I'm not sure when it happened, but there was a shift. A definite shift sometime between April of 2009 (when I first began running for real in my adult life) and today, August of 2013, when I became considered a "real runner."
I only know this because in addition to having lost 40+ pounds in that period of time, people started coming to me for advice about running. From what brand of shoes I wear to when and what I eat before a race, to how I train in the winter in Idaho. (Easy, I layer and run in the snow.)
It was baffling to me at first because nearly four and a half years more than 2000 miles later, I still feel like a novice. I'm still learning, still finding tips and techniques that other "real runners" have probably known forever but I'm just discovering are like a gold mine for me.
Even so, I'm willing to admit that I do have a lot of experience when it comes to running and I've decided to share some of the lessons I had to learn the hard way. Remember I'm not a coach. I'm not an expert. I only know what works for me. And here it is.
1. Good Shoes are Invaluable!
This is one of the first lessons I learned when running and I learned it the hard way. I never wanted to invest a lot of money in a pair of shoes. Any shoes. So my first pair of "real" running shoes were an inexpensive model of Asics that I bought off the clearance rack at a sporting goods store. They were fine. Until my first half marathon when I ended up barely able to walk because of stress fractures in my knee cap. 12 weeks and four injections later when I was able to start running again, the first thing I did was go to a real running store, and get properly tested, measured and fitted for running shoes. And I only groaned slightly when I had to shell out almost $150 for them. But I've never had a problem since. Getting in the right shoes for your body, feet and how you run is ESSENTIAL. I've read all the information on how running barefoot is so much better for your form and muscles. I have family members who run barefoot exclusively, but it doesn't work for me. I've tried, but it hurts. I need GOOD shoes. And not every shoe is going to feel the same on every foot. The brand my sister Cami loves, I couldn't run two steps in. They hurt the front of my feet when I tried them on in the store. Get fitted by a professional AND GET THE RIGHT SHOES FOR YOU!
2. Lose any expectation you might have about what running will do for your body
When I started running I honestly thought I would magically (over the course of the miles) get that "runner's body." You know the one I'm talking about. The woman who is always on the cover of Runner's World, with her flat abs and impossibly toned legs. But that's not how it works. It took two years and strict dieting before I even lost much weight. (Because running and working out on their own are not enough for effective, long term weight loss.) And even though I'm considered thin and definitely a healthy weight, I'll never look like that. My breasts are too large, my stomach soft and my hips and legs round and full. (On top of that I have cellulite, stretch marks, visible veins, lots of scars and horrible tan lines!) I can lose more weight but this is how my body is shaped and that's not going to change. I have to learn to live with the fact that I'll never be cover model material. So I will embrace the body I have. And live with the fact that I'll never be on the cover of Runner's World. Trust me, you'll be happier when you forget about getting the perfect body and just focus on the running. EMBRACE THE BODY YOU HAVE. It's strong enough and capable of so much more than you think!
3. Get gear that works for you
Getting gear that you're comfortable running in, is vital. If you don't like the way your legs look in shorts, the fact is, you probably won't go out and run in those shorts. I know it seems like a lame excuse, but I've used it several times. "I can't run today, my only clean shorts are the ones that make my legs look jiggly." When your brain is looking for an excuse not to run it will find one. So get gear that works for you. I've had to learn this with regard to bras especially. I'm not comfortable running in public when I feel any movement upstairs. (Sure the world can watch my butt and legs jiggle but I want the girls strapped down tight. I'm weird like that.) I know those cute ladies on the cover of Runner's World (see #2) look so pretty in their tiny sports bras and flirty tank tops, but if you've got anything going on upstairs you can't get away with that. It's more about function than fashion. (And I'm not excluding men here, my brother in law swears by the right compression shorts.) I'm personally a big fan of the CW-X bras. I have friends who swear by the Moving Comfort line (I found that I still had too much movement in that brand though.) But I'm not limiting this to bras or clothing only. Find the gear that works for you. I have a handheld bottle I love on long runs when it's hot. Some people prefer the hydration belts around their waist. Some people like to run with an armband or waist storage so they can take their phone and snacks. Doesn't matter what it is. Shorts, tops, compression sleeves, socks, gloves, etc. Gear is important. And doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. I have several staples in my running wardrobe that are from the C9 by Champion line at Target. So really, Find Gear you'll be comfortable running in. And don't spend any money unless you KNOW you'll run in it.
4. Trust your own gut (literally)
I hate GU. Not only GU. I hate Hammer Gel and Clif Power Shots. I hate all gels. They literally make me puke. I think they all taste terrible and within minutes of taking them my stomach is churning and I usually throw them up. And if I don't vomit I just feel queasy and don't get the advantage of feeling energy from them. I can tolerate ShotBloks sometimes and do okay with Clif Energy Blasts. The point is, find what nutrition strategies work for you and don't believe everything you read or everything people tell you. I've eaten everything from hamburgers to pizza to potatoes the night before a race and never had issues. On the flip side, taking a GU before a race has almost always resulted in vomiting along the course somewhere.... So find what you like. I'm not a fan of protein bars at all. They taste terrible and feel heavy. I prefer to carry a Payday candy bar in my race bag. Sounds crazy right? But it gives me great energy and fuels me through a lot of my long runs. In the middle of a distance race I don't want a Clif bar or a gel (as previously stated) I'd so much rather have an orange slice and some pretzel sticks. So during my long training runs that's what I pack. And during my last few distance races I've carried peanut butter m&m's with me. Because honestly I tolerate them better during a race than some of the more "typical" nutrition items. I've had people tell me their favorite race nutrition is candy corn and black coffee. And another friend who can't start a race until they've eaten a bagel spread with nutella. It's seriously about your gut. So go ahead and tear into that Snickers bar when you hit mile 7 of a half marathon. And if people look at you funny just smile knowing that your candy bar tastes a heck of a lot better than the citrus flavored GU they just choked down. Bottom line, EAT WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND IGNORE EVERYONE ELSE.
5. Not Every Run will be Awesome
I used to think that when I learned to love running that every run would be magical. It took me a long time to realize that even though I can truthfully say (after 4 years and thousands of miles) that I do LOVE running, some runs just plain suck! Most of the time I feel awesome after a run and I never regret having gone out running. But many times (in fact more often than not) the actual running isn't so great. I gave a speech last year based on the premise that running is how average people (moms, teachers, doctors, dads, FBI agents, bank tellers, lawyers, construction works, etc) feel like Rock Stars. (Because you know we all once harbored secret dreams of being a Rock Star. Or a Beauty Queen. Or a Television Sensation. Whatever.) The only time I've ever felt close to that is after a run. Seriously after a good 8 or 10 miles I'm invincible. (Tired, but invincible.) I can slay any Kracken! I'm fiercely sexy and a contender for World's Best Mom. Yep. After some good miles, I'm just that awesome. But during the actual run, I rarely feel that way. I picture myself slender and graceful while I run, but the truth is, most of the time during a run I feel heavy and slow. I'm panting hard and red in the face and my legs don't want to work. Instead of feeling amazing and sexy and strong, I'm trying to mentally shut down the nagging aches and pains in all corners of my body and ignore the constant craving to go home, lie down and eat cheesecake. But once the run is over I feel strong. I can once again slay Krackens, (or more applicable to my personal situation, fight the two year old who never sleeps.) So while every single run might not be life-changing, or cathartic, or magical, or amazing, rest assured, once it's over YOU WON'T EVER REGRET HAVING GONE FOR A RUN.