Perhaps you are looking to get back in the groove of running for the first or second time. It is important to keep your enthusiasm for running high by taking it slow and following the advice of a professional runner, a coach and a psychologist. These beginner runner strategies will help you find your runner’s high and secure your best ever race. Or simply to start a running routine that you enjoy.
Running and racing tips for beginners
1. Give up on the pace
Running is best done without technology when you are just starting out. Elizabeth Corkum from the Road Runners Club of America and USA Track and Field coach based in New York City says, “Instead abandon pace and go by effort.” While enthusiasm is wonderful when it’s stored correctly, it can blind you to smart thought. Walking intervals are always appreciated.
You don’t need convincing to know that Molly Seidel, pro runner, let go of the pace at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta in February 2020 was second in her first marathon. Seidel stayed in sync with her teammates, rather than constantly checking her watch. She said, “I would definitely recommend trying to stay in the moment.”
Don’t get too obsessed with the watch. Do not be too focused on your pace.
2. Take the time to meet your body right now
Corkum suggests that if you were a fan of walk-run intervals six months ago but haven’t been walking much in the past six months, it might be a good idea for you to begin with more frequent walks, at least three times per week. It prepares your muscles, tendons and ligaments for running. You might start by doing some walk-run intervals. This will alternate between walking and pounding the pavement. You can feel how it feels before you go for a run.
It can be frustrating to return to old workouts or to run at a slower pace, but it is important to take it slow. This will help you avoid injury, and keep you motivated to run.
Robert Weinberg, PhD is a sports psychologist who created the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s course “Mental Toughness”. Weinberg advises that you don’t expect too much from yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. Take a look at what your past physical activity was over the last few months and work on building your endurance one step at a.m.
3. Show kindness to yourself
Running is difficult, it’s not denied. Some runs can be very difficult (hi windy winter weather!), while others will be easy. Corkum says, “The victory lies in getting out there and allowing yourself to let your body and mind have that time in motion.” This is important no matter what the course.
Seidel also suggests setting high goals for yourself. However, she cautions against getting too involved in these intentions, particularly if they aren’t easy to achieve. She says, “At the end you can take away anything positive — regardless of what you run.” Perhaps you ran the longest distance, were the most engaged during a long run, or outpaced five people in the second half of a race. Seidel adds, “Find something positive that you can focus on on every run so that it’s possible to keep the positive momentum going forward.”
It is important to return to the “why” behind running — why did you decide to begin a routine? Weinberg says that this is especially true if the reason you are running is internal (eg stress relief) and not externally (eg to be social with your friends). It will help you stay motivated by reminding yourself why you want to go out and clock kilometers.
4. Buy some quality gear
For example, summer heat and humidity can make running more difficult. Corkum recommends that you wear clothing with sweat-wicking capabilities. Cotton socks can keep your feet cool and dry while you run, and anti-chafing balms will be a great addition. (BTW: You might also want to learn how to avoid chafing.)
Layers are important when temperatures drop. If it is extremely cold, bring extra layers such as a long-sleeve shirt (still sweat-wicking), and running hat and gloves. You can have a direct impact on your performance and overall experience. You can get a boost of confidence and comfort by dressing appropriately for the weather.
5. Socialize it
Seidel says that many people believe running must be difficult or painful instead of being enjoyable. “Running is for me the most satisfying and enjoyable. I do it because it allows me to have fun with people, and it also helps me to relax. Running with a friend or a runner can make your time go by quickly and help you connect to other people. It helps to find someone with a similar skill level to you so that you don’t have the worry of slowing down or keeping up.”
“I believe that this is the most important thing for anyone just starting to run: Find a group, find runners, and find someone to share your running journey with.” Seidel adds that this not only makes it easier to get out there, but also makes it more enjoyable.
6. Slowly build up
The 10 percent rule is a common recommendation for runners by most run coaches. This basically means that you will increase your weekly mileage by 10% each week. If you are new to the sport, take it slow and focus on time instead of mileage. You can add five minutes to each workout after you’ve found your groove. Or, just 10 minutes to one. Corkum says that “small but difficult adjustments” are the best way to go. This will not only prevent you from overtraining, but it also allows you to see small victories as your fitness improves.
Keep this in mind when you are planning to race, ensure you allow yourself enough time. Corkum says that you want to slowly build up to the race while remaining confident in your training. It’s possible to build up to your best performance, even if your first race is a half-marathon.
7. Give yourself rest days
Corkum says that a balance must be struck between adaptability and rest and recovery. She suggests that new runners follow a every-other-day running schedule, so you run about three to four days per week. She says, “Creating a habit takes some time, but once it becomes a part of your daily life, it will become ingrained.” Assess how you feel after four to eight weeks and decide if you want to add more running days to your schedule.
8. Dissociative thinking is a good practice
According to the American Psychiatric Association, dissociation refers to the mental process of separating from one’s thoughts, feelings, or identity. Weinberg says that this tactic works well for those who are new to running. Dissociating yourself or taking your mind off of running can help you avoid focusing on the negative aspects of the exercise. This can also help to keep your mind from getting too focused. Talking to a friend, listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts are all good ways to do this. He says, “You are not focusing on pain or fatigue but you’re not associating it with them.” It’s important to pay attention and be aware of your surroundings, especially when you are walking around cities.
9. Next, you can turn to associative thought
Weinberg suggests that you may also try associative thinking, or getting in touch your body. Ask yourself: “What is my heart rate or breathing rate?”, “How are my legs feeling?” “What’s my arm doing?”
Seidel claims that she uses this type of mindfulness often and it has helped her in her competitions and workouts. She says that she is able to stay more in touch with her body during races by simply checking in. She suggests that if you feel bad during a race or run, it is important to ask why, rather than blaming the run for being ruined. Seidel says, “Look at it objectively.” This means that even if you don’t feel great, you can simply observe the thought and let it go.
10. Concentrate on your run/race
This tip is not only for race day but also for training. It is best to focus on your strengths and abilities, as this will improve your mental attitude during the run and your feelings afterwards. Stop comparing your pace, finish time, mileage, and other factors to others (or to those who follow you on social media).
Although it is not always easy, Seidel says that it is possible.
11. Don’t be afraid to compete
Sometimes, competing against other people can be the motivation you need to perform at the highest level. It’s okay to race the person in front of you on the start line or during a training run. You might discover a new speed by keeping up with someone faster than you thought. Seidel says, “I love going out and being in control of the race and not paying attention to the split.” “I like to be able to focus on the people around me, stay engaged, and make aggressive moves in a race.”
12. Visualization and goal setting are two of the best things you can do
Visualization, or picturing yourself running is another helpful trick. Weinberg suggests that you “feel it, smell it and touch it.” “Imagine yourself running, keeping a steady pace, paying attention to rhythmic breathing, taking in the scenery, and enjoying the experience.
Setting short-term goals is also a smart idea for your race day and regular runs. Weinberg suggests that you think about what you want mile-to-mile, instead of thinking about the whole race or run in one place. This could be as simple as getting from one tree to another or stopping at a specific water station. These small victories can be celebrated throughout the course without you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of long distances.
13. Keep your mind open
Seidel claims she didn’t expect to place in the top 10, but she doesn’t rule out the possibility. She says, “I entered [that race] with the mentality that, ‘I just want to run as hard as possible,’.”
Seidel states that this is a key piece of advice for anyone running their first race, especially a half-marathon or full-marathon. “Don’t limit your perceptions going into a race,” Seidel advises. “You must be sensible with it. Don’t expect to win the race in the first half. It’s important to be realistic and not lose sight of the fact that this is your first attempt.”