This is not article about how to run fast. It’s not about defining success by HH:MM:SS or places or ribbons or medals or beating anyone. It’s about loving what you’re doing, and about doing all you can so you can keep on doing it as much as possible. What I would like to share today is the most helpful pieces of advice that other people who love running have given me over the years.
The only not-so-good runners are the ones who don’t run.
The first time I ran a 5k race, I was incredibly nervous and insecure. I had this arbitrary goal in my head that as long as I finished in under 30:00, I was an adequate enough runner to be worthy of having done the race. I ended up achieving my goal, and after anxiously checking the results printout to make sure it was true, I hit up the snack table. While I was chugging my Gatorade and eyeing up the cookies and bagels, an older man approached me and asked how I did.
“Well, I’m not really that great of a runner, and this was my first 5k as a race, but reached my goal time and was still under 30 minutes, so I guess I did okay” I replied.
“Bah, the only not-so-good runners are the ones who don’t get out there and run at all! You can be the fastest runner ever, but if you’re not even doing it, what does it even matter?”
I never forgot what he said.
You’re going to have good runs and you’re going to have bad runs. Just be consistent and keep doing it.
When I ran the half at the Ann Arbor Marathon a few years ago, there was a woman who was keeping the same pace as me for the first several miles of the race. Eventually we started talking, and she told me she was in her sixties, to which I replied, “So please tell me how I can be running this race when I get to be your age!”.
As we made our way along a shaded residential street, she told me that just a few weeks earlier, she did a 5k and came in dead last. “The secret to running when you’re this age is to just keep going. Sometimes I feel great and win my age group, and other times I’m actually the worst. You just have to not let it get to you when you have a bad workout or race and get out there anyway. When you feel good keep doing it, when you don’t, take a break and come back to it later.”
For somebody who was keeping an 11:30 pace on mile seven of a half marathon with a twenty something year-old, I was completely surprised at what she told me about her 5k. I also never forgot her advice. (For the record, I ran a decent race that day and she still beat me.)
When you’re sick, injured, or just worn out, it’s okay to rest.
As someone who has survived four years of varsity high school swimming (those of you who’ve done it know what I’m talking about), I grew up with a mentality instilled in me that rest days equate to laziness. It’s normal to have days where you’re slower, more tired, and all around less motivated than others, and yes, skipping a workout every day you “just don’t feel like it” can be a slippery slope to giving up. The thing is, sometimes your body legitimately needs time to heal.
I spent so many years pushing myself even though I wasn’t feeling great, something was hurting, or I was burned out mentally, because I was afraid that taking the time I needed to recover meant that I was slacking off, not pushing myself hard enough, or wimping out. I had a few older runners over the years tell me just to take it easy when when I needed to take it easy, but I never wanted to listen.
The truth is, continuing to run when you’re coming down with a bug, or when something on your body is starting to hurt, doesn’t make you a badass. All it does it make recovery a lot more difficult and time consuming. When your running goal involves being able to keep running as much as possible, it’s a lot easier to just skip a workout or take a walk break every now and then than it is to end up making yourself miserable and miss out on weeks of workouts later.
Just go to a running store and buy the right shoes.
When I first started running I was twelve years old and nobody told me anything about running gear. I did every single run in the same cotton T-shirt, black soccer shorts, and beat up cross trainers no matter what the weather was like. If I was lucky, sometimes I remembered to bring them home from my gym locker so my mom could wash them. (Super perfectionist me was always paranoid that I would forget to bring them back to school and the gym teacher would give me a zero for the day, and I didn’t want to bring a second outfit because I thought that the only reason I was “fast” was because my running outfit was lucky.) In lieu of sporty running socks, I usually wore frog socks. Or turtle socks. Or fish socks. Sometimes I even wore a moon and star necklace and kept a little toy lizard stuffed with sand in my pocket for good luck.
I first learned that shoes designed specifically for running existed the summer after seventh grade while I was visiting my family in Washington D.C. I pulled my beat up Nike cross trainers out of my bag, excited to go hit up a nearby trail, and that was the moment I was told that cross trainers are NOT running shoes. I honestly didn’t even think buying different shoes was going to matter. I mean, running shoes are just the shoes you wear to run in, right? After I got back home, I ended up going shoe shopping with my mom and my grandma, where they bestowed upon me a pair of Asics running shoes, and I’ve never looked back since.
Over the years I sustained countless other running-related ailments including black toenails, blisters, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis. I was complaining at work one day about how as soon as I started to improve and train harder something like this would almost always happen, when a woman I worked with who is also a runner suggested I go to a brick and mortar running store and get properly fitted for a pair of shoes. It was a total game changer! I do still have to properly take care of my feet by stretching, rolling, and wearing supportive shoes even when I’m not working out, but wearing the right shoes for my feet and running style has significantly cut down the number of running-related injuries I’ve had to deal with over the years.
So, there you have it. These are the best pieces of running advice I’ve received from older, wiser, more experienced runners.
What workout advice has helped you out over the years?