Now this one is going to be running specific so like the movies any similarity to other sports is entirely unintentional unless you found it helpful. If that’s the case I meant to do it on purpose then. Runners, even those that claim to have loved it often times find themselves lapsed. Maybe they get back into it for a moment here and there but it never really sticks again. This is something, a rare something that applies equally to the regular runners and the elites alike. So how do you avoid giving up on running once you start or return again? Well I think that in order to solve this problem or avoid falling into it in the first place it’s important to see how the problems start. But through this post you’ll be able to piece together a plan and some advice on how to stay a runner for life if that’s what you want to do. So whether you’re a brand new 2019 runner (welcome) or fall into the not so recently lapsed category read on!
Starting off on the wrong foot: High expectations out of the gate
When you hear about a friend talking about running a marathon (over 40 km) at a time or read online that humans are literally built for running endurance (it’s true) it’s easy to think you’ll just get up off the couch and do 5k. That’s what I thought when I started. Yes humans evolved and are as successful as we are now built on the super-hero skill of running endurance. But in the modern world we’ve totally lost that! We drive to the store in our neighborhoods and then drive around the parking lot four times looking for a close spot to the door. Hell, we even wait for someone to pull out for longer than it would take to walk from the end of the lot. PS I totally do that too! Then we lug all the groceries in at once breaking the eggs and an occasional pop bottle just to avoid making a second trip from the driveway! Less than 100 years ago you would have at least walked to the market or more likely grew that food yourself over many months.
Now what makes us successful is to stay focused and still for long periods of time coding or engineering or accounting. Whatever you do you to be ‘successful’ that means you take home enough money to afford all those little luxuries like a car and gas, a big home with lots of places to sit, maybe even a gardener, cleaning lady and if you’re really lucky a pool boy. You might not do your own repairs or painting, wash your own car or rake your own leaves because you’re so darn successful right? Totally those things all mean that you’re financially set up but it doesn’t set you up as a runner very well. So give yourself a break. I’m not shaming the wealthy here the point I’m trying to make is that starting from zero or less is totally normal.
You’re probably not going to run for a full minute at a time and that’s totally cool in the meantime just walk. Start off walking for a set time like 20 minutes or 3 k and run as much as you feel comfortable. Stick with that and then start increasing the time spent running week by week. Don’t stress about how far or fast you are (or not) just focus on the fact that you’re actually doing it. One amazing more structured way to do this is with a couch to 5k app. It starts you out with 1 minute run intervals and about 2 minutes of walking. If you can’t do that out of the gate, no worries you will be inside of 2 weeks, I promise. Start with no expectations and within 60-ish days you will be able to run that 5k!
Too much too fast: Racing or pushing you limits too often
Once you can run for a few km you all of a sudden want to do it all of the time. That’s totally cool and normal. The thing is like anything else this can make you burn out. This is also where the elite type out of the gate runners start to run into problems. If you’re not racing but just running at this point you might be running 5 or 6 times a week and pushing your distances week after week. That’s no problem exactly but the thing is then your running is all of a sudden starting to take over your life. If you’re one of those lucky few you might have started running and realize that you are super fast. Other runners tell you that they will never be as fast as you and you start winning your age group and maybe even get recruited by a local club. Like I said, lucky you, how could you not go full force with your new found super hero skill and sign up for all the races.
Even if you’re a regular runner it’s still pretty cool when you start, every 5k is your fastest so far and every week is your longest run. That’s pretty awesome and kind of addicting. The thing is all this running is a big change in your life all of a sudden. If you’re getting up early to run your sleep schedule might be messed up, your free time is all spoken for and weekends are spent racing. Plus you’re spending a lot of money on races but also gear and now you want a smart watch worth many hundreds of dollars. Like anything else it’s hard to hold yourself back but jumping into anything can lead to burnout.
