If you’re anything like me – exercise does not come naturally to you. Let’s face it – the way our society is structured (especially in India) – the importance given to physical exercise is relatively low. From a very young age we are conditioned to believe in a path which involves studying, followed by a job. It is not until our late 20s when our body starts slowing down and we start realizing the importance of exercise.
Again – not to say that everyone is like that. Many do focus on physical exercise from a very early age – and all of them will tell you – that it helps them in many facets of their life. They are able to burn off excess energy which helps them focus better in their jobs and the benefits of being healthy and fit body are known to everyone.
I took up running a little over 5 years ago. Before that I could not even imagine running for over 1km at a stretch. Seriously, that was the state of my body. Although as a kid I was quite active and involved in sports but then life happened and exercise just came in the way of so many other priorities.
The opportunity came when I was doing my MBA and a 10km run was being organized by the college. I had gained a lot of weight over the last 2-3 years and felt that this was the right platform to prepare for the run and take up running regularly.
5 years hence, I have run more than 10 half marathon events, 1 triathlon, 2 trail run events and training for more. I would not call myself a professional runner by any stretch of the imagination but I believe it has taken a lot of effort for me to get out of my funk and get to this point.
In this blog – I will take you through some personal tips and tricks that helped me get started with running.
#1 Define your fitness goal & motivation
Running is a tiring, time-consuming and sometimes boring way to exercise. If you are not sure about it or have doubts about the end results – you will not be able to build it up as a habit.
That’s precisely why defining your fitness goal becomes really important. If you are aiming to have that chiseled celeb-like body and that is the end result you crave, then maybe hitting the gym and being more specific with your workouts makes more sense for you.
You can read about the benefits of running online to your overall lifestyle and how your body improves when you’re a regular runner.
For me personally, my motivation was two-fold.
- Short term – I wanted to lose weight as my health was getting impacted by it. High cholesterol runs in my family and I had been diagnosed with borderline high cholesterol and that was when the alarm bells started ringing for me
- Long Term – I wanted to remain fit but since extreme dieting was not possible for me, I wanted a lifestyle where I could eat normally (still healthy) not having to rely on strict dieting.
For many – the motivation could be going PRO and running long distance marathons from the start. If YES – more power to you. For some, the motivation could be getting out in fresh air rather than working out inside an enclosed gym. Whatever it may be – define your motivation & goals for running and keep reminding yourself of this definition when it becomes hard.
#2 Once Sure – Tell 5 people about your Running goals
This is VERY important. You can lie to yourself many times. You can give up on yourself many times. But once you tell someone – the embarrassment of explaining why you didn’t do it may help you get to your task.
Imagine you tell 3-4 friends that you are planning to take up running. Of course, these friends need to be people you speak to regularly. They will obviously ask you about it next time you speak. If you do not do it – the very fact that you will need to explain to them WHY – will help you next time you feel too tired or don’t feel like going out for a run.
Share your intention about taking up running and also share your progress with at least 5 people that you speak to often. When I had decided to take up running – I told all my friends about my plans to run the 10k being organized by my college. There were many days when I had started and felt tired and demotivated. But I did not want to face my friends and explain why I wasn’t preparing and that kept me going on those days.
#3 Find your Time of Day for Running
Many articles and pros will tell you – get up early and go for a run. This becomes one of the biggest hurdles for beginners who are not used to waking up early. If you’re anything like me – I am not a morning person.
Even when I did wake up early to run – I found that I was not at full strength and always felt short of energy. I was also always in a rush, rushing to class in college and then rushing to office when I started working. Sometimes there just isn’t any time in the mornings to go for a run.
But don’t get me wrong – if you can – morning is the best time to run. The weather is great, there are fewer people around and you are not burdened with things that might have occurred during the day. But if you can’t wake up in the morning – please don’t let it deter you from taking up running.
Experiment with different times of the day. Wake up early for a few days and see how things go for you. If you just aren’t able to get any consistency with that – try the evenings. Find a time of day that suits you the best and stick to it at the beginning. Eventually once you get regular and build up your stamina– you will be able to run at any time of the day.
#4 GET UP AND GET OUT
I think this is MOST IMPORTANT tip of all because it helps not only in the beginning but every time you just feel off your game.
The mental strength required for getting up, getting ready and leaving the comfort of your house to go out is half the battle won. This is because once you are out – you will give it a go. Even if you feel tired and might not run the distance you targeted, you will be satisfied inside that you did manage to get out and run that day.
Even now after 5 years of regular running – I find myself really struggling sometimes to get up the mental strength to get up and go outside. For that time – you need to remember your struggles and your motivation to take up the habit. Take baby steps – put on your running gear, then put on your shoes and then quickly step out, maybe just walk for a bit at the start. Eventually you will get triggered to run and that’s what it is all about.
