Becoming a Runner: My 5 Step Story

To give you some background, I’ll tell you where I’m coming from.  I haven’t run in nearly 10 years, and now, by some miracle, I’m one of the ambassadors for the Helsinki Half Marathon.

When I got the email telling me that I had been selected, it suddenly hit me: “I have to start running now!” You may be laughing now at my realization, but it’s true!

This was quickly replaced with “OK, now what do I do? How do I start?”  This is what I hope to answer and help guide and inspire some fellow beginners along the way with 5 steps: Commit, Set a Goal, Get the Gear, Stay Healthy and Be Inspired.

5 Steps, almost sounds too simple, right? Breaking it down will help the whole process seem more achievable and help you get your head around the basics just like I did.

  1. COMMIT

  • SET YOUR ALARM

Or set many alarms!  Waking up early was one of the hardest (but most necessary) parts of starting my journey. I am NOT a morning person so I set 2 alarms to get out of bed; another to finish eating (notoriously slow eater…especially in the A.M.); and finally a fourth to get out the door so I could have enough time to run and shower before heading into work. Overkill? Maybe, but ‘You do you, boo’ and do whatever needs doing to kick start this process.

  • LAY OUT YOUR CLOTHES

I’m not recommending you get all kitted out with running-specific workout gear.  That’s not necessary yet.  Any generic shoes and gym kit is good enough to start. Looking back only a few weeks ago I was wearing leggings that didn’t stay up and very tired old trainers, but for my small jog, that’s all I needed.

Now, lay that stuff by your bed (or in my case, in front of the door) and you won’t be forgetting to put them on.  Some people recommend sleeping in your gym kit, but I wouldn’t go that far.  If you put them on first thing, you are less likely to put off the run or find the excuse that you don’t have time to change into them.

  • GET OUT THAT DOOR

The sun may just be rising or maybe it’s a bit chilly out; maybe you are imagining all the running gods and goddesses effortlessly gliding around your local park and comparing your non-running self… STOP!  Easier said than done, but I like to remind myself that I’m running my own race, for me, and none of that other stuff matters. Layer up, keys in your pocket… and try your best to block the rest out.  Those sneaky voices of self-doubt always seem to return, but quieting the voice just long enough to walk outside, that is literally the first step.

  • DON’T OVER-COMPLICATE

For my first few runs, I didn’t bother with timing, schedules or distance. I knew I had a limited amount of time before work so I set myself a limit, for example: I had 45 minutes, I’d jog for 10 minutes one way until my timer went off, turn around and jog back and then have 15 minutes to get ready.  I ran when I could and tried to work in other exercises like yoga in the evenings when I couldn’t manage a run.  Later, when you narrow down what you want out of your runs, you can set more specific schedules and targets.

  1. SET A GOAL

  • FIND YOUR PURPOSE

Giving your runs a purpose will help you to narrow down what you need to achieve that goal.  You might be wanting to get fit, lose weight, or finish a race.

For me, finding out that I was to not only run the Helsinki Half Marathon, but represent it was just the excuse I had been looking for.  I have been telling friends and family for years that I had once run a half marathon (now 10 years ago), but ever since then hadn’t gotten back into running…and to be honest…didn’t know if I still could.  Now, finally I had a reason to try, to push myself and a goal to reach for.

Think about what you want out of it and that will guide much of what comes next.

  • Make a Plan

There are dozens of training manuals out there to help guide you week by week towards achieving whatever goal you choose.

When I had a free day I got stuck in, found 3 that I liked and compared and contrasted to see what they all suggested for common exercises, distances, times and rest days.  I bought a paper calendar (bit of an analogue girl at heart) and stuck the exercises and rest days on with sticky note tabs.  The advantage to this was that, if my schedule changed due to work or what my other-half wanted to do, I could visualize what my week looked like and make sure I was getting my runs, rest days and longer runs in.

  1. GET THE GEAR

  • SHOES!

I’m not naturally a gear-girl…it takes a lot for me to splurge on a new piece of kit, but in the case of running shoes I can assure you that it is 100% worth it!

