10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running

miracle of runningWhen I first started running almost two years ago, I thought all I had to worry about was being able to run without passing out or giving up, whichever would come first. Now, seven weeks away from my first half marathon, I’m still discovering unexpected pitfalls and obstacles. So, if you’re new to running, here’s a heads up on the things not everyone will necessarily warn you about:

1) Toenails will die. At first maybe just one will throb and turn dark after a longer than usual run. Over time it will turn black, get crooked, and eventually fall off. Hopefully, a new one will have grown in underneath by the time it falls off, but that can take a LONG time. If you’re attentive, you *may* be able to prevent the death by popping the blood blister under your nail if you catch it right away. However, I clearly haven’t mastered the timing and currently have 3 black toenails. Dark nail polish is your best friend, girls. Closed-toe sandals for you, boys.

2) Food matters. Protein helps repair muscles, carbs give you energy. If you don’t fuel up properly before a run, you’ll run out of steam and motivation. If you don’t fuel up properly within 60 minutes after a longer run, your body can’t recover properly and you’ll impede your own progress. You really need to find the formulas for fueling properly for your body weight, because it really does make a difference, and it’s not all about the protein powder!

3) Long runs can make you sick. Be careful what you eat before you head out to run 12 km or longer, because all that up and down can make your stomach very upset and have you running your fastest time ever to a washroom. I thought fuelling for a 15k with a peanut butter and banana sandwich would be a great idea, but I didn’t leave enough time for digestion and was sick for hours after the run. Even when I’ve given myself enough time for digestion, I’ve found that having a protein shake after a long run makes me queasy, so tread carefully with food on long run days! Little bites until you figure out what works (and doesn’t work!) for you.

4) The blister phase never really ends. I worked hard and suffered through many days waiting for the blister on the bottom of my foot to turn into a callus, but it was worth it. I enjoyed many months of comfortable running after that, until one day, for no immediately apparent reason, I suddenly developed a painful blister again. Did I wear the wrong socks on a hot day? Did I slightly adjust my stride? I have no idea. All I know is that I had to go through that blister phase all over again.

5) Shoes get old. I’m not referring to the rule that you should replace your running shoes after every 400-500 miles. I’m talking about when you see your exact model of shoes in a warehouse sale for an awesomely low price, and you immediately want to grab every box they have to stock up for the rest of your running life… wait! The materials in shoes break down over time even just sitting in a box, so that awesome deal might turn into a dud by the time you get those shoes out on the road or trail. If the shoes are more than a couple of years old, resist the temptation to save a few dollars and just buy yourself the newer model when you need it. New shoes are cheaper than rehab.

6) Do yoga. Those roadside stretches are all well and good, but running is about more than just your legs. Yoga will help you stretch and strengthen all your muscles, even the ones you don’t realize are absolutely essential for runners. I credit yoga almost entirely with eliminating my iliotibial band pain because it helped me loosen up my hip fexors! Who even knew there was such a thing as hip flexors, and that they could be at the root of knee pain?! Even just 20-30 minutes of yoga a few times a week will make you a stronger, better, safer runner.(Runner’s World has a great section of free yoga videos online.)

7) You’re always at risk of injury. When I first started running, my shins hurt. Then my hips. Then I encountered a pretty persistent knee problem. With each new pain, I investigated recovery and prevention techniques and incorporated them into my routine. However, inevitably, a new pain eventually crops up. This time it’s my achilles tendon. I literally didn’t even know where the achilles tendon was until I googled the sudden pain that took me from a fantastic speed workout to a hobble in 10 seconds flat. Now I’m learning about even more things I should have been doing differently, and have even more prevention techniques to add to my regular routine. Don’t get cocky, you’re never infallible. Proceed with caution.

8) Cramming doesn’t work. If you miss a workout, you can’t make up for it the next day. If you have a bad week, don’t try to work twice as hard the next week. Don’t try to improve endurance and strength in the same workout. Cramming doesn’t work! It leads to injury – maybe not that day, maybe not even that week, but it will come. The more you try to cheat your training plan by cramming, the sooner your body will be reminding you who’s boss. And there’s nothing more frustrating in running than feeling like you’re finally improving, just to be sidelined for several weeks feeling all those gains just slipping away. Be patient and be kind to yourself, and don’t try to cram your progress.

