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Advice from an Expert Beginner (Runner)

Yep, that's right.  An expert beginner runner.   It's this time of year that I feel like I am "starting over" again.   December and January are my toughest months for running.  The weather is more conducive for excuses versus running and it is usually very busy at work.  So my running suffers.  Usually I end up stop running completely, turning into a holiday Cookies cookie slug, and eating my way into my fat clothes.  Seriously, at the end of the holiday season, I no longer need to wear perfume because my pores ooze the sweet vanilla scent of fresh baked cookies - yes, I consume that many.

This year, I am on a bit more on top of it.  I fell off the running wagon for a few weeks in December, but not a complete full body splat - more like one leg dragging off the wagon and the rest of my running body begging to stay on and not lose much more momentum.  But, there is still an element of starting over.  And because I have been here year after year, I am getting pretty darn good at it.  I know what I need to do and how to go about it.   

Here are a few of my "expert" beginner runner rules.  Now, just to set expectations appropriately low - these aren't the technical useful ones you will find in some of the really good books like The Complete Book of Beginning Running or Running for Dummies.    These are home grown, ordinary runner kind of rules developed by a runner who has been a beginner more times than I care to remember.

Beginner Rule #1:  Runners aren't built on running alone. 

Running is good but it can't be the only thing you do.   Especially when you are starting out (again). You need off days, you need cross training days, you need days when you run for fun or no reason. 

A balanced runner has a dose of strength training and stretching to keep the new running body happy.   Running is a repetitive motion.  Repetitive motion works very specific muscles but not all the muscles.  Don't forget a few stretches and strengthening, especially for the those hips, knees and feet.   Not only will you run better, you will ward off injury.  The times that I have resorted to running alone, I usually ended up with one of these three unhappy endings to my season - injury, boredom, or lack of motivation.

Beginner Rule #2:  Don't make up rules you don't need.No_rules_sign_2

Mother Nature and the Natural Laws of running provide enough challenge for us runners.  The cold, the heat, the humidity (remember when we all complained about that), winds, hills, snow, ice, gravity, bodies built for anything but runninig, races without tunes, spandex...all these things provide resistance and challenge. So, why create any more rules for yourself.  You know what I am talking about.  "If I am going to be a real runner, I need to run at least 3 miles each time."   "I must get below 8 minute miles to have a good run."  "I need to run everyday."   "I need to run a race to be a real runner." Goals are good.  Keep goals.   But silly rules that only increase frustration- ditch those.   

Beginner Rule #3:  Find a crazy-o-meter.

Otherwise known as a running friend or coach.   I have been known to try some really crazy stuff in my beginner mode.  I am not sure if it is due to all the pent up energy that poisons my brain or if I stupid from not running. My craziest?  7 weeks after having my first child I ran a 25K.   Why was this crazy?  Well, I had gained 60 pounds, had to stop running a Crazy_meter month before, I am not that great of a runner, and in no way should have been training that soon.   I can look back now and admit this - but my friends will tell you that they tried to talk sense into me and I just wouldn't listen.   Don't make that mistake.  Find a running friend and tell them about your running plans.  They will tell you if you are crazy.  You just need to listen to them.

Beginner Rule #4:  Beginners build a base first.

A base is simply getting comfortable within a certain distance before jumping up to the next level.  There are many formulas you can find - but using common sense and listening to your body is the best.  Cramming doesn't work.  Trust me on this one - I have earned by black belt in running cramming.   I have shortened many training programs due to an overabundance of running enthusiasm.  I once heard that losing a pound equaled running 10 miles.  I am sure whoever told me that didn't intend that fact to be integrated into my training program - but I did.  Running progress takes time - there isn't much that replaces it.

Beginner Rule #5:  Do something you enjoy.

Pick a race, a training plan, a trail or time of day you enjoy.   It makes it so much easier.  Not to say that you shouldn't stretch yourself or challenge your level of fitness - but find something that is exciting to work towards as you begin.   

Beginner Rule #6:  Rest when you are tired.

By tired, I mean the tired you get from too much training.   Not the legs getting a little tired during a run, but the I-am-really-cranky, I-really-don't-feel-like-running, I-just-want-to-veg, kind of tired.  Trust me, you will know the difference.   Running when you are already over trained will lead to less than stellar results.  A good test of over training is going out to do just 10 minutes and 10 minutes seems 9 minutes too long.  If you are still unsure of what kind of tired you are - see Rule 3.  Talk to a running friend about your schedule - they will tell you if you have crossed the line.  Friends don't let friends over train.   Rest once and a while.  In fact, build rest into your training plans.

If you are an expert beginner like me, tell me what rules you live by and good luck on your "new" beginning.

Cookies on Flickr by mamahoot

Crazy Meter by not halfway there

Photo of Edison quote by nonetfirst





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William carter

I know exactly where you are coming from on this one. It doesn't matter how many years we have been running, every January we feel like we are starting over... for better or for worse, the slate has been wiped clean.

I have to tell you that I think your rules can and should apply to all runners at all levels and not just beginners. The only one that a very experienced runner might not have to worry about would be #4 because they would probably already have a pretty good base. I think #5 (Do something you enjoy) is not only the most important part of continued running, but also a great life lesson.

I have read so many of your posts over the last year but I have to say that this is one of my absolute favorites. I would rename your article "Running Better At Any Level". Thanks for sharing!


In just getting back to it, I was having trouble making 3 miles at a good clip. For the first couple runs, I inserted a short walk between miles. This last run I decided to just slow down and get the miles in without the walking. (yes, it is possible for me to go even slower!)

I'm really not sure which way is better, but both got me going for 3 - 4 miles when I wanted to quit after 1 or 2.


Number three is one of the reasons I love blogging. Even if nobody actually tells me "Doug, thats a REALLY bad idea!" the act of typing it really makes me think about what I'm doing. It helped more times than I can count while injured last year!

I might even dare call it a stupid-meter, rather than a crazy-meter!


I love #2. The good news (or bad...depending on how you look at it) is that I am so out of shape that I CAN'T follow any stupid rules I normally would. I would die!


Thanks for the rules. Coming back from an injury, it reminds me to take it easy. I will not do my (clearing throat) 4 mile base back in a couple weeks. Thanks for stopping by my blog with the kind words.


The Dummies books are great for runners of any level. Per my brother's suggestion I bought "Marathon Training For Dummmies." It's pretty close to "Running For Dummies." Full of useful info, even for the expert beginning runner. ;)

BTW, asking a friend if I've crossed the line if I'm crazy due to my running schedule doesn't work. They think I'm crazy with out the running schedule!


Great list.
And make sure you know why you're running.


Bill is right, your list can guide any runner at any level.

Every point you make is a gem! I especially like rule #3 about not making up rules you don't need.

I'm glad to hear from Irene about her recommendations.

Thanks for sharing, Amy.

Database Diva

#1 is a great and sensible rule, but when I was getting started, it was all I could do to keep up with the running. I had to work the stretching in later, and I only recently made it to cross training. Hey, maybe I'm not a great and sensible runner ;)

Art Dinkin

Oh Amy. I love your sensability. I did fall off the bandwagon at the end of the year. Even though I am here in Iowa I think some scientists in California saw my SPLAT on their sensative graphs!

As you said, January is a new beginning and I am back on the run! Short runs. Lots of rest in between.

Today I finally had a run I felt good about. Maybe a bit longer in a day or two??

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