#5 Get Comfortable and Buy the Proper Gear
Another excuse that many people give not to take up running – “I don’t have the proper shoes”, “The gear is very expensive”, “What if I buy expensive shoes and then give up?”
My very honest advice – SPEND the money. Get the proper gear that you want. The running shoes, the shorts, T-shirt, socks, sports watch, supports (if needed), etc. DO NOT give yourself that excuse.
The other advantage buying the proper gear has – it is another motivation to utilize the gear and not waste the money you have spent.
#6 Take Baby Steps & Plan Your Running Goals
It is important that you take baby steps when starting out. Always remember – being regular is THE KEY. You can go and run 5kms on your first run and be mighty proud of yourself, but it is highly likely that you might not run for the next 10 days due to muscle cramps or injury. So take baby steps and create your own schedule to get to your distance goals that you have set for yourself.
For me – I had to run 10kms in 2 months and so I had plenty of time to slowly and steadily work myself up to 10km. I started with 1km and till the end of the first month I had only taken myself to 3km with 2-3 runs every week.
The next month I started to accelerate with 3-4 runs a week with an increase of 0.25 kms every 2 runs. The last run before the 10km event was 3 days before the event and I ran 8km. I was still not able to get to 10km mark but I felt ready and motivated for the event.
#7 Slow and Steady. Pace Yourself.
Another very easy mistake made by beginners (and I did this too) is to go too fast too early. Not only is it important to take baby steps in terms of distance but even more important is to go slowly at the start.
A slow and steady jog at the start of your run is very important to warm up the body. If you start too quickly – I can guarantee you that you will not be able to sustain the pace and not reach your distance goal for your run for the day.
Even after 5 years of running, I find myself struggling with this. Sometimes you get up and you are feeling great – which leads to you starting very quickly. I usually go for long runs of 10+ kms on Sundays. But many times, it does happen that you start too quickly and end up exhausted in an hour.
So – please pace yourself – go slow at the start and then slowly build up your pace.
#8 All about Rhythm. Choose your Music Wisely.
My friends have often asked me this question – “What kind of music do you listen to while running?”
The answer is not quite simple. People have different taste in music and hence there isn’t really a right answer to this. My advice for an ideal playlist for running is a mix of high and low tempo songs. Many people will tell you that you need all high tempo songs to get that energy boost, but I think all high tempo songs can give an unnecessary push at times during your run and tire you out.
Choose a mix of songs – high and low tempo – and play songs as per your energy needs during the run. Let’s say you are starting out and your body isn’t too warm yet – better start with something low tempo and slowly work yourself up.
Let’s say you are 3-4km into the run and starting to tire out – go for something upbeat – maybe the song you usually can’t stop dancing to when you’re out partying. That will push you just a little bit to get the energy back up. Similarly, if you’re on a long run and at the 11km mark (maybe not for beginners) and targeting 15km – maybe it’s a good idea to go for some low tempo songs to manage your breathing and prolong the run.
#9 BREATHE, BREATHE, BREATHE
Just as the music, it is important to have a rhythm to your breathing while running. Many a times this is challenging especially for beginners as the body is not used to such intensity and one might start breathing heavily to manage the run.
Keep your breathing calm and steady. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth will help you maintain a calm pace. However, if you do need more oxygen while running – you can breathe in and out through the mouth to make it steady.
Breathing is an especially difficult task to master. I suggest that when you feel that you are breathing too heavily or erratically – you need to make a conscious effort to breathe in a pattern to make sure your body gets enough oxygen. Too often runners make the mistake of breathing too little or holding their breath as they are too focused on other things like posture or their feet.
One hack for this is to breathe in the rhythm of a song you like with regular beats. This can re-focus your mind on your breathing and also distract from any pain that you might be experiencing during the run.
#10 Mind over Matter – Learn to Distract Yourself
Due to the repetitive nature of the activity – running can be quite boring at times. During your run, there will be times where you just feel bored. Your legs hurt, the music is just not cutting it, your breathing seems off, the weather isn’t great or you just feel off for some reason. Here is where you deploy your next technique – DISTRACTION.
Although music does serve this purpose on many occasions – distracting your mind can help you get out of a rut during hard times of a run like described above. But what can you do to distract yourself? Here are some ideas that have worked for me in the past –
- Look around. Focus your mind on your surroundings. Observe the people who might be running in the park. The trees, the grass, the bump on the road- Anything.
- Another way running helps you is to vent out excess energy that has been built up inside you. Focus on someone you are angry at work, vent that energy out during the run. Not only will it distract you but it will calm you down as well.
