Questions People Ask… And Advice No One Asks For…

August 6, 2012

Let’s gloss right over the part of this where I give you a lot of excuses about why I haven’t been updating. There is no one reason – depression, busy summer, my husband being home more and my having less time to myself, etc…, etc…

One of the reasons I haven’t had a lot of time is running – mileage is finally picking up and that means waking up earlier (to finish longer runs before work, and to finish long runs before it’s too hot on weekends),* going to bed earlier, spending free time with ice packs and the foam roller, and so on. But, running is what I’m here to talk about. In part because I have no friends in the town where I live, except my husband, and my coworkers are getting tired of hearing about it, but mostly because I’ve been asked some questions lately and there’s nothing I love more than giving advice – both solicited and unsolicited.

Firstly to answer what people have been asking: How did you get started?
This is a pretty good question because anyone who has known me (when heavy, thin, or otherwise in my own personal weight spectrum) knows that my trademark response to, “Do you run?” has always been “When something hungry with pointy teeth is chasing me.” I still haven’t converted into someone who enjoys the physical act of running (even if I occasional laugh or smile while running), but I have become someone who can run for a moderate amount of time before I have to stop due to muscle fatigue. The “how” is something that anyone who doesn’t run wants to know.

I started with something like the famous Couch to 5k training plan, but without timing myself. I started by moving around my block and picking landmarks to run to. Literally, I looked at a map of my subdivision and said, “Okay, I’ll run all of the straight-aways and walk all of the cul-de-sacs.” After a week or two of that I started running the cul-de-sacs and walking the straight-aways. After a few more weeks run a straight away and a cul-de-sac, then walk a straight away. I kept adding on distance until I felt comfortable adding a second and third lap around the block, and then closing all of the gaps until I could run a mile and a half without stopping. The timing system works for some people, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at a watch over and over again. Like anything else, there is no right or wrong way to do this. **

What do you think the hardest part of running is?
Not having unrealistic expectations. I am someone who isn’t used to doing something and not being great at it. That sounds awful, but honestly I tend to not do things I know I won’t be great at from the get go, so please don’t think I am insufferable.

I have a hard time, even now having completed my first 10 mile run yesterday, thinking of myself as a “real” runner. This is because I have a lot of friends who aren’t just “real” runners, they’re accomplished runners. They are people who have been running and racing since they were in middle and high school, and they are people who are physically built to be good at running. I’m not saying that as a cheap excuse, I’m just saying – I’m short and hippy and I will probably never be as fast a runner as someone who isn’t this low to the ground. I have a number of friends who think nothing of running a half marathon, or even a marathon, with a sub-ten minute mile where as I will be happy with finishing a half marathon and a marathon. That’s not to say that kind of pace can’t be in my future, it’s just that I’ve been running for just under a year and spent 10 months training with undiagnosed asthma and I can’t expect myself to be as accomplished a runner as someone who has been at it for 22 years.

What have you struggled with?
Sticking with a schedule – Before we started the official training schedule for our races it was really easy to make excuses and skip runs. I recommend having a specific event you’re training for, it keeps you honest. There is nothing worse than going into a race you’re totally unprepared to run.

Pacing – I’m actually great at setting and keeping pace, until I start running with other people. My friend Kelli, specifically, is a faster runner than I am. Not by so much that it’s immediately noticeable and I can think to myself, “Whoa, we’re going too fast.” Just fast enough that two miles in I’m thinking, “Fuck… this is the wrong pace and I am going to burn out on this last mile.” Now, add my husband to that mix, alongside Kelli, and it spirals out of control fast. A mile in I’m screaming uncle. If you’re going to run one mile, as fast as you can, that’s one thing, but if you’re running anything 3 miles or over it’s important to have a slow burn and push at the end – otherwise you’ll have nothing left to give for the final sprint across the finish line.

