In light of recent events I have felt inspired to try and explain the basics of running. I've had many messages this week asking about runners, or asking how to start running, or running tips in general. I'm sad that it took a tragedy to spark the interest, but glad that people are taking an interest in a passion of mine. Runners have big hearts, literally and figuratively. I want to embrace new people into the community as the community has embraced me.
Why do we run?
Everyone runs for a different and sometimes personal reason. Its to get in shape or as a cheap form of exercise. Running can be therapy or an escape. Running can be a way to enjoy nature. It is away to make yourself a better person. Running allows you to be part of something.
As strange as it sounds, running can also be a very solitaire and lonely pursuit. Even those who run with clubs or with friends will often spend many miles training on their own if they have a big goal race. Its these times where its often just the runner and their thoughts, or their music. Sure you may pass others and give a nod, smile, or a wave, but those are just a few brief seconds.
Its on race day that everything truly changes. You get to the race site and are surrounded by hundreds of other people who worked and trained hard just like you did. Everyone is united in spirit and hard work. This is where you get to see all that hard work pay off and everyone else wants to see you do your best too. Yes, there are many competitive runners out there, myself included, but we compete with the clock and ourselves. You won't see much animosity between elite runners like you do at other professional sports because running is the one sport where having heart matters and chasing the competition helps you get better.
Running also allows us, as mortals to achieve and do truly extraordinary things. This year I ran in the US Track and Field 8K championship and will be running in another USATF Road Championship series race when I run at Soldier Field Memorial Day weekend. I've raced with Sean Astin, aka Rudy aka Samwise Gamchee aka Mikey from Goonies. I've raced under the marquee at Wrigley Field, I've run on the field at US Cellular. I've gone storming down Navy Pier and cruised along Lake Shore Drive using foot power. I've run with the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo. I've run to experience life.
How Do I Start Running?
The answer to this is different for everyone. For some its like the old saying goes, you have to walk before you can run. It takes time and patience. Not everyone is a natural who can lace up any old shoes and head out down the road. You need to build up your muscles and endurance. The best way to start is with a walking/jogging routine. It involves jogging for a short time and then walking for a longer time. Eventually the ratio shifts so that you are jogging more than you are walking.
Even before you go out to hit the pavement, you should make sure that you have adequate protection from the concrete. Like I mentioned, not everyone is a natural, and not just any shoe will work for running. Everyone has their own tastes for what kind of shoe they like whether it be cushioned or minimal or lightweight, etc. I do recommend that anyone who truly wants to take up running should go to a specialty running store where you can be fitted. These stores often have mini tracks or treadmills they have you run on so they can see what your feet are doing. Some runners have neutral strides and can run in almost everything. For most of the rest of us, we tend to roll our feet either inward or outward as it lands. This is called pronation and there are different shoes for whether you over pronate or under pronate. The running store clerk should be able to guide you as to which shoes work best for your feet. The wrong kind or wrong size can lead to shin splits, knee aches, or worse. And last but not least, choose shoes for function, not style!
Once you have your shoes, its time to hit the road. Don't do too much at first. You may not realize it, but you're using new muscles that need time to adapt and strengthen. If you want to make sure that running becomes a habit you should find a race to train for. Most people start with a 5K(3.1 miles) and work their way up to longer races. I know the distance seems daunting at first, but it really isn't once you work through a training program that eases you up to it. There are many resources for finding races. In the Chicago area we have the Chicago Area Runner's Association that posts a schedule of some of the recommended races in the area. Other good sites are Active.com and runningintheusa.com/Race/. Local running clubs will also be able to tell you about upcoming races. Once you have found a race that you would like to do you should find a plan and make sure to follow it. For the 5K distance the most popular program seems to be Couch 2 5K. After training you'll get to lace up for race day and experience what the rest of us runners do.
Am I A Runner?
Anyone can become a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you are. As long as you embrace running, you are a runner. If you would of asked me a year ago I probably would of been hesitant to say that I was a runner. At that point I had only run in 2 races and considered myself "slow" compared to how I ran in my youth. As time went on I learned to embrace and love what I was doing. It didn't matter that I couldn't run as fast as I did in high school, what mattered was that I was getting myself in shape, getting the most out of life, making new friends, becoming a better friend, and becoming a better person.
I am a runner and I welcome you to join us.