When 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..