Lessons learnt rediscovering running

It’s now been roughly a year since I started running again and I figured it was time to post about my experiences and lessons learnt along the way. Started you say? During high school I was the jack-of-all trades running wise, regularly qualifying for regional meets at distances ranging from 100m – 800m (including cross-country) but I never honed-in or particularly excelled at a particular distance. I just enjoyed running, being outside and avoiding a day of school.

But somewhere along the way came university study and then full-time work. I have always remained an active person, but for a long stretch of time active was just a synonym for me riding my bike into work (a short 2 mile ride) and trying not to eat too much take-out. Needless to say, the pounds started to pile on and for the first time in my life, I genuinely felt and looked overweight. Enough was enough. So I decided to take up running again.

For many people, running wouldn’t be their first choice of activity to get fit. It might not even be their last. But for me, it felt familiar. And it was something I could start working on immediately as my apartment backed onto a beautiful park with a half-mile loop.

I still remember that first run back. How I could barely run 2 miles. How it hurt the next day. How I knew nothing about running, shoes, diet or even recording or understanding distance or pace. But one thing was for certain, I was hooked on how good it made me feel. Fortunately, my weight started to decrease and I became much fitter all fairly quickly. So my running journey continued, the miles started to pour on but so too did the injuries. What follows are some lessons learnt and advice I wish someone had told me as I started out.

Solo or Club Running

  • I have always been a solo runner. Early on I found that running alone helped me to escape, unwind and feel free but these days it’s more because I just run so much and can’t really expect to run with someone all the time.
  • Running with a group of people for your long weekend run is quite common as it helps to pass the time, be social and keep up your motivation. It also keeps you accountable, as missing runs will have people wondering where you were! Either way, find what motivates you best.
Shoes
  • I would strongly recommend going to a shoe store and getting someone trained to take a look at your feet and tell you what shoes you should be wearing. You may find it useful to first read about pronation so that you can be aware of the type of shoes that are being sold to you.
  • I believe shoes fitted for you by The Athlete’s Foot are able to be refunded/exchanged if they are not working out for you which is awesome and helps take the pressure off getting the right shoes.
  • Don’t be like me and just go out running in any ol shoes you might have lying around. Running will amplify any bio-mechanical inefficiencies you might have. Don’t sell yourself short by running in the wrong shoes. But sometimes an old pair of worn down shoes might actually be what you need…
  • If you are the type of runner who finds that no matter what type of fancy $200 pair of motion-control shoes you wear, you still get injured (sore ankles, sore knees etc) then have a read through some “minimalist running” articles or even Born to Run. Your feet may literally be crying out to be set free or to at least be running in a lower heel-drop shoe. I am currently running in my second pair of Books PureCadence 6 with a 4mm heel drop and am loving them.
  • Every 400 – 500 miles, you’ll want to look at retiring your running shoes. Yep, by that point they’ll be dead. Good news! This means you can buy some new ones. How do you track shoe millage? By tracking your runs. We’ll get to that later.
  • Running in a couple of pairs of shoes is actually a good thing as it helps to avoid repetitive stress injuries sustained by your body adjusting to only one “feel” of shoe.
  • A little side note about socks; I like running in Smart Wool socks purely because they fit my feet really well with none of the “corners” business that most socks have. At $30 bucks a pop they make for a good Christmas present…  Just saying 🙂
Running Amount or Volume
  • Start things slow and keep your mileage low as you start out. Whilst it’s tempting to just double what you did last week, it’s a surefire recipe to end up injured.
  • Stick to the 10% rule, increasing your mileage by no longer than 10% each week. If you’re after something a little more sophisticated, check out the acute-to-chronic training ratio calculator on Runner’s World.
  • Your body needs time to recover. Getting fit is entirely about working hard and recovering harder. It’s a cycle. Post-run stretching and eating the right foods will go a long to helping you get back out there running again. Meb For Mortals covers this subject well and is a book I highly recommend you read. And perhaps re-read 🙂
  • A foam roller will help you “stretch out” stiff muscles (calves, quads, hamstrings, IT band etc). They tend to be a bit pricey for what they are, but they will last forever. I have a GRID foam roller and can attest to its build quality. I also use a golf ball sized massage roller for my feet whenever they tighten up.
Gadgets
  • Whilst definitely not a requirement for running, being able to track your runs will help you stick to your running plans and identify when to retire your current pair of running shoes.
  • Personally, I find being able to review my runs (in terms of distance and pace) a large source of motivation and over the year I can see how my running patterns have changed. It’s hugely satisfying to see yourself running further, faster and more frequently over time.
  • I own a Garmin 235 and love it. I have been meaning to write up a review for it. Stay tuned. Apple watches are quite popular these days but I would caution readers on a couple of points. Mechanical buttons are awesome as touch screens tend to not work so well when your fingers are sweaty. And Garmin watches are built to last. My screen still has zero scratches and a single charge even with 5 or so GPS tracked runs will last about 4-5 days. I torture my 235 and it has held up beautifully so far.
  • I used to track my runs on my phone but eventually gave up and forked out the cash for a smart watch. Doing so was a game changer. It was just too cumbersome to start and stop runs with the phone attached to my forearm. The prolonged GPS would really drain my phone battery leaving my primary means to call for help (if I ever needed to out on a trail by myself) at risk. I also found that most running apps tended to lack some feature or have some quirk that would really drive me nuts after a while.
  • I still run with my phone these days so that I can be contacted but don’t actively use it during a run except for occasionally playing music with it.
Apps and Software
  • I started out using the Nike+ Run app on my phone back when I was using my phone rather than my watch to record runs and found it to be the best of the bunch. I have heard many grumblings that the app used to be better and has circum to feature bloat but it’s not something I personally noticed. It was great in reading out your millage (“one mile completed”, “half way there” etc) and could be changed to provide readouts at configurable distances e.g. every 0.5 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles etc. Since the phone was attached to my arm and I couldn’t see the screen very easily, these readouts were very helpful in knowing what mile I was up to.
  • The big downside to using the Nike+ app though was that runs uploaded to Nike’s system were not easy to get out of Nike’s system. I remember having to use a converter to get my runs ported over to Garmin Connect and some of the runs had to be deleted since they imported with skewed times. One of my runs had me running a 2 minute mile apparently!
  • Strava is another app worth taking a look at. Whilst Strava cannot record your runs per say, it does do a great job in providing analytics and segment breakdowns. A segment is a component of your entire run.
  • Currently I use Training Peaks to structure my weekly workloads.
  • Once I started recording runs with my watch, I found just using Garmin Connect + Training Peaks was all I needed.

I have covered a lot of ground here and there’s just so much I could tell. Every runner is unique and to a large degree, you’ll need to discover what works best for you.

Now 12 months on, I find myself running longer and faster than ever before. Discovering a lower heel-drop shoe has worked wonders for me staying injury feel and has me now exploring the idea of running at least one of my weekly workouts in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. We’ll see 🙂 I have also taken to trail running in additional to road running, recently purchasing a pair of Saucony Peregrine 7’s. Next up is more running and races!

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