9) It’s harder than it looks – for everyone. You know those people who speed past you with their perfect ponytails, lean bodies and barely a drop of sweat to be seen? They’re working hard, they’re out of breath, and they also have trouble motivating themselves to get out the door. They also wish they were faster, or stronger. They’re not looking at you thinking they’re better than you, they’re in their own struggle to dominate their bodies and their minds just like we are. If anything, they’re happy to see another runner out there too. Remember, we’re all in it together, no matter what level we’re at.

10) Running will change your life. It will become one of those things that you love and hate. Sometimes you dread it, but you can’t live without it. When you’re not doing it, you’re thinking about it and talking about it. You will look forward to the high of accomplishment every time you tackle a new distance, speed, or route. Every slight incline in the road will suddenly look like a hill to you, even when you’re driving. You will start to identify yourself as a runner, and you will be so proud to be known as one. Your life will never be the same again, and that will make you the happiest person alive..

you know youre a runner when

Motorcycles are H-O-T

I can’t believe I’m turning 40 in a few months and I’ve just learned this now: motorcycles are hot. I don’t mean hot like the exhaust pipe will cause third degree burns to your leg if you brush against it (which it will). I mean hot like sexy, super sexy.

This past weekend a friend asked casually if I wanted to go for a ride on his bike. I’m usually up for pretty much anything, so I said sure, why not. 

As he pulled up on his bike, my heart began to race. What was I thinking, agreeing to throw myself onto the back of this death machine? I pictured my body being flung off into a ditch, rocks tearing easily through my Old Navy fleece pants, helmeted head lying at an awkward angle from the rest of my mangled body.

He glanced at me and paused. ‘You ok?’

Deep breath. ‘Yup, just a little bit nervous. I’ll be ok. Let’s do this.’

He slid the helmet onto my (apparently large) head, I hopped onto the back and he started up the engine.

As we began rolling down the road, I hung onto him for dear life. I worried about the little rocks on the road under the wheels, remembering how easily those rocks can throw off the balance of my bicycle tires.

‘So, um, this bike is pretty steady on gravel?’

‘Oh yeah, this one’s great on gravel. I could even take if off-road if I wanted to. How are you feeling about the speed?’

‘So far so good. If we stay at this speed, I’ll be totally fine.’

‘OK, well, we’re going 25 km/h, so I’ll probably speed up a little bit once we get onto a main road.’

Oh my god, speed up? Deep breath. I never would’ve imagined 25 km/h feeling fast to me, but at that moment I couldn’t imagine going any faster. I hung on a little tighter.

We slowly made our way through beautiful forested roads, lakeside trails and vast farmland. With every mile, I slowly loosened my grip, settled into my seat, and began to be able to soak it all in.

That’s when I started to realize how completely exciting it was – the vibration of the motor beneath me, my body pressed up against a strong man who literally has my life in his hands (and who I trust completely with my life), my legs gripping him tighter as we lean through turns. Holy mother of God, I thought, this is HOT.

Ladies, I don’t want to get all 50 Shades of Grey on you, but trust me: if you’ve never been on the back of a motorcycle, you need to add this to your bucket list… nowMy heart is racing again just thinking about it.

We rode around all afternoon exploring the area, stopping off at little bays and beaches, quiet diners along rural roads. As we rode, I stretched my arms out, lifted my face to the sky, listened to the flapping of my jacket sleeves in the wind. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m flying while still on land. By the end, we were racing along at 90 km/h on a long open road, feeling free and invincible.

That night I didn’t sleep much, the excitement still coursing through my veins.  Life is a gift, and every minute I was riding on the back of that motorcycle I was squeezing every little bit of life out of every moment. That was a day well lived.

After I dismounted and shook the helmet head out of my hair, he grinned, gave me a look like he was impressed and said, ‘You’re a great passenger.’

Well, this girl is sold. I feel like I’ve just been let in on a huge secret and I’ll be a passenger again any day.