Tips and guidelines for the New, Bigger or Everyday Runner.

My second 5K that I ran with my sister. Gobble wobble.

Forty, thirty and maybe even twenty years ago to be considered a “runner” usually meant that you ran around your neighborhood wearing bottle-Coke glasses, dolphin shorts, an awesome sweatband and some knee-high tube socks while donning a creepy mustache and most likely an equally creepy bull-cut. You did this running thing for fun and were constantly training for the next marathon which was usually an event in it’s own right because there weren’t that many marathons put on around town or the state for that matter.

The elites ran 2-2:30 hour marathons, while the slower ones came in around 3 to 4 hours. A 5 to 6 hour marathon was unheard of and if you hadn’t crossed the finish line by 5:30 it was basically assumed you were dead. The life of a runner was a close-knit community where everyone knew everyone’s first name and … well … business.

Now, granted I haven’t been around that long so I’m just going off of what I’ve been told and/or seen in movies. But, I would say my description is fairly accurate. And, I’m pretty sure you’d agree with that notion. But, something happened to the world of running world as we know it back in 1994.

Oprah ran a marathon.

Oprah, who has struggled with her weight before and since her marathon has inspired millions to run their own marathons as well. In many ways this helped changed the size and (I guess quite literally) shape of the running world as it was previously known. Now, I’m not saying that Oprah alone changed this by herself (there are many, many other factors as well), but for those who struggled (and still) with their weight her accomplishment had been a beacon. It made an impossible, possible and really bred a new generation of runners.

We’ve seen the videos, read the stories and watched the TV shows of people who have lost a lot of weight, fell in love with running and go on to run marathons. They’re truly inspiring. Sure my story is similar in nature, but honestly without predecessors who showed that it could be done, I don’t know if I would have dared begin the journey. The thought of a 400lbs. runner? Preposterous, right?!

But, I’d like to think that Oprah somehow changed that or at least set off the domino effect. Just in the past 20 years there’s been an outstanding increase in races because of the interest to run from my different demographics, especially those wanting to lose weight in the process. Not just morbidly or moderately obese people, but even those wanting to lose the last 15-20lbs.

Running is such an individual sport that most of the training can be done on your own, at your own pace and wherever you want to do it. Plus, here’s no set standard that qualifies or disqualifies you as a runner. If you run, you are a runner.That’s why I love running and it’s one of many reasons it really drew me to the sport.

And, I am sure those are some reasons others have been attracted to the sport as well. Everyone runs their own marathons and takes their own path. I love it. I really do. Marathon stories motivate, especially the weight-loss stories. Partly because I’ve been there.

But, it got me to thinking (yes, I do that from time to time) about what advice, tips or motivation I would give to other bigger runners? What would I tell them? How would I help them along their own marathon journey? Especially with what I learned working up to my first marathon.

Anyways, here are a few guidelines/tips/rules/whatever you want to call them that have helped me as a runner. Things I wish other bigger runners (or any runner for that matter) would have told me before I started this little journey. Now, while this might be targeted to bigger runners, it’s most definitely applicable to anyone, anybody and any runner.

There is no such thing as a fake runner.

If there is one thing that irks me more than anything with newbie runners it’s their belief that they are not REAL runners yet. What exactly makes you a REAL runner? Do you have to run x-amount of marathons? Half marathons? 10Ks? 5K? Do you have to run a certain amount of miles? A certain pace? Do you have to look the part? Speak the part?

The simple answer? NO!

If you run, you are a runner. It’s a simple as that. Running is unique sport in that it’s an individual sport that can also be shared and experienced with others. No matter what other’s pace or abilities are, it’s still YOUR experience. If you are doubting that you are a runner, stop it … you are one! Embrace it!

The journey literally starts with one step.

I love when people ask me how I started my journey. I think sometimes they have it in their head that it was this monumental realization of my crappy life, so I made all of these changes, wrote out a plan, followed and nearly five years later I’m here … running marathons.

In a Hollywood kind of way, I guess you could say it happened that way, but in all reality (and not Hollywood reality, but like the for reals reality) my journey didn’t start any different anyone elses. I started with just one step out the door. I had a desire to change, I had a desire to become something else, but more importantly I had a desire to just run.

