Sunday, May 29, 2011

Myths About Running

Zen Habits did a great post the other day on the "myth of discipline."  I think one of the things that keeps people from starting to run is the intimidation of this idea of discipline, or of taking on an entire training plan without knowing if you can even do one day of it.  I know that in the MANY years before I started running, I wanted to run.  I never did, though, because I felt sure I couldn't keep up with something long-term.  I also had all kinds of unrealistic goals about what I should be able to do right off the bat, and those unreasonable ideas sometimes kept me from doing anything at all--which is, of course, the opposite of what I wanted.

As a runner I feel stronger today, this week, than I ever have.  I think I've gotten to a place where I can read my body and my schedule and know what will (or won't) work for me.  But there are still things I'm discovering when it comes to running.  This is going to be a lifelong process.

In the spirit of the Zen Habits article, I thought I'd share some of the myths I've discovered about running:

1.  You have to be really dedicated to be a runner.

Not really.  I'm hardly the picture of dedication to anything other than the Real Housewives franchise.  I'm all about manageable chunks of information.  If I look at more than one week of my training schedule at a time, I break out into hives.  When I think about three, four, five weeks ahead, I can't process being able to run that much mileage and I get scared (and I don't run).  I've learned that it takes time to train my brain as well as my legs.  What I've discovered is that it isn't dedication to a long-term schedule that helps me stay consistent.  Yes, I want to have a general sense of my goal (a race, a distance, whatever).  But I can only look at small chunks at a time, and then I can only run one day at a time.

More than dedication, what keeps me running is just thinking about getting out the door TODAY.  Tomorrow if I do the same thing, I will suddenly appear dedicated.  But I'm not--I'm just making one choice a day. (Similarly, I can't think about blogging 365 times a year, but I can sit down each day and spend some time at my computer.  I can blog once a day, and voila--dedication.  Running is the same.)

2.  You have to run really fast or people will laugh at you.

Okay, who are those people?  If they laugh at you for being an active human being (which puts you ahead of like 95% of the people in America already) I will come over and punch them in the face.  Nobody gives two shits how fast you run.  If all you ever did was run a snail-slow mile or two, you'd be helping your heart, lungs, muscles and brain a heck of a lot more than if you never went out.  I let this one keep me from running for a very long time.  I also let it make me feel ashamed of my times.  I used to apologize when I'd tell someone how long it took me to finish a certain distance.  Now I could care less.  I feel myself getting stronger and that's what matters.

Here's a big secret: RUNNING SLOW IS WAY EASIER.  Way easier means you will be more likely to a) step out the door and do it again, b) run a longer distance, and c) not hate running.  I love running slow.  I get to be outside and experience nature and be alone with my thoughts.  When I run fast I can't think.  My aunt (a runner) once told me that if you slow down your speed by one minute per mile, you can double your mileage.  I have no earthly idea if it's true, but it's helped me feel like it's okay to slow down when I'm having a hard time.  And I GUARANTEE that you'll be happy you finished whatever distance you did and you won't care if you were slow.

The truth is, you're never going to get slower over time.  So go out and be slow and then over time you'll get to celebrate the fact that you improved over time.  It's a wonderful tangible result.  And the haters can suck it.  Anybody who matters will know that it doesn't matter how fast you run; it's more important that you move your body.

3.  Running should feel good all the time or you're doing something wrong.

The truth is that if you start running from zero, it's going to be hard for a little while.  Probably REALLY hard for about two weeks; but if you keep going outside one day at a time for that long you will start to notice some changes.  The first thing I notice (every time I have to start up again because I quit) is that it gets easier to breathe after just a few days.  In the beginning, breathing is hard.  But your body will figure out what to do.  Next your legs will not be as sore after you're done.  Soon you will be able to run for a longer distance.  Look up Couch to 5K.  It's amazing.

