalactic by Beastie Boys, Loose Control by Missy Elliot, The Way I Are by Timbaland, Survivor by Destiny's Child, Let's Go Crazy by Prince, are all on my iPod in the first 40 minutes. Anything with a good fast drum beat or a quick rhythms really help me run. The only thing I have to worry about is keeping myself from dancing while I'm running. I've been known to throw a few head nods here and there and swing my arms around to a good song. I probably look pretty crazy sometimes. It reminds me of how Phoebe ran through Central Park in that one Friends episode.
13- Inspiration- There will always be times when you don't feel like running. Whether it is while your are running or when you are trying to get up the gumption to get out and go for your run that day. It can be tough to keep going sometimes. You need inspiration. It can be anything that makes you feel strong enough to get up and go instead of taking a nap on the couch. I have many different things I think about to motivate me. Yesterday during my run on the treadmill I was just so bored and so not into it but I thought about my dad. I thought about what a great runner he was and how much he loved sports and being active. He would give anything to be able to run again. It was enough to push me through the rest of the run and I went much farther than I thought could.
Todd remembers being inspired during a marathon when around mile 18 he looked over to the side of the street where people were standing cheering the runners on. He saw a little boy with severe disabilities sitting in a wheelchair smiling and clapping for the runners. He was so choked up but it gave him the extra boost to finish the marathon with gusto.
Or how about this story? This is so amazing and inspiring it takes my breath away. It makes me think that if someone can do something like that then I certainly can finish up a measly little 4 mile run.
But I'll admit sometimes my thoughts are much shallower than that. Sometimes picturing me looking good (or even acceptable) in a swimsuit for an upcoming vacation is enough to make me continue on during a painful run. Shallow? Yes. But, hey, sometimes it works.
Whatever your inspiration you need to use it to help you push through those difficult times. The times when you just want to skip running for the day. Use that inspiration to push yourself to the next level.
(So there you have it. Again, these are all very basic things that have helped me. I am by no means a professional runner, or a nutritionist, or a trainer. I am just a regular person who used to hate running and who now loves it and uses it for stress relief, exercise, and my overall health. This may not work for everyone, but it has helped me. Of course you should always check with your doctor before you begin a new workout routine.)