No matter how grand your dream or where you want your journey to take you, whether that’s to lose weight, run a marathon, reach a new goal or tackle a new adventure it all starts with that first step. Especially with those reasons of why you are taking that first step.

Don’t be afraid of it. After all, it’s one foot in front of the other, right?

Pain is temporary.

You’ve seen the signs that read, “Pain is temporary, but glory is forever” (if not just click on the link). Pain is a funny thing. Well, okay, not really funny, but it’s a real thing. And, believe it or not a necessary thing to endure from time to time. It’s how we grow and become stronger.

Man knows no greater pain than after I ran my first 10K. I thought I was going to die. My shins were screaming, my legs were shaking like Jell-O and my whole body was trying to figure out what the heck just happened. I swore to myself that I would never do that again.

But, you know what? I did. The more and more I ran and endured through that pain it got easier for me. Once I put under more miles under my belt and started training for half marathons and marathons I would have to push myself through some somewhat painful miles. But, I got through them and became a better and stronger runner because of it.

How often do we encounter pain and then abruptly stop? Sure, there are legit reasons to stop because of pain (hello broken bones, pulled hammies, overworked ITs bands, etc.), but I am talking more about the sore legs and fatigued and over/underworked muscles. You know the stuff that makes running kinda hard. If it was easy, everyone would be running.

I really had to work on this concept when I started running, because it was TOUGH. Like, really, really tough. I wanted to stop every time I went past a mile and a half because my legs would just hurt. But, luckily I had a great trainer that taught me to treat pain like a game. When I felt, I had to push through it. Once that got easier, I had to push myself harder and then push through that, again, and again and again.

And, you know what? I haven’t looked at pain the same way since. Pain is temporary and if you manage it right it can work for you, not against you.

There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

One other question I get a lot about running is … “what do I need to do to become a runner?” “What kind of shoes should I wear?” “What kind of fuel should I be taking?” “How often should I be running?” etc., etc., etc.

And, you know what my answer is most of the time?

“I don’t know, it’s up to you …”

Because honestly, there is really no right or wrong way to running. The only wrong way of doing it in my opinion is getting the wrong shoe (and maybe running in the snow). For anyone looking to start running I will advise them to go to a running store to get the proper fitting on a shoe that will work for them. But, other than that it’s all up to you.

For instance, I used to run with a water bottle, a protein bar and Gu on my three mile training runs. Over time that worked itself to a water pack and Gu to just the water pack and then finally nothing. Even now my five to six mile training runs don’t require water or Gu. I’ve learned to adapt over time.

Anything over a 10 mile training run I prepare with my water pack, some Gu, candy and Body Glide. My half marathons are now ran with a fanny pack filled with my keys, a Gu for emergencies and a few Aleve just in case. I rely on the water stations for hydration. Marathons are water pack and treat kind of ordeal. I bring candy, sandwiches and Aleve.

The reason I tell you all of this, is because it’s all different, it’s all trial and error. Some things I learned from others work, while most don’t. You’ve really got to listen to your body and learn what what it needs. But, more importantly, it’s gotta be your way, no one else’s.

So experiment a little here and there during your training runs. Just don’t try something new during a race, that’s when you will usually end up in a Honey Bucket believing you are about to give birth to a watermelon. Trust me.

Oh, yeah, and don’t take Gu with Gatorade, you’ll regret that too.

Other than that experiment with what works for you.

Running is much more than just a physical journey.

Running is a funny thing. Usually people get into running for the challenge. They get into it to maybe lose weight, to get off the couch or to even scratch off an item on the bucket list. But, as I have gone through my journey I’ve found that it has changed me on many levels in life — spiritual, mental, emotional, social and of course physical. Running has become much more than a physical act of exercise for me. I need it for mental and emotional wellbeing. Equally, there are times I also need it for my spiritual wellbeing and social as well.

