I went from not running at all to running quite a bit in a very short period of time. With essentially no guidance or coaching, I pushed myself from huffing and puffing around the track to doing five half-marathons in less than two years. Sounds great, right? A total "started from the bottom now we here (at the half-marathon finish line)" kind of story. But I've had some painful setbacks because of things I didn't know as a beginner and had to learn the hard way.
For one, I got patellofemoral syndrome (runner's knee) in both my knees, particularly the left — it's something that hurts almost constantly, and I have to do physical therapy for it. I also learned that intense cardio, including running, can induce stomach pain, and I've ended up with some crippling stomachaches.
Here are the five pieces of wisdom I wish were bestowed upon me when I first laced up and began my running quest, things that may have spared me some unnecessary pain and made this process even better. You might have heard some of these, but you also might not know any of them (that's what I'm here for)! I hope my follies and learnings can help you avoid injury, discomfort, and curveballs that might keep you from pursuing running, because running is actually really awesome and life changing. Let's get into it!
1. You Actually Have to Warm Up
I wish someone told me that one, warming up is important, and two, how to actually warm up (because seriously . . . how?). When I was training with some Adidas prorunners at Kezar Stadium a few weeks ago, I got an epiphany-status piece of insight from them: "We don't run to warm up; we warm up to run."
It was the first time it finally clicked — running isn't a warmup, and I need to warm up for this workout just like I would for any other workout. Strengthening the legs, hips, and butt can have a significant impact on performance, stability, and injury prevention.
Try warming up with different lunges: reverse lunges, curtsy lunges, and side lunges. Stretch your quads, and bring your knees to your chest. Dynamic warmups and stretching can have a huge impact on your form and strength and on your body's ability to prevent injury.
2. There's a Thing Called the "Talk Test," and You Need to Try It
I interviewed ultramarathoner and run coach Robin Arzon about what advice she gives to new runners. It seems so simple, and maybe this is common knowledge for some of you, but I had no idea what the "talk test" was until she brought it up.
"You should be able to have a conversation," she said. If you can't, "you're going way too fast." In my past runs and races, I had tried to keep up with other, more seasoned runners and pushed myself to a pace that wasn't comfortable . . . well beyond being able to talk comfortably. I still find myself doing this now and then, even though my current pace is much quicker than it was a few years ago.
You don't have to be fast when you start running. In fact, you don't have to be fast at all. Find the pace that is comfortable for your body, so you can keep running for miles and get the best workout possible.
3. You Might Not Want to Eat After Your Run (You Might Even Have a Stomachache)
When I got started, I totally expected "runger" — this was one of those "insider" terms I had actually heard at the beginning of my running journey. So naturally, I expected to be coming through my front door after a run, feeling sweaty and exhausted and ravenous. But this has actually never been the case for me. In fact, I almost always have to force myself to eat something to get nutrients — my appetite can be suppressed for hours!
I also had no warning that I might get a pretty bad stomachache, especially as a beginner. "When performing high-intensity exercise, blood is shunted from digestion to the periphery in order to accommodate the oxygen demand to the working muscles," said DIAKADI trainer Elijah Markstrom. This means that depending on what you eat or how sensitive your stomach is, you could be in for some serious intestinal distress.
There are solutions to preventing and treating runner's stomach pain, but I really wish I had some kind of warning — I thought something was seriously wrong! Now if it happens, I know it's somewhat normal and how to treat it. So heads up! What and when you eat impacts how your stomach feels on a run, and sometimes there's just no controlling the digestive woes . . . they happen!
4. Don't Go Crazy With Mileage — Gradually Increasing Is Key
As aforementioned, I drastically increased my mileage in a short period of time. Had I heard of the 10 percent rule of running? Absolutely not. Would it have potentially saved me from injured knees? Probably.
Here's how it works — never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent from the previous week. Going from running 0 miles a week to 10 and then from 10 to 20 is actually not that awesome for you, especially if you don't have any other kind of base-level physical competence (read: this is what I did). When I was a new runner, I was a new everything: no group fitness experience, no gym experience . . . nada. So rapidly amping up my mileage without this gradual percentage rule set me up for injury.
5. A "Foam Roller" Will Be Your Best Friend (and Worst Enemy)
Another "WTF is this" moment I had was when I first saw a foam roller. I thought it was a torture device (I was kind of right, TBH). My supertight IT bands were also a contributing factor to my knee woes, as my physical therapist told me. This is yet another instance in which I could've prevented injury if I had known how essential recovery was after each and every run and the right way to do it.
If you're a new runner, get a foam roller. If you feel some soreness, that's OK — think of it like a deep tissue massage (this is why many runners have a love-hate relationship with their roller). It's essential. Roll your IT bands. Don't be lazy. Don't skip your cooldown. Take time to work on your muscles. You'll appreciate those extra two to five minutes SO much in the long run.