Monday, March 8, 2010

Overcoming Beginner Running Obstacles

Often I’m asked “How did I start running?” “Did you run track in high school?” The list goes on and on. Unfortunately I did not run track when I was younger although I dreamed of doing it. Actually I didn’t start running on a regular basis until 3 years ago. Before then, I would stop and start. I struggled with many of the same issues those who tell me they’d like to run but don’t struggle with. So I put together a list of the top five I’ve heard and my suggestions for conquering them.

1 – The “Itchies”
When I first experienced the itchies, I freaked out. It was about 6 years ago. I was running on the treadmill in my apartment complex’s fitness center. I was doing my “run during the commercials, walk during the show” routine. All of a sudden my thighs started itching. At first I scratched a little but kept running. After a minute I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped off the treadmill, grabbed my things and attempted to run home but had to start walking when I was about half way there. I jumped in the shower as soon as I walked through the door and scrubbed my thighs until the sensation went away. It was very unsettling. Now when I think back on that day, I laugh at myself, but at the time, I was seriously uncomfortable. It continued to happen from time to time but I’d just tap my legs and keep running or start walking. It went away after a few weeks.

If you’re not familiar with the itchies, as I call them, it’s when you feel an itchy sensation in your thighs when you start running. Sometimes it’s so bad you have to stop running. The itching you feel is caused by expanding capillaries in your legs. When you’re inactive for a while, the capillaries collapse and allow the minimum amount of blood flow needed for a sedentary lifestyle. But when you start exercising the capillaries need to expand to allow more blood to flow throughout your body. The expanding capillaries cause the nearby nerves to send messages to the brain, which is interpreted as an itch. If you stick with running, the itching sensation will go away after a few workouts.

2 – Time
We all live pretty busy lives. Between work and family, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day. You may want to start running but don’t know how to fit it into your schedule. My first suggestion is to make a commitment to yourself to make time for you. Easier said than done, I know but you have to do it. Whether it’s early in the morning or on your lunch hour or after work before you pick up the kids, commit to one hour of "me time" at least three to four days a week.

I don’t have kids and I have a pretty supportive husband who understands he may have to cook while I’m running so we’re not eating a late dinner every night. He didn’t complain too much when the alarm clock went off at 4:30 a.m. when I use to run before work. I’m pretty lucky. But your situation may be different. Instead of making excuses, focus on solutions and stay encouraged. Here are a few suggestions:

Small Kids: Invest in a jogging stroller and take them with you. You’ll still have quality time with your child and you’ll model healthy habits for them at an early age.

Young Kids: Most gyms have kid workout areas or child care. Take advantage of them while you run on the treadmill.

Cooking: If you don’t have a partner who can and/or is willing to cook, try cooking several meals on Sunday and freezing them. That way you’ll be able to quickly make dinner during the week.

Lunch Time: If your company has employee showers, you can run 30 minutes, shower and eat in an hour.

Before Work: Get up early while your family is asleep and run before the household morning routine starts.

After Work: If you get off work an hour before you have to pick up the kids, sneak in a quick 30 minute run.

3 – Support
Friends can help you meet your fitness goals or they can get in the way. When they’re committed, it’s great to have someone to workout with but when they’re flakey, you have to push yourself even harder not to succumb to their laziness. If they blow off a workout, you’re tempted to do the same. Don’t!

Before I truly committed to a healthy lifestyle, I was a fairly flakey workout partner. If my friend said she was tired, I’d stay home. If my husband didn’t feel like going to the gym, I’d stay home and watch TV with him. After a while, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere doing that. I decided I had to do this for me and prayed for the strength to remain committed. From that point on, I would go to the gym with or without my friends. If one wanted to join me, I’d sometimes do back to back workouts. One on my own and one with them, just to make sure I got my workout in.

When I started running three years ago, it was to prepare for a charity 5K I committed to run with a friend. We’d run together on Saturdays and I’d run alone during the week. After the race, she stopped running and I kept going. I tried to start a running club and talked to a few friends who said they’d run with me. Each week different people showed up and many were still in the walk/run stage and I wanted to run/run. I hung with them for about a month until I was encouraged by a friend to join a local running club. It was the best thing I could have done. The coach and my new running friends encouraged and helped me run stronger and longer and achieve a fitness level I never thought I could.

Checking out a local running club can be intimidating if you’re new to running, especially when the club’s website lists 5 and 10 mile runs and 7 minute mile pace groups. But don’t be discouraged, email or call the club officers and ask about beginner runs. Check out the local running store, not the national chain sporting good stores, and ask about running groups. Sometimes the stores have group runs geared to all experience levels.

4 – The Slow Lane
Don’t laugh, but I thought when I started running, I’d be able to run like Jackie Joyner-Kersee. No seriously. I expected to run for miles with ease and fast too. Boy did I want to run fast. It didn’t take long for me to discover I was sorely mistaken. I realized I had to run at my own pace and for me, it was slow. My first 5K time was 36 minutes – that’s an average of about 12 minutes a mile. I told you I was slow. It would take time and hard work for me to get faster. Now it’s no fun watching people run past you. It’s even less fun when they lap you multiple times. Both have happened to me. But my drive to get faster helped me get over those ego bruising moments.

People progress at different rates. If you want to get faster, you have to work harder by doing tempo runs, speed work and hill repeats.

Tempo runs: running for an extended period of time at a rate that is faster than your usual pace

Typical beginner tempo workout
Warm up: 1 mile at 5 mph on the treadmill
Workout: .5 mile at 6 mph on the treadmill; .1 mile at 3.5 mph recovery (Repeat for 2 miles)
Cool down: 1 mile at 5 mph on treadmill

Speed work: quick bursts of speed for one to three minutes
Warm up: 1 mile at 5 mph on the treadmill
Workout: .25 mile at 6.5 or 7 mph on the treadmill; .1 mile at 3.5 mph recovery (Repeat for 2 miles)
Cool down: 1 mile at 5 mph on the treadmill

Hill repeats: running hills will give you the power to run fast on flat courses
Warm up: 1 mile at 5 mph on the treadmill
Workout: .25 mile at 4.5 mph with 5% incline; .1 mile at 3.5 mph recovery (Repeat for 2 miles)
Cool down: 1 mile at 5 mph on the treadmill

Increase your pace as you become stronger.

5 – Stamina
Running is hard or at least I really, really thought so when I started. It’s even harder when you’re not on the treadmill since it does some of the work for you. It can be disheartening when you’re use to running 5 or 10 minutes at a time on the treadmill and you get out on the road and want to stop after 1 minute.

As you continue to run and build your mileage, your stamina will increase. Other factors that will help include getting a good night’s sleep and proper nutrition. Sometimes the desire to walk is mental. Even after 3 years, I always want to start walking during the first mile. I tell myself I’m not tired (and I’m not) and keep going. After 3 or 4 miles, I’m good.

Did you struggle when you first started running? How did you overcome running obstacles?


  1. I also started running because of a charity 5k. It was on my birthday and it was to benefit women with cancer. As my grandmother had recently passed away from complications due to ovarian cancer, I felt like I didn't have a choice but to run the race. I was hooked, and now a year after that race (actually 364 days after it...) I will be running my first full marathon. I definitely struggled when I first started to get past the 3ish-mile mark, but once I did I was hooked.

  2. Great post! I think it takes alot to start a new sport.

  3. @KBam - Running is definitely addictive but it's a good addiction to have. Good luck on your marathon. Please share how it goes.

    @Snack-Girl - Thanks. It does take a lot to start a new sport. I'm really glad I stuck with it.