Tips for New (and Returning) Runners

I’ve noticed a trend that I’m loving on my social media (and amongst my friends) recently – a surge of new runners. Even people (read: powerlifters) who might normally avoid cardio like the plague have come around. Is it the warmer weather? A way to improve mental health? Quarantine-induced insanity?

Probably all of the above. And that’s all good. As long as we can keep some distance (6+ feet please), the more runners on the roads and trails, the better.

I remember what it felt like to get back into running after taking (many) years off – sometimes overwhelming, and often more painful than it should be. Here’s a few tips I could have used in the past:

Consider your shoes.

Did you throw on the same pair of running shoes you used on your last run 3 years ago? Are they also your walking shoes? They’re probably ready to be retired. Most shoes are good for 300-500 miles, and while you may not have hit that previously, if they’re worn out, they’re worn out. Think about ordering a new pair, especially if you’re noticing unusual aches and pains. 

Suddenly have shin splints?

Building up your tibialis anterior will be more helpful than obsessively icing. Here’s a band move you can do anytime that will build the strength you need for running. And here’s a quick method to use before you head out, paired up with a quick dynamic calf stretch. 2 sets of 10 reps of each, on each foot, and you’ll be more prepared for the road.

Remember to always be running INTO traffic.

If you have no sidewalk, you’re running on the left side of the road. If you do have sidewalk and you’re running in crowded spaces right now, you’ll still want to be on the left (because while keeping up with social distancing, you may find yourself jumping out into the street). You want drivers to be able to see and make eye contact with you, and you want to be fully aware of your surroundings, even with headphones in. Running against traffic helps.

Slower is better.

Like, painfully slow. Way slower than you want to go. My favorite drill to use with new runners is this: cover 3 miles in whatever time it takes, WITHOUT LETTING YOUR HEART RATE GO ABOVE 140. It’s humbling, it involves a lot more walking than you’d think, and it teaches you what “long slow distance” and “building your aerobic capacity” is really about. I love my Fitbit for this reason, but you can always just do a manual heart rate check every few minutes to keep tabs on it. If that’s too much, just practice talking while you run. If it’s easy, you should still be speaking in complete sentences (but you will be a bit out of breath).

With that in mind, vary your paces.

You want to get in some long slow distance run/walks, and you also want to work at faster (and IMO more fun) paces. There are a myriad of ways to do this, but my favorite is the Fartlek run. When you’re doing Fartleks, first you laugh at the name like a 9-year-old boy. Then, you warm-up at your very easy slow pace, keeping your heart rate below 140 (or at full sentence pace). You pick an object in the distance (a phone pole, the next stop light, etc) and you get there as fast as you can. Then you slow down to a walk or very slow jog until your heart rate comes back down (to below 140, or full sentence pace). Keep it up for 10+ minutes and you’ve gotten a great, varied run in.

You also want to vary your locations.

Running the same flat road over and over again will get boring, and can also lead to overuse injury. “Pounding the pavement,” especially when your running form isn’t the best, can be hard on the joints. Try to mix up where you’re running: roads, trails, grassy hills for killer hill sprints. The softer the surface, the harder the run will feel, but the easier it will be on your knees.

Remember that just like lifting, form is king in running.

You know you can hurt yourself when you cat-back your deadlift. You can also hurt yourself if you’re running incorrectly. It’s impossible for me to give any kind of blanket statement on this, but I will say that reading Chi Running changed how I think about the movement and came at just the right time – when I started running to help me quit smoking in 2012. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands right now, I’d pick up that book (and keep working on your trunk and core strength).

Still don’t know what to do? Ask for help. 

If you need a little more guidance, or maybe see yourself sticking with running for the long haul, I’m here to help! I’m providing 6-weeks of free run programming aimed at total beginners. If you’re interested, all you need to do is enter your name and email address below, or shoot me a DM via Instagram

It’ll get started on Saturday, May 23. You can expect email updates each weekend with your workouts for the following week. You’ll be following the template I use for myself when I’m getting back into running (adjusted for someone with less recent experience).

Ultimate goal: go from 0 miles to a comfortable 3+ (without stopping) by the end of the training cycle.

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