Since I knew absolutely nothing about what shoes to choose, I went straight to a running specialist store where they had me run on a treadmill for a ‘Gait Analysis.’  This is where they film you running a short distance and by analyzing how you run, they can then advise you on what shoe to choose.  This not only helps you to feel more comfortable but also to avoid injuries.

I swear, once I chose my Hoka One One Clifton’s I felt like I was flying!

  • CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN/WOMAN

I was also pleasantly surprised once I started buying running specific clothing.  Leggings that actually stay up when you run, what is this sorcery?

If I had to choose the basics I would advise: A pair of long running socks, running-specific trousers or shorts, a supportive running bra for the ladies, a light base layer for those colder mornings and something or somewhere to put your phone and house-keys.  This last item could be a fitness jacket with zip-up pockets, your trousers or leggings might include a pocket for this, or a zip-up running waist-band if you don’t have pockets on your clothing.

  • Tech and Timing

Again, no need to invest too heavily when you start out on fancy fitness-bands or watches.  If you have a smart-phone, use it!  There are several free apps out there like Strava or Endomondo that help you to keep track of your progress, and also connect you with runners in your area.  Even if you don’t run together it can give a sense of community…or competition if that’s what drives you!

  1. STAY HEALTHY

  • AVOID INJURY

A couple tips that I try to follow to avoid injury are: not to do harder runs and/or long runs back to back to allow yourself time to recover, and not to stretch before a run.

The first bit I got my head around quickly.  Rest always sounds like a good idea, especially if you are sore, but not stretching sounds counter-intuitive.

What I mean is no ‘static’ stretching, which is when you do long and slow stretching.  This actually increases your risk of injury.  Instead you are meant to ‘dynamic’ stretching.  This is when you move your limbs around, but are not holding stretch positions.  For example: lunges, high-knees, butt-kicks, rotating your legs/hips etc.  Dynamic movements help warm up your muscles without overstretching them.  After your run, you can then move into these static stretches.

  • FUEL UP

I’m a huge foodie, so this part is one of the most exciting steps for me.  I love making and eating beautiful food, especially if it has a purpose or benefit.

Eating before and after a run is essential.  It was really tempting to just run out the door, especially when I felt like I was low on time.  This actually puts you at a disadvantage as your body needs fuel to be able to complete exercises.

A small, but nutrition-dense, meal is recommended before the run (full of carbs and protein) at least one hour beforehand if you can manage it.

I have settled into the routine of having a glass of water or ‘recovery drink’ as soon as I get back from a shorter morning-run, and regardless of the length of run I have a snack or second small meal soon after.  This is where meal-prepping comes in handy.  If you make it ahead of time you can dig in straight away and top your body back up on the fuel it is craving.

  1. BE INSPIRED

  • RUN WITH OTHERS

Although I feel that making the promise to yourself is the most important one, having someone or a group to run with can be very motivating.

It helps you stick to plans if you know that someone is waiting for you, plus you can cheer each other on when things get tough or challenging.

  • FOLLOW INSPIRING JOURNEYS

Whichever social media platform is your jam, you can find profiles and stories that can stoke your fire to run.

I like looking for hashtags like #RunningMotivation and #RunningInspiration to guide me to people and content that inspire passion and ideas to improve my running. You can also follow the Helsinki Half Marathon hashtags: #HHM2019, #HelsinkiHalfMarathon and #WeRunHelsinki .

Whilst you’re here, definitely give myself and my fellow ambassadors a follow and we will try our best to fill you in on our progress too!

  • CHECK BACK WITH YOUR GOALS

I keep a bright and exciting note on my calendar for the Helsinki Half Marathon race day!  Just knowing that’s there brings me full-circle back to why I started running and why all the other steps in between are worth taking. Whatever your goals may be, keep them out in the open and visual so you will be reminded to keep going and achieve them.

And there you have it, a breakdown of what got me going and what keeps me going!  Everyone’s approach is different but I hope that this might guide you to some ideas and resources to start your running journey.

What do you want to achieve with your running?  Will I see you in Helsinki this June for the Half Marathon?  Let me know if you’ve chosen to set this as your running motivation.

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