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How Not To Be A Terrible Runner

Ever heard this:

"Running isn't enjoyable. Running is hard, makes me tired, is uncomfortable and painful, and takes a lot out of my day. It is boring and monotonous. All I do is run, run, run."

"Running is my stress reliever - I NEED it to get through the day. It is the time I get to clear my mind from the havoc of the day. I am able to set my own goals, compete against myself, and take 100% ownership in my results."

Do either of these statements sound familiar? Or both? Let's be honest - we have all said both of those at one point.

Those two statements are polar opposites, but they both refer to the same activity - running. So what's the difference?

Typically, terrible runners say the first quote, and great runners say the second.

Terrible vs. Great Runners

So what is a terrible runner? And what is a great runner?

The way I see the quality of a runner is simple: are you able to use running to meet your goals? Can you actually use running to help you lose weight, clear your mind, get alone time, or challenge yourself?

It isn't about having unlimited stamina or blazing speeds. Because we are all at different periods in our running life cycle.

And here's the secret - EVERYONE STARTS OFF TERRIBLE!

If you think that the elite runners were elite when they started then you are mistaken. Everyone is terrible at first - that's just the nature of running - but with dedication, consistency, and a plan most people can become great runners (remember - we define great runners as using running to achieve your goals, not to become world-class, elite runners who can run a marathon in under 2 1/2 hours).

No one wants to remain in the "terrible runner" phase. We all want to progress to the "great runner" phase as quickly as possible. But not everyone successfully makes that transition.  While we all start running with a specific goal - lose weight, experience the 'runner's high' that helps relieve stress, complete a marathon, or socialize with friends - at some point many quit and never come close to achieving that goal. WHY?? Why do some fail and others succeed? 

The key question, then, is how do you transition from the first statement ("running is no fun") to the second statement ("I cannot live without running"). How do you go from being a terrible runner to a great runner?

The #1 way to become a great runner

The answer is simple - accept that the initial stage of running is terrible and DON'T QUIT!

Many times, quitting is because the pathway to reaching the goal is not black and white. There is no "one-size-fits-all" training plan so the expectation is that progress will be linear. In all reality, the progress fluctuates between feeling terrible and feeling great.

That initial period of becoming a runner is absolutely terrible. Running a single mile without stopping seems out of reach, and you have to run 26 of them in a marathon?! That goal becomes a fantasy and soon fades away.

There needs to be an understanding that the body takes time to adapt to this new activity. Sustained effort is something many of us aren't used to, but it is the foundational requirement of running.

4 Steps to go from terrible to great

 The goal of NorCal Physiotherapy is to make sure that pain is not limiting your potential. We work with runners of all experience and competitive levels - some are overjoyed with a 15-minute mile, and others can finish a 5k in under 15 minutes.

But we all need these steps at some point, regardless of our previous accomplishments. If you're just starting out or restarting after an injury, you need these 4 steps.

Having a structured plan is a necessity to push through the initial stages of running training. If you do not have a plan, accountability, or guidance the chances of quitting are high. Don't believe me? How many times have you started and quit running? I know for me it is too many times to count.

Don't be a step skipper! Novice runners generally skip to step #3 and don't ever transition to being a great runner.

Ever wonder why you always get injured from running? Why your mileage doesn't increase? Why you STILL hate running?

Maybe because you're just running to run and pushing your body to the limits without doing any foundational work.

You don't just pull your car out of the garage and start drag racing it. You have to modify the suspension, wheels, exhaust, and intake if you want any chance of winning a race (or not destroying your car). Modify it, do the foundational work, and make it move ideally.

So put in the work, don't skip steps, and reap the benefits.

Step #1: Start Running

The first step to being a great runner is to just start running.

Many novice runners try to get an entire program in place before starting. Everything has to be in order - mileage planned from run 1 through race completion, stretches to loosen muscles, which shoe is the absolute best fit, and which race you will run (probably even signed up and are planning your post-race meal).

You're wasting your time and energy. The shoes you have are probably fine. You have no idea how your mileage will increase. You're just guessing on warmups and accessory work.

Just get out and run. Don't overplan. Start getting time on the road. Yes, have goals and plan for the future, but don't overthink your programming in the very beginning.

Why? Because if you have a perfect program and one little thing goes wrong, it will derail you completely. Rather than spending so much time on planning, just get out and do it!

Remember this: An imperfect plan in action is better than a perfect plan not being implemented.

Step #2: Move Better

Once you're out there moving, the next step is to move better. Assess your gait pattern, muscle strength, mobility, and stability. Better yet, get someone to do it for you because it is impossible to take an objective look at yourself. When not moving optimally, the body is inefficient and increases risk of injury. And when you are moving for 26+ miles, everything needs to move efficiently.

The key, though, is not to attempt correcting on the fly. Changing your gait pattern or muscle activation while you are running is a recipe for injury. Compensating for a compensation won't end well.

The answer? Accessory exercises to perfect your mobility, stability, and facilitate optimal movement with SPECIFIC exercises. Running specific exercises. Running is pretty much just alternating single leg hopping, so exercises should be specific to that.

Step #3: Build Endurance

Ok, so you started running, uncovered some movement and mobility limitations you have, and have a solid plan to correct those issues.

The next step is to increase the time you are running. Don't focus too much on mileage initially; focus on increasing duration. Even if that means walk/run, we are training the body to be active for a longer duration of time. 

I know what you're thinking and stop right there. No, don't shoot for 90 minutes of running on week 2. Start your progress gradually. Overuse injuries are common in running because we get so excited about running long distance and time. We aren't trying to break any records today. The marathon isn't tomorrow. The goal is to keep running for 5, 10, 35 years, so don't sacrifice longevity by overdoing it now.

Step #4: Increase Strength

This is the step that is most often neglected by runners.

There's a common misconception that runners should not strength train because it will make them heavier and slower and that training with deadlifts, squats, and cleans will train the wrong type of muscle.

Actually, strength training will make you a better and more resilient runner! While running is still the main workout (obviously), strength training should be completed to reach your potential and to reduce injury.

In Summary

Any runner will benefit from following AND APPLYING these steps,  but especially novice runners. Running is terrible for everyone at first, but it doesn't have to always be that way. With persistence, determination, focus, and a structured program, anyone can be a great runner.

Ready to commit to great running?

We are here to help you reach your running goals. Many times, the toughest part is knowing what your starting point should be. To get a better understanding of your running abilities, where you are limited, and what steps you should take to make sure you are as resilient as possible, come see us for a running assessment. Schedule a Physiotherapy Evaluation and we can spend the entire time planning for your success in running.

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