10 Training Secrets Guaranteed to Make You Feel Like a Runner
So, you did it. You signed up for a long run. You printed out a training plan, ordered fancy running shoes, some tights with a flashy print, an industrial-strength sports bar, new ear buds and a heart rate monitor.
Then you started running.
And somewhere around mile 5 you realized something.
And a tiny part of your brain (that same area of neurons that screams the word chocolate at inappropriate moments during the day) whispered, What the hell have you done now?
Then (after eating some chocolate) you email your boss to make sure there isn’t a conference you must attend the weekend of your race and thus begin a rapid slide to Cheesecakeville. (*sad face*)
But not this time.
Remember the last vacation you took? Did every place you visit live up to your expectations? Of course not. But that’s part of every vacation and we all know it. Well, running is like that. Some of it’s chocolate chip ice cream and unicorns and some of it sucks ass. That’s part of it.
Guess what? You’re not going to plan something that conveniently allows you to miss your race. You’re gonna run your race and feel like a total badass when it’s over. (And maybe even sign up for another one.) And I’m going to help you:-)
Let me explain…
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Do things that are hard
I’m not a runner. Never have been. My body is made for sprints and sports that require bursts of power. But almost every year I sign up for a long run of some kind. Why? Because it’s a reason to get together with my sisters and have a (post-run) drink in a new city but also because it’s a challenge. Do things that are hard. It’ll remind you of how much you’re capable of. That’s why I do it.
My Goal is to Finish—Not Win
Listen to me. If you’ve decided you’re not only going to run your first 10K (or other long distance race) but come in first place then this information probably isn’t for you. You’ll need to go to a runner’s site (there are a ton of good ones. I like Mile-Posts and Lazy Girl Running) for tips. My advice today is for the woman whose favorite exercise is NOT running but who’s determined to finish (not win) her next (or first) race.
Four 10K’s, one 12K, five ½ marathons and 2 Tough Mudders (those are 10-13 mile runs with obstacles along the way) later, I’ve found a few things that make running possible.
Below are the training tips that have helped me cross the finish line.
The Steps to Becoming a Runner
Don’t Train with a Runner
This advice is not meant to hurt the feelings of any everyday runner. I’m telling you from personal experience. Training for a long race with a runner never works for me. You’d think I’d be inspired and all that but I never am. Those long, beautiful, fat-free legs and fancy pace do not make me want to continue. In fact, it makes me want to stop for a cheeseburger around mile two.
I have a hard time running next to people who are faster than me. I’m very competitive. Any person who runs all the time will have a faster pace than me (I run slow). This means that my heart and knees might be begging me, For The Love of Monkeys, Slow Down, but my brain is like a 2-year-old running with scissors and won’t listen. Training with a runner could easily leave me incapacitated by the second week of training.
I prefer to train with people who think running is really hard. We may have to talk each other into every run and then vent for hours afterwards about the pain but it’s what works for me.
Find what works for you.
Pick the Right Shoes
This is SO important. Do NOT pick your running shoes based on the following reasons: they look cool, the sponsor is an Olympic runner, your friend (who runs all the time) swears by them, they’re the cheapest or most expensive pair in the store, they’re a brand you have your heart set on, or they’re the only pair of tennis shoes in your closet.
Your feet are unique to you. Get in the car and drive to a shoe store (I always go to Academy because I can help myself to the shoes) and try on a minimum of 10 pairs of running shoes. Buy the pair (regardless of price) that feels the best on your feet.
You can look up and figure out the motion mechanics (underpronator, overpronator, etc.), arch, and running strike (how your foot hits the ground when you run) and all that fancy stuff. (I like Brooks Shoe Finder, and this Shoe Advisor article by Runner’s World is really good.) But none of this information should replace you actually going to try on (several pairs of) shoes.
TIP-Don’t read an article about what shoe you need and then proceed directly to Zappos and purchase something. I’ve done it. It’s a bad idea.
Running in the wrong shoes can obviously cause foot pain and/or injuries but it can also result in knee, hip and back pain. I’m not making this up. Getting the right shoes for your feet will be the most important thing you do to have a successful event (besides your training).
Stretch the Muscles You Forget About
I’m just going to assume that you know how important it is to stretch when you’re doing any exercise program. If you want to avoid injury and diminish the amount of Day-3-pain then make time to stretch.
