Written by Beckie Lough
Hello from quarantine in South Austin!
I hope this finds you in good health.
Many of us are turning to exercise for our wellbeing as we self-quarantine, and with “going outside” being one of the few things we’re allowed to do right now, it makes sense that many people are taking up running. But as with most exercises, the beginning is the most daunting part. How do you go from zero to 3+ miles without getting hurt? And how do you actually make yourself go at all when you want to lay down and cry within the first five minutes?
I always thought I hated running. But in the months leading up to our wedding, my husband Keith and I decided to try running together on the weekends. At first it felt pretty terrible inside my body, but we kept doing it because despite the pain, we were having fun. We made matching playlists on our iPod Nanos and pressed play at the exact same time so we could rock out together as we slammed our heavy feet against the pavement for a couple of miles. We’d return home with a new and satisfying fatigue, buzzed up on endorphins and accomplishment. The resonant feeling was joy.
Running was also there for me when I went through an extended encounter with depression. Focusing on my body kept me from dwelling on the pain in my mind. No matter what was spiraling and screaming in my head, I could hit the trail and exhale my anger and anxiety. It wasn’t exactly joyful, but it always lightened my load.
Now I run because it makes me feel good. If you want to make running a regular part of your life, I suggest you try the Feel Good First method.
Feel Good First
Your run actually starts well before you leave the house. Make sure your shoes are not too worn, your running bra is supportive, and you’re wearing shorts that minimize chafing. Then get your body and your mind right! My favorite thing is to turn on a record that makes me happy, grab my foam roller and roll out absolutely every muscle in my body. My entire glutes, legs – front, back and sides, and even my upper and lower back. You can spend as little as five minutes and get some benefit, but go a full 15+ and your body will thank you when you are out on the trail.
Even with sufficient rolling, running can really hurt. Most people want to stop immediately because of the screaming discomfort you feel as you start moving faster through space. Your body might make you feel like you have lit yourself on fire in order to get you to STOP! But if you survive the first moments of spontaneous combustion, you get to enjoy the comfortably warm feeling that washes over you as you settle into your run.
To get through this first hurdle, try my technique: Use those minutes of suffering to do a full body scan. Acknowledge your discomfort, and check in with your body. Does anything feel particularly painful? How are your knees, ankles and feet? Anything tight in your quads or glutes? Then at a convenient point about five minutes in, stop and stretch it ALL out. Spend extra time on anything that feels especially tight. (It’s also wise to stop and stretch at any point in a run when you feel any sharp or sudden pain.) When you get started again, you should feel immediately better, warmer, closer to feeling good. And when you feel good running, you want to keep running.
It’s in this middle section of your run – feeling warm, but not yet fatigued – where you begin to find your stride. Finding your stride is the key to running without stopping. It’s a question of consciousness – an intentional awareness of your body as you run. It’s about finding the pace at which you can run with strength for the intended distance. You may be running slowly, but you will not be dragging your feet. You will be running with power. When you are in your stride, you run strong. You run tall. Your inhales are deep, your exhalations purposeful, and your arms and legs operate in sync with the breath in your core. When you are in your stride you feel like you could run forever. The more you run in your stride, the easier running feels. And when running feels easy, you feel good. And when you feel good running, you will find the joy.
Finally, take it slowly! Don’t feel like you have to run a specific distance or at a specific speed to be a “runner.” A runner is just someone who runs! I recommend starting with an out-and-back route. Choose a distance that you could walk comfortably – maybe two miles – and work on being able to run the first mile without stopping (except for your initial stretching!). Then allow yourself to walk the other mile home. This way you’ll be covering a significant distance, but taking it in bites will make it less intimidating. Once you can easily run the entire two miles without stopping, add some distance. And always try to find your stride – running faster than your body can handle will only reward you with pulled muscles and shin splints! You’ll get there, just take it easy and stay consistent!
I hope you find the joy in running that I have. When all seems bleak, saddle up your legs and hit the trail!