Recently I started running. I blame Jason Hibbets for this. While at the Community Leadership Summit earlier this year we got chatting about running and through some gentle persuasion he convinced me to give it a shot.
So I did. Based on Jason’s recommendations I went and bought some running shoes and started using an app called Couch To 5K. The app basically provides a series of workouts that gradually increase in intensity. Each workout involves a mixture of warming up (walking), jogging, brisk walking, and cooling down (walking).
Things were going well. Surprisingly to myself I was really quite enjoying it (more on this later) and I was sticking to the three workouts each week.
Then I made a mistake. I decided I was impatient with the app’s growing intensity and I decided to notch it up a bit. I switched the app off and significantly increased my runs, clocking in some much better workouts.
It felt great but my celebration was short-lived. Knee pain set in. After some research it became clear that the knee pain was because I pushed myself too hard. Many runners warned me of this but I ignored them. Well, I was wrong.
Fortunately though, the experience of buggering up my knee helped me to learn a lot about running that I wish I knew when I started. Thus, I wanted to share five key learnings here.
Now, to be clear: I am not a running expert. I am still very much a novice, so some experts may challenge these recommendations, but I welcome all feedback in the comments!
1. Buy The Right Shoes
Even in my first conversation with Jason the importance of getting good shoes was emphasized. I presumed though that this was mainly about getting “running shoes” as opposed to bog-standard shoes (sneakers/trainers etc).
What I didn’t realize was that we all run in slightly different ways and the purpose of a good shoe is to support you to run in the most optimal way.
As an example, it seems I tend to put a lot of press on the inside of my foot. As such, I need shoes that provide a lot of support on the inside to prevent my knee rotating as much (this was the cause of my knee pain).
Interestingly, when I went to a running store to buy shoes after my knee injury the chap in there could tell a lot about how I run from the state of my first pair of shoes. They noticeably drooped on one side, showing the impact of my foot on the inside.
So, don’t just get running shoes, but pay attention to the impact you have on your shoes and use that to make a decision about future shoes too.
2. Take It Slow
Again, one thing that was made clear to me when I started was to take it slow. Although I was using Couch to 5K, I didn’t feel like much of a couch potato, so I jacked up my pace to get my heart racing.
As I mentioned above, this was a mistake.
Running places quite a bit of stress on different parts of your body. It affects your feet, ankles, knee, quads, hams etc. Part of the reason why Couch To 5K and similar apps go so slowly is to ramp up your body gradually to get used to the impact running has on it.
As my case demonstrates, if you push yourself too hard you get injured. So, don’t do what I did: take it a step at a time (pun intended).
When I started running my wife told me to stretch when I finished my run. She showed me a few stretches and I did them for a few minutes when I got home.
When the knee injury set in, I asked one of Erica’s friends, Tabitha, who is a runner, what she thought the problem may be. She asked me to do some simple stretches and it became obvious that my body was…well…not all that stretchy. Tabitha made it clear that I needed to stretch both before and after a run.
Fortunately there are plenty of videos on YouTube that show you how. Again, I wished I had realized the importance of stretching when I got started.
4. Strengthen Your Muscles
On a related note to both taking it slowly and stretching, my interest in running helped to illustrate some basic anatomy and the importance of building strength.
What became clear to me is that muscles throughout your body play a role on different elements of running. As an example, your quads play an important role in your knee working effectively. If you don’t have strong and stretched quads, it can result in some knee pain.
As such, I discovered that the actual run is not the only important piece. Stretching before and after and taking time to build strength is important too. Again, there are plenty of videos online that can help with this.
5. The Runners High
For quite some time friends of mine who are runners have talked about the runners high. Now, it seems different people have a different idea of what this is, but it is basically a special sense of pleasure when running or afterwards.
I have to admit, I was a bit cynical about this. I don’t enjoy exercise. I never have. It feels like a neccessary evil I need to do to stay in shape and healthy.
That changed though. On my first few runs I noticed that I really enjoyed being out of the house and running. I enjoyed the feeling of the wind against my face as I ran. I felt a sense of decompression as the blood flowed and my mind detached from work. I found myself genuinely enjoying the 30 minutes or so that I was out getting started running.
This sensation continued after the run too, particularly when I was out of the shower and dressed. I felt lighter, more nimble, and a real sense of accomplishment. I am not sure if this is the runners high others get, but it is a great feeling.
What was really odd was that when I got my knee injury I really started missing getting out there to run. I would have never have imagined I would have felt this way but I love it.
So, for those of you who have read this far and are not convinced that running might be both good for you and enjoyable, give it a shot. You never know, you might just enjoy it.
Bonus: Shopping List
Before I wrap up I thought it might also be handy to share a few handy things I have purchased that can enhance the overall running experience:
- Compression Underwear – this is important for the gentlemen out there (in much the same way a sports bra is important for the ladies). You just don’t want things bouncing around down there, so get some good compression undies. I have some Asics and Adidas undies.
- Socks – good sock choice is important. Poor socks can result in blisters so get some runners socks. I use Asics white socks.
- Belt – I got myself a FlipBelt which is a handy tubular belt you can put your phone, credit card, and ID into. It saves you having to carry them separately or have bulky pockets.
- Bluetooth Headphones – I tend to listen to music sometimes when I run and sometimes I listen to audio books. I tried wired headphones on my first run and they kept falling out of my ears. So, I picked up a MPow Cheetah headset which I love. It pairs with my phone easily and sounds great.
- Water Bottle – I didn’t buy anything fancy – just a cheap plastic bottle I picked up at a conference. I shove a little ice in there on a hot day and it works fine.
Anyway, I think that is about it. Be sure to share your additional running tips or questions in the comments!