A friend who started running recently asked me what to do about sore knees her workouts. She doesn’t have any pain and is fine when walking around but get to a set of stairs and her knees just ache.
I have to be honest. I kinda smiled. Because it’s something we all go through as runners or triathletes — managing the aches and pains that come with growth (both physical and emotional, though we’ll leave the emotional growth discussion for another day.)
And so I thought about my best advice for beginners — what did I learn through my initial process that can help others out?
What’s your best piece of advice for newbies?
1. Find a plan
My friend is using the Couch-to-5K program but there are other free (or inexpensive) programs you can find on Runner’s World or through BeginnerTriathlete.com. Other options include going to a local running or triathlon store the majority of which offer training plans or can point you in the direction of clubs with organized workouts. Whether you like to go it alone with an online plan or prefer the socialization of a training group, having a plan can help keep on you task and give you a base from point from which to start.
A corollary to finding a plan — don’t marry the plan. Things happen. We get sick or injured and have other life events that can throw a wrench even into the best intentioned plans. Cut yourself slack when you need to and keep moving forward.
2. Have good equipment
The debate over the best running shoes can go on forever (and probably will) but the important thing is to find the pair that feels best for you. If you’re having injury or pain, perhaps trying a different pair would be beneficial. But look for the best fit and feel. Go to a running store (not a big chain store) which will let you try on different pairs and run around (outside or on a treadmill) to see how they feel on your feet.
In the triathlon world, your bike need not be expensive — just one with two wheels, brakes and a frame that fits your body. Again, find a bike a shop that’s welcoming to newcomers and will work with you to find the best bike in your price range. Those kinds of shops are out there. Really. Often, all you have to do is ask.
3. Get the right gear
When I arrived at one of my first group cycling rides, my first order of business was to tell that evening’s leader that I was new and a bit unsure of riding. He made a positive comment about my gear, saying that I looked like I knew what I was doing. Ah, but anyone can look the part, I thought.
But the right gear isn’t just an exercise in fashion and/or vanity. It’s about comfort which impacts your performance. Ask anyone who wore a new shirt and found that after 20 minutes, the fit wasn’t so great. You don’t need to drop a lot of money but invest in a few pieces of quality gear. If you’re cycling, look for bike shorts (yes, the padding can be obnoxious but you’re rear end and private parts will thank you later for it). If you’re running, look for shorts with a liner.
And women, look for a good quality sports bra. This may end up being a trial and error process and may be the most expensive piece of gear you buy. Trust me, it’s worth the extra money. Good places to start looking are the catalogues/online stores from Title Nine and Athleta.
4. Invest in Body Glide and a Road ID
When I first started running, I figured the chaffing on my legs was because my thighs were fat. I’ve come to realize that (a) pretty much every women thinks her thighs are fat whether they are or not and (b) chaffing often has little to do with your size and everything to do with fabrics and skin and physics. Any part of your body that has some sort of skin irritation after you run you can hit with Body Glide. And watch the magic happen.
The fact that I’ve had friends who have had their life saved because they were wearing their Road ID is reason enough for me to encourage everyone to wear one. The tags contain whatever personal information you want on it but usually include your name, emergency contact info and any allergies that medical personnel might need to know if, say, you’re unconscious after an accident. We pray we never need it, but the simplicity makes it easy to stay just a tad bit safer on the roads.
5. Don’t forget the fun
Yes, we runners and triathletes often are a sick bunch because we enjoying pushing our physical limits. But the key is, even when it’s hard, it’s fun. Don’t forget to look around when you’re outside, enjoy the beauty of the day and of your surroundings. Laugh at the things which go “wrong” and know that perfection is just a story we tell ourselves. We can make perfection mean anything we want.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned about having fun is surrounding myself with people who also have fun. Sure, we might trash-talk each other or push each other a bit in a workout, but mostly, we’re encouraging and supportive.
Your goal is worth your pursuit, whether it’s to finish your first 5K or qualify for Kona. Nobody has a right to judge your intention. And those that try, well, those are the people you quietly walk away from.