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Tips to Start (or Re-Start) Running

If you want to start running, or re-start after taking some time off, this post is for you. I'm finally wrapping up a 12-week run/walk program (that actually took me 15 weeks to finish, but more on that later) to build up to running a 5k again, and I thought I'd share some words of wisdom.

First, a recap: I took eight months off from running (I just counted ... that's depressing) after I injured my knee last July in the middle of my pregnancy. I got super lazy and depressed because I couldn't run, and I also couldn't have my knee repaired until after I gave birth. After my son was FINALLY born 11 days late in November, I had knee surgery four weeks later in December ... Then I went back to work in February. As I rehabbed my knee and got back in the swing of work/life, I worked out but didn't run. Finally, on March 31, I did my first run/walk on the treadmill and started following the 5k Success program from Train Like a Mother. (Yes, it's a $55 program, but it's well worth the money in my opinion - if you want more details, let me know.)

WHEW! Got all that? That was a super not-fun time in my life, and I'm glad to move forward. Let's talk about what I've learned on my return to running.

1. A training plan is good, but listening to your body is better. This is especially true if you're recovering from an injury. There have been times that my knee just wasn't feeling it. So I took more rest days than planned, and I also repeated a couple weeks on the training plan before moving forward ... That's why it took me 15 weeks to finish a 12-week plan. Also, on the TLAM plan, there's at least one day a week when you can blow off a workout ... and I almost always did! I didn't feel guilty and I still made progress. So, don't feel like you have to plow ahead with every workout - listen to your body and know the difference between feeling sore and feeling injured. Soreness will go away - injury will only get worse!

2. That being said, don't quit just because you missed a few workouts, or because they start to feel harder. Whether due to injury or just life getting in the way, don't be discouraged if you miss a couple days on your training plan or have to repeat a workout a few times. No matter what run/walk plan you follow, I think the four to six-week mark is where a lot of people bail - that's where shit starts to get real as the running segments get longer. Yes, it's going to feel hard. If you need to take a few days off to recover, that's FINE. But don't throw away your previous weeks of hard work just to start all over. If you push through to the eight or 10-week mark, I PROMISE it will get easier. (Not easy, just easier ...)

3. Walk breaks are NOT a sign of weakness! Once you break through to the magical eight to 10-week mark, you'll be tempted to skip your walking segments - don't! Trust your training plan and use those walk breaks to recover. And, if you need an extra walk break every now and then, take it! As long as you're moving forward, you're good. Actually, some people NEVER eliminate walk breaks and run/walk entire marathons! If this sounds like your kind of plan, you should read more about Jeff Galloway's running plans. Many runners swear by his methods.

4. Take care of your feet. Seriously, BEFORE you start any running plan, go buy new shoes. You don't have to drop $120 at a running specialty store, but for the love of all that is holy, please don't go out in your old tennis shoes that you've had for two years. It's perfectly fine to buy shoes from Kohl's (because Kohl's cash - duh!) or another store. Just try them on and make sure they're comfortable ... and if they say "running" on the box, that's a pretty good sign. And remember, these WILL wear out - after a few months, you're going to need to replace them. Don't be a cheapskate - you'll start to feel it in your feet, shins, knees, hips, back ... Need I go on? Everything starts in your feet, so take good care of them. (Also note: I'm not a doctor or physical therapist, but if you're going to train for distances longer than a 5k, you really should buck up and go to the running store to be fitted. It's worth the extra $$!)

5. Running won't ruin your knees ... if you take care of them. Take it from someone who has knee injury experience: If you take care of your knees, they will take care of you. If you feel pain while running, stop. It's not going to go away on its own. Soreness after a run is common, however. Don't freak out. Two things have REALLY helped my knees in the last 15 weeks.

  1. I don't run two days back-to-back, if possible (sometimes it's unavoidable)
  2. On my "off" days, I focus on strength training, biking, yoga, or other exercise (just NOT running). As much as I loathe it sometimes, strength training and focusing on my core, hips and back really helps protect my knees ... you can find all sorts of research that supports this. Runners like to pretend we can just run and ignore the other stuff, but it's really important for our overall health. Don't wait three years to figure this out (like me). 

6. Remember, running isn't everything. Can you believe that's coming out of my mouth? Yeah. But like I said above, I've come to realize that other forms of exercise are key to helping me stay injury-free and healthy. (Plus, I kinda like the guns I'm getting from my strength training!) Also, people often ask me, "How do I get motivated to run?" Well first of all, motivation is fickle - determination is what you need to get going, and keep going. Second, if you honestly don't like running, then DON'T RUN. Seriously. It's not for everyone. Find something else that keeps you healthy and happy - biking, lifting, walking, rollerblading, yoga, Zumba, WHATEVER. No matter what I say about the magic of running, you have to find what works for YOU. End of story.

Any questions? Other advice you would offer to new runners? Leave a comment here or on the Facebook page. 

P.S. If you want more thoughts, check out these posts from earlier in my running life: 
- 7 truths for new runners
- Couch to 5k and beyond


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