There are a couple of things about stretching when you’re training for a long run that you need to remember.
First, do a light stretch before every run.
After you run, and your muscles are warm, that’s when you need to spend at least 10 minutes doing more thorough stretches.
Second, we all know that we have to stretch our quads, hamstrings and calves before and after every run but there are a few other (less popular) muscles that you need to remember to stretch, too.
I’ve found that adding stretches for my feet, back and hips are the extra stretches that keep me from becoming miserable between running days. I’d recommend that you add those to your routine, too.
These 2 videos and 1 article will help you.
This first video covers most of the basic stretches as well as a good hip stretch.
Here are 3 good stretches for your feet (follow the link to the article).
And this video shows you some extra low back stretches.
Consider Throwing out Those Track Shorts and Tiny Socks
Bless your heart if you’re built like a coffee table with a space between your legs big enough to drive a truck through. I’m not shaped like that. If I run more than 3 miles I can’t do it in track shorts without developing an ugly rash between my thighs (and other lady-parts that will make any woman miserable).
Do yourself a favor and find some tights to wear while you’re training for your long run. I prefer tights that are capri-length (unless it’s winter and then I’ll opt for ankle-length). Every store in America sells athletic tights. You may have to try a few different brands but make sure you do several runs in the pair you plan to wear on race day, before the day of your event.
I’ve tried every different length of socks to run in. It may sound silly but cheap socks will make your run even more miserable. Invest in ankle-length (or higher) dri-fit/moisture-wicking socks. No-show socks will slip into your shoe never to be seen again as your heel bleeds out from that blister you didn’t realize had formed around mile 3.
TIP-NEVER wear new attire on race day. Do some of your training while wearing that cool outfit you bought just for your race. You do NOT want to find out DURING your event that those new shoes give you plantar fasciitis or those pants are rubbing your nether regions in all the wrong places or that your new sports bra supports absolutely nothing. I’ve made these mistakes. You’ve been warned.
Change Up Your Running Routine
Maybe I’m weird but I think running can be boring. And when I get bored I start thinking about my knee and back pain, or pizza, or how big my ass must look to every passing car. These thoughts aren’t good for my training but I can’t help it. (Sometimes I use ear buds when I’m running, which helps keep me entertained, but some days I’m just too lazy to strap everything on.)
I recommend that you attempt to make your run more interesting by varying your pace in intervals. Buy a digital watch (I use my heart rate monitor) and use it to create sprint intervals. Here are a few examples of what I do:
Example 1: Run at a regular pace for 1 minute, then Sprint for 1 minute; regular pace for 2 minutes, sprint for 2 minutes…keep climbing until you’ve maxed out your sprint time (always matching the sprint and regular run time) then go back down the pyramid.
Example 2: Run at a sprint for 1 minute, then your regular pace for 1 minute; sprint for 1 minute, then your regular pace for 2 minutes…keep increasing the time for your regular pace runs but keep 1-minute sprints sprinkled in between until you get to half your total run for the day, then take out your sprints.
On days when my knees are really bad I actually make the 1-minute sprints a fast walk instead.
If you’re using a treadmill to train you can really mix things up:
Example 1: Stay at a flat grade and run at 5.8 mph for 2 minutes, then run at 6.0 mph for 2 minutes; next go back to 5.8 for 2 minutes, then 6.1 for 2 minutes…keep increasing the sprint speed until you’re up to 7.0 mph, keeping your pace runs in between at 5.8 mph, then go back down the pyramid.
Example 2: Alternate 1-minute sprints with 2-4 minutes at your regular pace but increase the incline of your treadmill when you’re sprinting.
The changes in tempo give me a task that always makes the time pass faster, and keeps me from getting bored. Make up your own intervals to keep things interesting.
Tip-Try to train at least one day a week on a route that has hills or use the incline on your treadmill. Your course may say it’s flat but the smallest grade feels like Mt. Everest at any point after mile 3. It’ll kill you on race day if you haven’t trained a little with hills in mind.
Don’t just Run
Don’t neglect your other muscle groups when you’re training for a run. You need a strong core to be a successful runner. On your short run days (3 miles or less) throw in another workout that involves exercising in a different way (than running).
I love P90X3 workouts for this cross training. The workouts are only 30 minutes long and incorporate the muscles you don’t focus on when you’re running. You can buy P90X3 at Beachbody, Amazon or access it from a Beachbody on Demand subscription (this is the one I recommend because you can try out a ton of other workouts, too. Check out Beachbody on Demand, 5 Reasons to Try It if you want to know more).
