Last weekend, I was supposed to run the NYC Half Marathon. But the universe had other plans…
Like so many things, the race was canceled. Soon after, gyms around the country were closed. Suddenly, running — a solo activity that can be done outdoors, away from other people — seems more important than ever, for both our health and our mood.
Though I haven’t always liked it (and sometimes still begrudgingly pull on my leggings and drag myself out the door), running invariably feels great. The wind in your face, the feeling of your own heart beating, the sense of being alive. Afterward, my mood is always lifted and my anxiety lessened. (Doesn’t that sound good right about now?)
If you’re interested in picking up a new running practice or rekindling an old routine, here are some helpful things I’ve learned over the years. And if you’re a longtime runner, please share your own tips in the comments!
Go at Your Own Pace
For a running practice to be sustainable, you have to want to do it again. So, start small and build slowly. Take it one meter, one block, one mile at a time. If you’re brand new to running, it’s okay to walk as much as you run. Find a pace that you feel you could comfortably maintain for a long time. Do not go so fast that you huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf. (Long, deeper breaths provide the body with more oxygen than short, shallow ones.) Do not concern yourself with catching up to that speed demon in the park. Do not feel the need to run any amount, or any distance, before you feel ready. You are doing excellent just by being out there.
But! Don’t Be Afraid of a Challenge
I know, I just told you to go slow and now I’m telling you to challenge yourself. Choose a future goal that’s appropriate for wherever you are right now, like running a solid mile or tackling the loop in your nearby park. Or, consider a race. I never loved running until I ran my first road race when a friend strong-armed me into it, and then I was hooked. Races are such a thrill — you experience the full range of emotions and feel like part of a greater whole. (There likely won’t be any in-person races for a while, but you can still sign up for virtual ones.) Once you have your goal in mind, find a plan to help you get there. (These programs are a classic.)
Listen to What Moves You
For some, that might be a killer playlist. For others, your favorite podcast. For others still, the meditative sound of your own breathing. When I know my uplifting playlist is waiting for me (give me ALL THE SIA), I look forward to my running time as an emotional and spiritual pick-me-up. Perhaps it goes without saying, but don’t listen to your music on full blast, so you can be aware of your surroundings and stay out of harm’s way.
Recovery Is Your Friend
First things first, stretch to prevent injury. That’s so important I’m going to say it again in all caps. STRETCH. Immediately following your run. Here’s a handy guide to get you started. And, while we’re all stuck at home, in-person stretching studio Racked is currently offering daily stretch-from-home classes on Instagram Live.
Just as importantly, HYDRATE! Drink water both before and after you run. Proper hydration helps with muscle recovery and keeps you feeling good.
Ever since dancer Courtney Lavine touted the healing powers of Arnica, it’s been a go-to part of my recovery kit. If you’re not familiar, it’s an herb (typically found in cream or gel form) used to treat bruising and muscle soreness. Personally, I’ve found it really works!
If you’re serious about training and looking for a more intense recovery routine, I adore my Hypervolt massage device. I thought about it for months before taking the plunge, but it quickly became an essential part of my nighttime routine.
Recruit a Coach
Many people swear by running clubs or coaches. For an in-person experience, classes like Mile High Run Club have coaches who offer feedback about breathing and technique tailored to your level. For remote running support, there are many apps tailored to different levels, like Couch to 5K (for beginners) or Strava or Nike+ Run Club (for more seasoned runners). There are even options like Zombies, Run!, a running story app, with narration where zombies “chase” you and you have to speed up.
Back in the day, whenever I got a weird free T-shirt at an event, I’d say, “I’ll wear it to the gym!” Now, I marvel at the fact that my gym clothes are some of my nicest! But I’ve found that quality gear can be a real motivator.
Good running shoes are a must. Either go to a specialized running shop, or read the online reviews, which are often copious and will let you know how a certain style fits. An ideal fitting shoe feels snug in the heel and mid-foot, and has about a thumb’s width of space at the front, to avoid your toes kissing up against the shoe and causing angry toe nails. (Had ’em! They’re not pretty.) The rule of thumb is to buy running shoes at least a half size larger than you typically wear, because your feet swell as you run.
Find the Greater Why
Maybe it’s cardiovascular health. Maybe it’s carving out some meditative me-time. Maybe it’s quelling anxiety. Maybe it’s going a distance you didn’t think you could run. Personally, running races for charity keeps me motivated to continue whenever it starts to feel tough. No matter your reason, find something that resonates with you, and let it carry you forward, one step at a time.
If you’re a runner, what would you add? What helps motivate you and keep you healthy? We’d love to hear.
(Photo by Nicki Sebastian.)
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