Running is something that I didn’t start doing until my freshmen year of high school. I didn’t do it because I loved running; I did it because my oldest sister did track for 4 years and my other sister was in her 3rd year of cross country. I sort of felt obligated to do the sport, but it was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made during high school.
Not only do you get the mental, emotional, and physical benefits from running, you create your own little community whether if you’re on a team or with a group of friends. Running becomes a large part of your life and believe it or not, you actually end up loving it in the end. It’s my time to de-stress (yes, putting myself through pain is comforting) and I end up feeling great afterwards. No matter how bad the day was, I can rely on a good run to get me out of the funk.
NOTE: Keep in mind that I am not a certified coach. These are just the tips I’ve developed throughout my years of XC and advice from my own coaches.
Invest in running gear.
Even from the start, I would suggest investing in durable running gear. Look into shoe brands specifically for running such as Brooks or Asics. My favorite pair of running shoes right now is the Brooks Cascadia 10’s in Midnight. They got me through my entire junior year XC season and for my casual runs in the neighborhood. It sounds ridiculous, but you need to repurchase a new pair of running shoes each XC season because of the mileage and terrain your shoes endure. Shoes in good condition = happy, healthy and injury-free feet. Other gear includes running tanks, shorts, and socks. Yes. You might need socks specifically for running. I know that some people can get away from socks from Target, but depending on your foot strike and arch of your foot, you may have issues with thin cotton socks. My favorites are the Asic Intensity Single Tab socks. They have a good grip and my feet haven’t blistered ever since I got them. The last gear item I suggest is investing in a watch. You can pick up any sports watch at Walmart or Target to help track your mile times for workouts and long runs.
Drink water. I repeat. Drink water. Water is so essential to not only running but to life in general. During your run, you are constantly losing water in the body whether through sweating or its natural processes. Therefore, you must drink water before and after a run. I can’t even tell you how many ruined workouts were caused by not drinking enough water during that school day before practice.
Slowly build up mileage.
Don’t go outside and try to run for 30 minutes straight. You can’t expect to be great at something on your first try. Gradually build up your mileage. It doesn’t matter how slow you go, so try to do increments of 5-10 minutes each day to build up your endurance. Speed is good, but it’s nothing without endurance. Eventually you’ll be able to run 40 or 45 minutes or even an hour.
It’s okay to walk.
Walking is better than nothing honestly. If you’re trying to build up your endurance, try doing periods of 5 minutes of walking and running. Everyone is going to start out at different levels, so find what’s best for you. Eventually you’ll get so pumped up at the fact that you can run 10 or 20 minutes straight without walking that walking feels like giving up and you’ll refuse.
Running is a mental sport.
Like I said before, walking is okay and it is, but know the difference between physically and mentally needing to walk. If you are a beginner and your body needs the rest, then by all means walk. However a lot of the time it’s your brain telling you that you’re tired or you’re weak or you can’t do it anymore. I want you to take those thoughts and shove them out of your head because you are your worst enemy when it comes to running. Persevere even though it sucks and you’ll end up feeling proud of yourself in the end. Finish that mile or that workout with a smile. Don’t think negatively about your run because then you’ll end up hating it. Learn to love it.
Dynamic stretch instead of static stretch.
Static stretching is those stretches you did in gym class where there was no movement. You just bent down and touched your toes and then called it a day. Dynamic stretching involves moving/walking. You can find good dynamic stretches on the internet. These types of stretches help involve more of your muscle groups and help warm them up more than static stretching.
Mix up your workouts.
If you’re with a team, you’ll already have your workouts planned out for you. If you’re running with a group, research through credible running websites for workouts that you can do. Examples are mile repeats, 800’s, fartleks, hills, etc.
Do a long run.
Long runs are a beautiful thing. It’s traditionally done once at the end of the week to help build up mileage. It doesn’t have to be fast, but start out at 2 then 3 then 4 and so on miles and you’ll end up surprising yourself. It’s the most relaxing out of all the runs (at least for me), and it gives you time to explore the great outdoors.
Fuel right for your runs.
Fueling properly for your runs is so important because what you eat is what you get. If you eat only simple carbohydrates and sugars, you’re going to crash and your energy levels will be low. I would research studies done by DIETITIANS to help see what is the best for your diet. Please do not look up beauty gurus on YouTube or self-proclaimed health addicts to tell you what you should be eating. The simplest diet is your trusty ole’ food pyramid: protein, colorful veggies, fruit, and whole fibrous grains.
Practice your form.
It pains me when I see beauty gurus on YouTube talking about running; most of them probably don’t run at all and are doing it for the sake of making a workout video and their form is atrocious. Their arms are held too tightly into their chest or their stride is too short for their body which ends up hurting you in the long run. Good form = less chance of injury and a better run.
Join a team or group.
Being on a team is great motivation not only to run but to do better. Find a buddy or join your schools XC team. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone by getting in a good run and having fun memories with your friends. Having an accountable running group makes it more likely that you’ll run, so partner up!
Set a goal.
List out goals that you want from your running. Don’t worry if it’s weight loss. If you reach all of your goals for running, the weight will take care of itself. Run for the sake of running. If you don’t, you ‘ll end up hating it and will go back to square one. Try making goals like mileage, time, or speed. PRs (personal records) was my main motivation during XC season. Constantly try to improve and then move on to the next goal once you complete another. However, make sure that your goals are realistic.
Try something new and explore.
I’ve gotten tired of the concrete (I prefer dirt trails since they’re easier on the shins, but gotta work with what ya got) trails around my neighborhood. Running everyday on the same trial gets monotonous, so try driving out to a local park or trail reserve and explore! The runs where I went on new trails and explored have been my favorite runs.
Run in the morning if possible.
In the summer, I always run in the morning to get the run out of the way. If I wait till the afternoon, I tend to talk myself out of it rather than doing it. By doing it in the morning, you can spend the rest of the day without worrying about when to schedule in the run. However during the school week, I do my runs immediately after school so that I can focus on studying and homework for the rest of the night.
FOAM ROLL. I REPEAT. FOAM ROLL.
If you notice that your muscles are a little sore or that you’ve developed knots, invest in a foam roller. They can be found at most sport and running stores. I have a tricky knot that comes up in my right leg every XC season regardless of how I change up my form, so foam rolling is a must.
Enter a race.
Entering a race is the ultimate motivator. Since you’ve committed and paid for a race, you tend to be more motivated to lace up those shoes and get out there so that you’re in tip top shape for the race. You can find local 5ks just by searching on the internet. My favorites are Turkey Trot, Race for Education, and I’m planning on doing the St. Jude 5k next year!
Listen to your body.
And finally the most important tip is to listen to your body. If it’s hurting or if one run or workout doesn’t seem right, it’s okay to take a break. Don’t push yourself so hard that you can’t even run in the first place. It takes a while to be able to tell the difference between real pain and mental negativity, but I believe you can do it. No pain no gain, right? (I’m kidding. Listen to your body, kids.)