At minimum, make sure you’re doing ab/core work 3-5 days a week while you’re training.
Don’t Be a Lazy Runner
Form is important when you’re running. If you’ve been a runner your whole life then you know this already but it took me a while to figure it out. Running is not just about your legs pedaling and your feet pounding. Just going through the motions without thinking about what the rest of your body is doing is lazy running. Lazy running will make you really sore and possibly cause an injury. Again, please listen to me. I learned all of these lessons the hard way.
You can run with your own style (we’ve all seen, and possibly laughed at, people who look completely ridiculous when they run) but you still have to focus on your form. Keep your core tight (not flexed like you’re posing for a bathing suit ad but engaged and tall). Don’t slouch. Try to relax your shoulders (this is a big one for me, I hold tension in my shoulders all day long). Don’t let your feet hit the ground like concrete blocks. You don’t have to leap like a freakin’ gazelle but don’t land like an elephant either.
I promise your running form matters. You’ll be less sore if you follow my form pointers. And after a week or so of concentrating on these form tips you’ll find them happening naturally.
Listen to Something New
For runs longer than 4 miles I almost always take the time to strap on my music device and headphones. I’ve created a few playlists that keep me motivated but I still get bored after a while (I’m easily bored, it seems).
Something you may not have thought about listening to are audiobooks or podcasts. I alternate music days with either an audiobook or a podcast depending on my mood. A good narrator in an audiobook makes all the difference so you may have to try a few different ones to find something that works for you.
A few audiobooks I love are:
*You can email me if you want more recommendations. I’ve listened to hundreds of audiobooks.
My Favorite Podcasts (I’m providing you with their site links so you can read about them yourselves but you can download episodes directly from your smart phone or Itouch):
A podcast about crime.
John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.
Sword and Scale (WARNING-This one is NOT for everyone. I can only listen to it every once in a while. Don’t listen to this while you’re running alone.)
‘…covers the underworld of criminal activity and the demented minds that perform the most despicable and unthinkable actions.’
How Did This Get Made? (a comedy option)
‘Have you ever seen a movie so bad that it’s amazing? Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas want to hear about it! We’ll watch it with our funniest friends, and report back to you with the results.’
This podcast strives to ‘…educate the public about common things and how they work …’
Honestly, there are a TON of great podcasts out there. Just find something to listen to that keeps you from thinking about pizza and the size of your ass.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Don’t wake up 2 weeks before a 10K and decide to sign up. (Remember this post is for people like me who do NOT run regularly). For any race longer than a 5K you should give yourself 8 to 12 weeks to train. I’m speaking from personal experience here. I work out 6 days a week but do not run regularly (until I start training for a race).
It takes me at least 8 weeks to convince my body that a long run is even a possibility. You may be in good shape (like I think I am on most days) but if you don’t run all the time (or train properly) you’ll injure yourself (and have a very miserable and humiliating race day).
I usually print out a Hal Higdon training plan online and then modify it to work for me. (If you follow the link then hover over ‘Training’ in the top menu and find the distance you’re training for.) Focus on getting in the total miles every week but make it work with your schedule and lifestyle.
Don’t Give Up
This isn’t just a phrase I’m using to make you think I like you and want you to succeed (all true). I’m telling you this because you will have good days and bad days. If I’m totally honest with you I’d have to say my long run days are almost always on the bad side. I don’t like rashes and the joint pain I experience on some days when I’m training. I don’t like nausea or bowel surprises. Training properly minimizes my running complications but there are still days after a long run when I wind up in a pitiful heap on the floor (for 30-45 minutes) only to find my kids looking at me and wondering how long before they can ask me to do something.
I keep going because there are good days, too. Like when I’m running and nothing hurts and it’s just me and the wind and my muscles and I experience a feeling of freedom like a German Shepard with his head bobbing out the window of a car speeding along the highway. Those are the days I live for. That’s when I feel proud of my accomplishments and discipline and you will too. Those are the days when I know I’ll finish one more race and keep going.
What about you? Do you have any tips for women trying to conquer a long run for the first time? Please share them in the comment section!
Thank you for reading. You’re awesome!
“Life is complicated. Fitness doesn’t have to be.”