Running is one of the best forms of exercise available to us. Running regularly helps strengthen our joints and muscles, which isn’t too surprising. Even more so, running has also been shown to help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and reduce the risk of certain cancers. And it doesn’t just reap physical benefits; there are emotional and mental ones too. Running protects us against depression and anxiety, and keeps our brain sharp and our memory and concentration in tip-top shape. No wonder humans have been running since the dawn of time.
And the absolute best thing about running: It’s a workout that is accessible to everyone. All you need to get started are a pair of sneakers, legs that move, and some pavement to pound. No fancy gym membership, complicated equipment, or specialized training necessary.
Now that’s the kind of workout we can all get behind.
But for aspiring runners, achieving all these benefits — and that legendary runner’s high (which is totally real, by the way) — is no easy feat. It can feel as though countless barriers are blocking our way to success: shin splints, side stitches, runner’s knee, and chafing. And the list goes on, but the question remains: How do we go from a stumbling beginner to running like the wind?
To get the low-down on how to become a pro-runner, we turned to Deena Kastor, who has many, many miles under her runner’s belt. In 2004, she won the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the Olympics in Athens, Greece. She also holds several American records for long-distance runs. Besides running, she’s an accomplished writer and has published a memoir entitled, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory. She’s the perfect source for nuggets of wisdom for new or overwhelmed runners. Read on to see what she has to say.
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1. Prevention is key
Since running is hard on your body, many people will eventually run into injuries (pun intended). Injuries can cause setbacks, since taking the time to heal them properly can throw us off our training program. Kastor’s advice? “Take care of them before they even arise.” Target your problem or recurring type of runner’s injury and then incorporate preventative stretching into your workout routine. For example, someone who suffers from sore knees should make sure to do stretches that strengthen and loosen up their quads.
2. Set the stage for success
It’s easy for a running newbie to talk themselves out of hitting the pavement. In fact, Kastor identifies a new runner’s mental approach to the exercise as one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. “You might know it’s good for you, but you dread getting out the door,” she says. And if the weather outside is bad, game over. To conquer this mental block, Kastor recommends setting the stage for success by making running fun. Purchase quality running shoes and an awesome new outfit. Not only will you feel good while stepping out the door, but you’ll also feel financially invested in your new pastime. On that note, incorporate pampering into your running program too, like a monthly massage, because you deserve it.
3. Keep things interesting
There’s an old standby rule that suggests we should increase our mileage by 10 percent each week in order to improve without injuring ourselves. But this can make training feel mundane. Kastor thinks switching things up is the key to staying excited by — and therefore, sticking to — your running program. One day, try lowering your mileage and increasing your pace, or forget all about pace and mileage. Throw your Fitbit into a drawer, and explore a new trail with no goal in mind. Maybe grab a friend to run alongside you. Do whatever gets you stimulated and excited to be on your feet. “Mixing up workouts is actually really good for your body and your mind, but the most important thing is to always look for the joy to ensure you continue the program,” says Kastor.
4. Come up with a mantra
Not all runs are the same. Some are going to feel harder to get through than others. When the going gets particularly tough, Kastor sometimes comes up with a mantra to cheer herself through it. Hers is “Define myself,” and it’s a reminder that she can be defined by the strength of overcoming a challenging run. The power of a mantra is that we eventually believe the saying. Tailor your mantra by choosing words that remind you of how strong you are and provide you with that final little kick you need to cross the finish line.
5. Don’t forget to recover
“Running is a great stimulator, but recovery is equally important so you can adapt,” Kastor says. No one wants to end up running themselves into the ground and have their dedicated training plan come to a screeching halt, right? If one day you have a particularly challenging or fast run, take it easy by lowering your pace and mileage the next. Maybe cross-train by hopping on a bike or doing a yoga flow. “After a good effort, recovery is the time we adapt and super-compensate to grow faster or more enduring,” she says. “Recovery is when progress is made when alternated with big efforts.” Your body will thank you for the chance to rest and it will grow stronger in return.
Sure, running isn’t always easy, but for the mental and physical gains, it’s worth making it a part of our lives. “There’s always something good that comes from time on our feet,” Kastor says. “Find it, plant it, and grow.”
Photo Credit: Ryan J. Lane/iStock