- Focus on what you are going to eat after the run. Yes that helps!
- Positive thoughts always trump negative. Imagine yourself in a situation that can help bring positive vibes. Achieving a childhood dream, hiking up the Mt. Everest, running along your favorite beach – different situation that give you positive vibes.
#11 Plan your Routes. Yes Plural.
It is important to follow multiple running routes. Running along the same path everyday can be quite boring. Eventually you will find yourself tired or have more moments of lowered energy during the runs on the same routes. Distraction might also stop working. This can make you feel less motivated and stop you from being regular. Have multiple routes planned. Change them up as many times you want. Having at least 3-4 routes around your home can help you mix it up and stay regular.
#12 Longer Routes > Shorter Routes
Always try to go for longer routes rather than doing multiple rounds of the same place. Here’s how this works – when you have a short route (let’s say 400m) – you will end up doing multiple rounds of the route in your run. This means you will end up at the starting point every 400m. After each round, your mind will want you to STOP. You have reached the start again and you can go home. This ease of reaching home can hamper your ability to run longer.
Go for a longer route – a minimum of 2km and as you grow stronger – a minimum of 5km. This will mean that once you start a round – in order to return home – you will need to at least do the longer distance and this will help you increase the distance on your runs.
#13 HYDRATION is KING
Keep yourself hydrated during the entirety of the run – no matter how short or long the run is. Many runners keep the water bottle at the start of the rounds and take breaks in between to drink water. I do not recommend this because you tend to drink too much water when you take breaks or wait too long to have it. That can make you feel uneasy once you start running again.
Train yourself to carry the water bottle with you. You can purchase a belt to keep water bottles in or just carry one in your hand. Whenever you feel thirsty– go for a sip of water not a gulp. Do not deprive your body of water by taking too much of a break. Keep sipping little amounts and you will be fine.
#14 Energy Gels
Another good way to boost energy for your run is by using energy gels. There are many brands available and a quick search on google will tell you where you can order them from. This is more for longer runs more than 45 mins. Have one every 40-45 mins during the run to prolong them. You can also have one energy gel with water before the run when you’re feeling especially tired.
#15 Keep Regular
I can’t stress this enough. Being regular is the most important point of all. You can run 10kms one day. But if you don’t follow that up and don’t run for another 30 days – it’s all a waste. Keeping regular means running at least 2 times a week and slowly scaling that up. You can have an off-day here and there where you just run for 10 mins and give up – but that’s OK. At least you made the effort of going out and trying. Remember – distance does not matter; what matters is that you keep at it and be regular. Eventually distance and speed will come.
#16 Make your running schedule and keep to it. Modulate as your grow stronger.
The best way to keep regular is by making a schedule that suits your lifestyle. I would recommend planning at least 2 runs a week at the start and then slowly increasing that to 3 then 4 as you grow stronger and more confident. Don’t be too hasty at the start. You do not want to get injured trying too much too fast. Go steady.
You can go for different types of runs as well on different days. Keep Sundays for slow and long distant runs. In the week when you have less time – go for shorter but faster runs.
As you grow stronger – you can keep 1 day for just sprints where you do 500m sprints and take breaks in between. This will help you run faster in the longer run.
#17 Strength & Conditioning
In addition to running, it is important to strengthen and build your muscles – both upper and lower body – to keep you fit enough for your next run. Do plan at least two strength & conditioning sessions targeting your legs and core especially during the week to help you build muscles. This will give you a break from running and give you some variation in your workouts as well.
#18 Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Another general yet crucial tip. This is true for any sort of workout and not just running. A good warm-up and cool-down session before and after your run are vital for you to avoid injuries. Last thing you need when you start up a good new habit is to get injured. DO NOT SKIP your warm-up and cool-down even if it means shortening your running sessions.
#19 Register for formal events more often
One way of keeping regular is to keep registering for formal events every 2-3 months. That will motivate you to keep preparing for these formal events and as part of preparation you will keep to a schedule. Also, remember point #2. When you register for any event – tell people about it.
Do a quick Google search for events near you and start registering. Many events start at the 5k mark and this can be a good starting point and goal for you. After every event, evaluate your performance and target either better timing for the next event (if keeping the same distance) or a longer distance to keep challenging yourself.
#20 Two is better than one. More the merrier.
Another good way of keeping regular and challenging yourself is not to run alone. Although nothing beats being self-motivated, if you run with a partner you can keeping motivating and challenging each other. You can also join a local running group where people plan their weekly runs together and go to events together.
Hope my running tips motivated you to pick-up running as habit. I will be posting more content on running, how to run longer and faster, healthy living and nutrition on my blog.
Do let me know how things went in the comments & keep following and reading for more. 😊