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago my first reaction was one of fear, uncertainty and confusion. It was difficult news to process. But, one of the first things I did was grab my running shoes and go out for a run. It was only three miles, but they were the best three miles that I ever ran. I just ran. I used the time to process everything, visualize the next few months and come to terms with the uncertainty that cancer presents to those it affects. That run was one of the most emotional, spiritual and mental runs I’ve ever completed. By the time I was finished with those three miles I felt much better about the situation and I truly came to terms with that in which I feared.

I’ve used running in other capacities with similar results. If I am having a hard time at work, I’ll run out that frustration. If I feel anxious about something, I’ll run out that anxiety. If I am in a funk, I’ll run out of that funk. The list could go on. Running provides me uninterrupted time with myself to just figure things up, search for motivation or just lose myself. I love that time I get and I cherish, especially when I really feel that I need it.

The one area though that has truly changed me is in the social realm. The friends that I have met through my running has truly been one of the reasons I have kept running as much as I have. Forget dogs, runners are man’s best friends. It’s true. You won’t find anyone as motivating, inspiring, encouraging and loyal as a running friend. They get it. They know what you’re going through, because they’re going through the same thing. They understand the ups and downs of running as well or better than you and that’s something that is invaluable to lean against. I am a definitely a different runner and person because of the people I have met through running. But, really I am a different person because of EVERYTHING running has offered me. That’s why I keep going.

Last place is still a place.

I remember when I started running that I had two fears. One, not finishing and two, coming in last. I don’t know why, but during my first 5K I kept looking behind me making sure SOMEONE was constantly behind me. I felt like I couldn’t possibly bare the embarrassment of coming in last.

But, you know what I learned by constantly looking back? For one, I learned by looking back you are not running your own race. But, two, I learned that the people behind me were having a more enjoyable time I was. During my glances back I would a cluster (is that an appropriate group term for this?) of old ladies speed walking and laughing as others passed. They didn’t care if they came in last, they were enjoying the moment. They were running their race.

I tried to take that mentality with me along my running journey. Place didn’t matter. It was the journey that did. I knew that when I initially ran my first few long distance races I would be slower. And, in fact during my first 25K I was … DEAD LAST. But, I could have cared less. I enjoyed the race, I had a fun time running with Susette and I was happy. I didn’t care if I was the last person off the course, I didn’t care if I didn’t get any of the food (okay, that’s a lie) and I finished.

It shouldn’t really matter what place you are, I believe that the most important is that you dare to begin. Once you begin, in my books, you’ve already won. Enjoy the journey.

Oprah is right, “running is the greatest metaphor for life.” 

The quote is it’s entirety from Oprah is … “running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” I love that quote. That quote illustrates how I feel about running and how it has quite literally changed my life. Running has really taught me that principle, not to mention where dedication, perseverance, self-discipline and tenacity will take you. That just didn’t get me over the finish line. It’s helped me work past the emotional baggage behind why I was over 400lbs. in the first place. It taught me to believe in myself, to trust my abilities and to take chances.

It wasn’t an overnight change. Far from it. But, there are many things you can learn from taking on a new running regime, especially a marathon that teaches you life lessons. When preparing for my first marathon, I learned the power of obedience in preparation by simply following my running schedule. I knew that if I skimped on my training that I would pay for it later in some way. Whether it was an injury, painful training run or emotional anxiety in the realization that I was not prepared. I learned that the miles, training runs and structure of the schedule was prepared for a reason and if I followed it I would be prepared by the time I ran my marathon. And, as I followed my training plan, I was ready.

There are a number of other examples I could share here, but I think what’s important to remember is those metaphors are just as personal as the journeys themselves. It really is up to the participant on how they are interpreting their journey, because we’re all running our own differing marathons. But, I promise that if you look for the metaphors you will find them. They’re already and always there.

These are just a few tips and guidelines for new and bigger runners. I am sure if I wanted to make this into a book I could definitely find the content to do so. Running is a great thing. It has changed my life. I am different person because of it. I may have been a very rounded person before I started running, but running has definitely made me a more well rounded person. I have a person within me that I am extremely proud of. I am proud of the man that he has become and how he faces the future with optimism, enthusiasm and hope.

All something that I couldn’t have attained without running.



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