And after a while you pretty much stop breaking those records and you’re like I don’t have 6 hours to run 15k three times a week actually. Cutting back at this stage leads to all or nothing thinking and maybe even giving up entirely or you might get injured but read on for that. Depending on how running has evolved for you it might be annoying your family or even bringing a bit of animosity to your relationships. Spending lots of money, taking lots of time away from home life, going to bed at 8pm and being tiered and cranky can lead to some upset feelings when it starts all of a sudden.
Instead of falling into this trap remind your self to hold back a bit and take a step back. Three runs a week is enough for almost everyone. Sure training runners might run 5 days a week but we don’t do that in the off season. Same thing with crazy long runs, we do that for a few weeks or a couple of months when we’re preparing for a race but we’re not spending three hours at time running all year long. Set yourself some limits that feel like they could last the rest of your life. That’s going to look different for everyone but two morning runs a week around 5-7 km and a long run on the weekend around 10 km is a pretty dedicated lifetime running schedule. This level will make you injury resistant and let you ramp up in a couple of months for any training program right up to the marathon. Talk to your family and okay this reasonable plan with them if you’ve already built up some tension.
Not paying attention: Getting injured
This takes those supernatural fast runners and us regular ones out of the game equally. We talk about the 10% rule a lot in running but as a new runner there is no reason to up your milage by 10% every week even if you really want to. Keep it to 5% or stick at a given milage for month or so before moving up that next 10%. A friend’s husband turned out to be one of those elite types and 18 months later he wasn’t running anymore because rehabbing an injury is hard, sad and frustrating. It’s WAY easier to just give up on running. Lots of other new runners I know gave up after falling in love and winding up injured. Ideally when you get injured (ideally you won’t but) you’ll have enough love built that you’re determined not to give up. Going slow at the start and keeping up with another cross training activity as a new runner will go a long way to preventing injury.
How much does it suck for rehab an injury OMG you have no idea! It’s all about doing the physio exercises but the feeling that you’re being held back is palpable. It’s pretty unusual for new runners, or any of them really, to check in with our bodies and notice when we need to dial back a hair. The truth is normally running can hurt a little bit so it’s hard to notice the difference between a twinge and a developing overuse injury. The best thing you can do to stave off an injury is to go slow and stick at each 2 or 3 km of milage for a month before moving on to the next one.
Not evolving: Having no goals
A lot of us people out there think it’s enough just to run to be a runner and that’s totally true. If you’re happy running the same route, the same way, the same three or four days a week that’s great and you’re good. But for a lot of us that isn’t enough and you get bored. Even if you’re running career has included a few races early on once you’ve crossed a few distances off your list there is no reason to be done. You can train for and go for PR’s, do a crazy cool race you heard about, travel and plan vacations around famous races or aim to beat your course record at a favorite one. One of the cool things about the running community now is how big it’s become. Even if you don’t want to travel overnight to do races you can still pick 5 a year and not repeat for decades. But maybe racing isn’t your thing, maybe you want to join a running club or try trail running which is a totally different animal. Maybe you want to incorporate photography into your runs and own instagram or maybe tackle a triathlon.
The point is that if you don’t make it a point to evolve as a runner in some way chances are you’ll end up bored. Maybe even bringing a little bit of structure to your training like varying your distances or routes might liven things up for you. If you’re thinking about next season’s races it’s easier to stay motivated through the winter and hit it hard in the spring. What ever you choose to focus on choose something so that once you can run a 10k its not just “now what?”
So here are my top ten tips to staying a runner:
- Try a race or two you might love it.
- Think about why it’s important for you to run. What does it mean for you?
- Take it slow and steady running 20 km a week is A LOT even for a lifetime runner.
- Find a running friend or two.
- Find a cross-training activity you love to do ever week or so to injury proof yourself as much as possible.
- It’s HARD at first, think about what you want to accomplish this year not this month.
- Think long term, remember there’s always next year for a certain race.
- Find a (online) posse. There are lots of cool running and XXXX groups on facebook. Follow people on instagram that inspire you.
- Get some gear you love to wear it helps get you out the door.
- It’s okay, even desirable that part of your identity is as a runner
What made you give up on running soon after starting. What made someone you know give up. What do you think keeps new runners from continuing?