Pushing yourself (within reason, not doing a "Biggest Loser" and running until you puke) actually teaches you that your body is capable of doing way more than you thought.  And learning the difference between injured pain and healthy discomfort is one of the blessings of running.  You become more in tune with your body.

Even when you've been running for a long time, you're going to have crappy runs.  That's life.  It helps you appreciate the great ones.  If you're not tied to some idea about speed, then you say okay, this is a bad one and you slow down or you walk and you move on.  The next day will be better.  A crappy run is always better than no run at all.

4.  Walking during a run is for losers.

Seriously, this one used to keep me from going outside at all.  I don't know how it's logical to think that if you have to walk for a while on a run you should basically not even try in the first place.  That makes no sense.  But for a long time even once I started running I was ashamed when I had to tell people that I had to walk sometimes.  Who the F cares?  I think this myth gets perpetuated because a lot of people who have never run longer than a mile will always ask (after a race or a long run) Did you have to walk at all? And suddenly you feel like Captain Wimpypants of the Walking Team.  But the thing is that walking helps a) give you a break when you feel weird pains so you can keep going, b) bring down your heart rate if you were running too fast, c) allow you to eat or drink and not spill all over yourself, and d) allow you to keep going.

I'm not going to lie and say that I don't feel proud of myself when I can do a whole distance without walking.  But I stopped making that my everyday goal.  I have entirely let go of the stigma of the walk.  If it happens, it happens.  I like to walk.  No big.

5.  If you skip a day of your plan, you're screwed and you should start over or just quit.

Not true.  When I first started (or when I would think about starting) to run, I obsessed over training plans.  I've learned now that a little flexibility in my plan is a good thing.  I look at my week in two chunks, and I give myself permission to move runs around in order to let life happen.  If I can also do the things I love to do, then I'm more likely to keep stepping out the door to run.  For scheduling, I know I should get 2-3 runs in during the week.  Usually I will schedule them for Mon/Tues/Thurs.  I know I hate running (or doing ANYTHING except drinking) on Fridays, so that is my preferred rest day.  I try to get as many runs done early in the week as I can, but if I miss a day I'll just rearrange.  If I miss a day and rearranging is impossible, I LET THAT ONE GO.  Missing a day or two here or there is not going to end your running career.  If I start to feel stressed about how it's going to happen, then I know it's time to release that day from my to-do list.  It just isn't worth it and I know I'll have a bad run if I'm all worked up.

On planning: I've learned to plan around my likes and dislikes.  I like to run early on the weekends so my run is out of the way.  I like to have Wednesdays and Fridays off because I am most tired on those days.  I like to walk on Sunday, so if I can run on Saturday that's going to be a perfect weekend.  It's a myth that you have to make your life fit someone else's training schedule.  Make it work for you and you'll be way more likely to get out the door each day.

6.  Running is miserable.

It seems like there are some disparate myths out there.  Running either is all fun or all bad.  I talk to a lot of people who think running just hurts everything all the time so they never try.  That's what I thought too, since the only running I ever did until I was 30 was of the PE variety.  But running can be so relaxing.  It has helped me curb a huge anxiety issue that was nagging for most of my adult life to that point.  Why?  I found things about it that I liked--those things kept me going back outside.  I LOVE nature.  I LOVE music.  I love having a good group of running friends who will chat for two hours on a Saturday morning.  I love feeling like I made a big check on my to-do list.  I love feeling like my body can learn something new even though I'm in my 30's.  The good stuff isn't going to be the same for everyone--and running isn't for everyone--but I'm sure there's something there that most people would like if they'd give it a try.  Or maybe even if they gave walking a try... walking is a great way to go too.

See?  Running is awesome.  It's not what you think.  You should try it.

1 comment:

  1. I would also add another myth is "You have to love running in order to do it." I don't love running and I think I've rarely had a run where I thought it was awesome to be out running (yes, awesome to be outside, awesome to be burning some calories, awesome to be training towards something, but not awesome to actually be running). Maybe that's just me.. I run because I love how I feel after a run.. not during it :) hehe