I love to run. But I’m not sure I would if I hadn’t gotten started with mentors—my grandfather and later my high school coach—who taught me that running was supposed to be fun and fulfilling. When I began, I couldn’t have imagined that running would take me to the World Championships and the Olympics and to the other great love of my life, my husband, Adam. Not that it has always been smooth sailing. I’ve dealt with injuries. I’ve wilted under pressure to perform. But through it all, running has always been a relief and a sanctuary—something that makes me feel good, both physically and mentally. Which is why I want to help other people fall in love with running. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or win a race, I hope this advice helps you become a better, happier, healthier, more fulfilled runner.
Talk It Through
New runners think it’s not “real” running unless you’re gasping for breath. Not true. If you can’t talk, slow down.
A lot of people think they look slow, or fat, or sweaty. Don’t let any of that stop you. Among runners, you are golden.
Make It a Habit
Run two, three, or four days a week, and don’t worry too much about how far or how long you run. You want to get used to being active for several days each week.
Think Rest Day
Instead of saying, “I’m going to run three days this week,” say, “I’m going to give myself at least three rest days this week.” The ol’ reverse psychology—it works!
Mix It Up
Vary the places and surfaces where you run so that you spread the physical stresses around evenly.
Many runners are afraid to deviate from their training plans. But I think having fun is more important. Never be afraid to do the run you feel like doing if the one on your schedule isn’t going to cut it.
Whatever resonates for you as an incentive to run—a second glass of wine or sleeping in?—do it at the end of each week.
Find a Mentor
For many runners, a mentor works better than a coach. Find one by joining a group of training friends, a running club, or the group that meets at a running store.
Aim for Three
Do one short, one long, and one speedy run each week. This may be the simplest, most effective way to get and stay fit forever as a runner.
Long runs do wonders for your endurance. They should account for 20 percent of your weekly mileage. So if you build up to running 20 miles a week, your long run would be four miles. I typically do one long run a week.
Hill running gives you the strength to hold your form together when you’re tired, like at the end of a tough run or a race. You can simply run over hilly terrain, or do hills like an interval workout—run hard uphill for a certain distance, jog back downhill, and repeat as many times as you want.
Keep Speed Simple
Speedwork doesn’t have to be painful or complicated, and it certainly doesn’t have to be done on a track (a.k.a. the Oval Torture Chamber). Rather, on an easy run, throw in five one-minute segments where you’re running halfway between a jogging pace and a sprinting pace. It’s fun, energizing, and effective, and you can build up from there.
Go the Hard Way
When there are two options for getting home—one flat, the other hillier—get in the habit of taking the hilly option.
Have a Key Word
Use your key word when things get tough during a run. Or use it before your run if you don’t feel like heading out. Say it to yourself, mantra-like. A word I used during a really tough time in my career was fighter. That was what resonated for me, and it worked.
Okay, I hate cross-training, but it beats sitting around, getting depressed, and falling out of shape when I’m injured. Swimming, aqua jogging, and the elliptical help you return to running fitter.
Watch a Race…
I guarantee this will get you psyched about running. Seriously, it can be so moving. The finish line and top of hills are good spots for seeing pure emotion.
…Then Sign Up
Register for a local 5-K. Races serve as great motivators, they give your training a tangible purpose, and they provide camaraderie before and during the event. Even if you think you are too “slow,” trust me, you won’t finish last.
Your First Race
Drive the Course
Pay attention to hills, turns, mile markers, and road surface. Construct a game plan, then visualize it.
Revel in Anxiety
Battling nerves before a race is not fun. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) Embrace the feeling; it’s part of being a runner.
Focus on Yourself
If you think about other runners, you’ll end up thinking, She looks faster than me. Keep things inner directed. Be aware of others, but keep yourself front and center.
Go Faster Each Mile
Start conservatively, and gradually increase your speed through the last mile. You’ll feel great after your fast finish.
When you’re struggling, count your steps to 100, then start over. This helps take your mind off your troubles.
Whether you’re racing or doing a long run, pick it up the last mile. If it’s a speed or hill session, do that last repetition hard. This habit builds confidence for running—and life!