Per the previous posting on Running in the Zone, I am about to head up a new Learn to Run 5K clinic at Forerunners (on Main). I’ve written the guide book/runner log and tentatively figured out suitable routes. I’ve even had experience at teaching people to run. Some we were teaching to run faster. I’ve been a pace group leader for Forerunners Marathon and Half Marathon clinics and often have people who are already runners but trying out a new distance, so beginners in that sense.
I’ve been doing some thinking on this and just like when you buy a car that is a little bit different, right after you buy, you see dozens of them all around. Same thing re this ‘learn to run’ initiative. Been seeing lots of commentary on the subject. That is probably what got me thinking about the thrust of this post.
Just for a moment, pause and consider: Exactly what would you tell someone who wants to learn to run?
Now remember, this is someone who is making a mental step forward to take on not just a pretty simple physical movement, but quite possibly a new lifestyle. We all run for the bus, from a bee (OK, I don’t run from bees. It just gets them excited, but you know what I mean.) after a straying kid, etc.. So when someone says they are going to sign up to ‘learn to run’, it is clearly something more than putting one foot in front of the other, rather faster than usual. They already know how to do that. It is natural and instinctive.
Although it CAN be just that, running is so much more than getting from Point A to Point B. Most people really mean learning how to run over some distance that represents a challenge in their present circumstances. That is why I included the pace group leadership as good experience. Those people already know they can run, but they aren’t sure if they can (or have what it takes to) run a half marathon, or marathon.
Just imagine now, that you have encountered a friend or relative, or stranger for that matter, who wants YOU to teach them how to run: How to run, in the sense that we runners run. What would you tell them? You know it will be something they will hold dear if they get it right from the very start, but what do you say and where do you begin? What are the essential points and what is extra?
That is where I am, or have been, for some while now. Our first official clinic session doesn’t start for almost weeks, but we are getting ready. OK, to be fair, I’ve already written the guide book and runners log each new runner will get, but there is still a lot of thinking to do. Words are one thing, actions are quite another.
I decided this post would be kind of fun to write because I don’t think I have so much more to offer than anyone else when it comes to training and inspiring people who want to learn to be runners. But, I thought it would be fun to stimulate other runners to think about what it is like to make that decision to BE a runner.
I have been running for something like the past 33 years. I also ran as a teen, but back then it was essentially ‘on track’ as they say. So, when I took up my later career in distance running, it wasn’t like I didn’t know what to do, or had all that much uncertainty about the mechanics. I’ve never really been the kind of ‘new’ runner I’m talking about here. Probably many of us runner types have a similar background. All of which brings me back to the core question of what would you actually tell an aspiring runner.
It is somewhat of a critical decision. One of the biggest problems with people getting started is that they remember days when, as kids, they just ran. Twenty years later, they decide to take up running as a sport or at least lifestyle thing. They buy the shoes and other gear and off they go. Enthusiasm abounds. Right up until the muscles get sore or a knee starts to twinge. Mostly there is very little wrong, but suddenly it isn’t fun and then the I-Word comes up “Injury”. Stiffness sets into those relatively un-worked muscles. Some, and I do stress some, abandon hope and the nearly new running shoes and just forget the whole thing.
My personal goal as clinic coach, is starting easy and building slowly, assuring my charges all the way, that with just a bit of patience they will be running and enjoying it before they know it, and without injury. Too much, too soon, we all know is the recipe for disaster. That is true even when you’ve been running for years but decide to ramp up the distance or rigor of the run. A big difference is that as experienced runners, we know the signs and (at least some of us) know that backing off a bit is mostly all that is required. New runners are sure disaster has struck or soon will – best to just avoid the whole thing.
There is another special challenge to be faced today, when teaching people to run – Social Media, and just plain old media too. As soon as someone ‘Googles’ Running, the fat is in the fire. “Ten top reasons you should never run!” “10 things that happen to your body when you start running!” “Running will ruin your knees!!!” “Running won’t ruin your knees, it will save them forever!” Why a newby would wind up on the Marathon Maniac or Half Fanatic Facebook page, I am not sure, but it could happen. If they do, it now seems that EVERYBODY is running several marathons a month! Medal Monday! Then there is all the chat about gear and what to eat – does pickle juice really stop cramping? Oh, and my personal favourite these days: “Six things that will make you poop!” What do you think is going through the heads of our new runners, and what is it doing to expectation and perspective?
My personal answer involves keeping it simple, easy and fun. If I could, I’d try to confiscate their smart phones until the clinic is over! Hmmm, maybe I could develop a “New Runner App”. It would be like the ‘N’ new drivers have to display on their cars. It would function to block internet content on running until they had enough experience to handle it.
For this specific clinic we have chosen a distance – 5K, and a training period – 12 weeks. All we are promising is that at the end of the time participants should be able to run the distance. No promise (or demand) of how fast. While running a race may be possible and can make a good motivating goal, we are not training to race. We will be training to run. What individuals do with it is up to them. Some may just keep ramping up the distance, others may decide that now they know how to run effectively and efficiently, they want to go faster. Some may indeed want to race.
One of the things I will tell these new runners is that there are many great reasons to just make it part of your life. You feel good and it can enhance your overall health. You will improve fitness, which in turn will make it possible to do other things easier and longer. And, if you play it right, you may meet a lot of nice people. You might even meet your future spouse! Our daughter did. It happens. Good grief! We aren’t charging NEARLY enough for this clinic!!
Part of deciding what you would tell this mythical new running person, is deciding what you get out of it yourself. While I think that over-analysing things is often a bad idea, it still doesn’t hurt to examine our thinking and motives now and then. I am personally reaching a stage where my racing is not meeting my expectations. As (relatively) slow and lumbering as I’m getting, I’m still competitive in my heart, so not meeting my own standards where performance is concerned, is becoming a problem. This is causing me to wonder if it is just time to quit. Maybe, where it comes to racing, but running itself is just too important in my life to even think about quitting completely. That, I think, is what new runners have to get a glimpse of for themselves.
I don’t mean to get all ‘religious’ and preachy about it, but to most runners I know, running is that important. The things it does for us are as varied as the runners who practice the sport. I’ve said this before, but it seems like a good time to say it again. When we finished the Running in the Zone book, I surveyed the 26 contributors who ranged from Olympians and World Record holders to avid recreational runners. One of the questions I asked was “Why do you run?”. In one form or another, pretty well every respondent said, “Because I love it.” By definition, we were all ‘seasoned’ runners (Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes). We all had decades of running under our sneakers. Still, the answer was ‘because I love it’. I’m sure we didn’t all love the same things. It was clear from the published pieces that the interests of the different contributors were quite diverse, just proving the point there are a great many reasons to run.
That is what I hope to be able to get across to our new runners. There is a prize available to you, if this running thing works within your life. And, it is a prize you could share, even with the Olympians!