Hydration – When you’re running four or fewer miles, and when the temperature is below 70 degrees, hydration is something that you can get lazy about. The first time you’re out running for 4+ miles and the temperature pops over 70 degrees you learn a hard, hot lesson.***

So, running is pretty much free, right?
Pardon me, I am laughing so hard I’m crying and gasping for air. It’s true that anyone can go outside and run a mile and it will be free. But once you start running three or more miles at a go you’re going to have to spend some money. Along with things that are a given, things like sunblock and nutritious food, which I consider required for everyday life, you’ll need to make some investments. It’s not as expensive as something like competitive cycling or horseback riding, but running is far from free, at least distance running is far from free.

The only real “must” haves are a pair of really, really good shoes — of course, by the time you find the “perfect” pair of shoes you will have at least four pairs of running shoes. You’ll also have a set of expensive, personally molded orthotics if you don’t want to hobble yourself. You’ll also need socks that are not made of cotton so that when your feet sweat the moisture doesn’t sit on your skin and cause blisters.†


Now, I require a bunch of stuff that isn’t necessarily on the list of “must have” items for everyone. What’s important to note here is that each of these items makes running easier for me, and takes an excuse out of the equation. Any little bit of discomfort or inconvenience will become a reason to not get out and run, so think about that while you’re looking at this list and thinking it’s frivolous.

Garmin Forerunner 110: Entry level GPS watch and heart rate monitor. I bought this when I thought I was having heart trouble, but it’s become indispensable for tracking pace and distance. There is something really reassuring about that beep after I finish another mile. I like looking at the data it collects when I get home and seeing my progress in chart and graph form.

Sunglasses: Specifically sunglasses that won’t fall off of my face while I’m bouncing up and down for 10 miles.

Really GOOD Sports Bras: Speaking of bouncing… these are not items you want to cut corners on. (These aren’t required for men and that’s why they’re in this part of the list.) It’s going to be expensive, will not be cute, and no one is going to see them, but you will be forever grateful that you invested in them. It’s hard to bite the bullet and spend so much money on an undergarment you’re going to do nothing but sweat in, but sincerely you owe it to your body to take care of this. (And I hate to tell you, you’re not going to find these at Target if you’re over a B cup.)

A Hydration System: Or 3 or 4, until you figure out what works for you. If you’re not running an actual race you are responsible for ensuring your hydration during your run – even on 10 and 15 mile training runs. If you don’t have someone willing to bring you fluids while you’re out, and if you live in a place where there aren’t a lot of parks and public water fountains, you’re going to have to figure something out. My husband prefers running with his CamelPak for runs over four miles. I have been using a handheld water bottle with a pocket, but have recently ordered a hydration belt with a pocket bigger than my fuel belt and I’m hoping to kill two birds with one stone. (Have I mentioned that part of running is wearing a glorified fanny pack and looking like an awesome nerd while people you work with drive by and honk and wave?)

Clothes Specifically Made for Running: Now, if you’re not training for anything longer than a 5k you can skip this, it wasn’t until I ran 8 miles at once that I suddenly realized that the hem in the armpit of my t-shirt was rubbing, and then pissing me off with its rubbing, and then chafing my skin with its rubbing and pissing me off even more. They make clothes for running. They have hidden seams, they have special ventilation, and they’re made of specific fabrics to stop things like chafing and stewing in your own juices. They also are not cheap. They are also 100% worth it.

*I’ve started considering long runs anything longer than five miles, I’m sure that will change when our week day mileage exceeds 5 miles. Which is, uh, next week.
**Actually, I take that back – don’t go out and run as fast as you can for as long as you can and be done with it. You’ll hurt yourself and you’ll hate the whole process.
***Similar hard lessons may be learned regarding adequate sleep and food.
† This brings me to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’d been running with some very nice, thick, New Balance running socks all winter and spring, but my feet were hot this summer and I was getting uncomfortable. I purchased some thinner, cooler Adidas running socks and again was happy and comfortable. About a week ago, when I bought yet another pair of running shoes, I was offered a deal on running socks at half price and picked up some of the double lined socks that are supposed to prevent blisters. I wore them on a four mile run later in the week and got my first blister from running. I paid $15 (at half price) to get a blister. I won’t go into my response but it was something like this “*$^#!@.” (This weekend, when we were running 10 miles and that blister decided it wasn’t done with me my response was actually “*$^#!@.”)

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