Running: A Beginner’s Guide

Everybody is a Runner
“I want to be a runner. But I just don’t like running. How do I start?”

First up – wrong question.

You already are a runner. Just like you’re already an eater, sleeper, drinker and so on. Running is an ability that all of us posses. In that sense, it isn’t an acquired skill like swimming. And that’s part of what makes running such an awesome exercise. It’s the only exercise which you need nothing for. No trainer, no equipment, no gym, no mats. It can be done by anyone, anywhere, any time and wearing almost anything.  All you need are your legs and an open road.

But one can’t deny the fact that many people still ask this question – How do I start running? How do I become a Runner?

I guess what they mean when they say Runner, is ‘Long Distance Runner’. What defines long changing by individual. For some it’s 3 kilometers and for some it’s 10. And that is a perfect, simple-sounding-yet-complex question. Just the kind we like here at FITSHIT. So let’s get to it.

Breaking down ‘Long Distance Running’

A lot of people hate running as a form of exercise. They don’t mind it when they run during Cricket or Squash or Badminton (or Frisbee or Tennis – yup, no sport is played without running. Ok maybe Billiards. And Chess). But ask them to run, just run, and you’ll see the blood drain from their faces.

Which is strange because, as Evolutionary Biologists now agree, humans were born to run!

It can’t be a coincidence that we’re the only mammals with a neck that can be held straight while running (every other mammal has to look down). It can’t be a coincidence either that we can outrun every other mammal too (horses, dogs, lions – we can outrun all of them). And it can’t be a coincidence that we sweat while running to dissipate heat (you guessed it, no other mammal does). That’s how our ancestors caught prey, even when they had no arrows and bullets. They simply outran their target.

If this concept fascinates you, like it does me, go through the following links to get a deeper understanding. Here and Here and Here.

I also highly recommend you read this book – Born to Run. The name says it.

But for now, let’s get back to our question. If humans were born to run, why do most of them hate to do so? The answer, is that we think we do. How would we know any better – we’ve never done long distance running!

If all you do is think about it, running long distance does sound like a daunting task. An average runner takes about 1200 steps to run a Kilometer. At each landing, you knees bear 4X your body weight. If you weigh 100kgs, then that’s 400kgs of weight every time your foot hits the ground. Multiply that by 1200 for a Km, and you can see why your brain wants you to believe that running is a bad idea (unless you’re chasing a gazelle to get dinner and survive)

But equally, talk to any long distance runner and all you’ll see are ear-to-ear smiles and an almost insatiable lust for the next run. So what’s the catch? How are some people able to break through this mental barrier and get to a stage in running where they start enjoying it? More importantly, how can you overcome the initial mental and physical hurdles to begin your running journey.

The Four Evils or Running

Remember the folks who always say, ‘I hate running!’. Whenever I ask them ‘Why?’, I get one of 4 responses:

  1. It’s too hard/ painful
  2. It’s too boring
  3. I don’t know when & where to run
  4. It isn’t for me

We’ve already spoken about the last one. About how humans were most probably born to be runners. So, unless you’re withdrawing your claim to being human, physically speaking, you should have what it takes.

I don’t know when & where to run

Where to run?

Let’s also get this logistical question out of the way.

If you’ve read this far, I assume you’ve somehow come to the conclusion that Running is a good option for you when it comes to your fitness goals. I also assume, given the framework we spoke of in the first FITSHIT post, that Running is an option for you because it’s something you can do. Which means you have access to a park or a lake or a relatively traffic free stretch of road. Or, at the very least, a treadmill.

So having your ‘where’ sorted before you pick running, is an essential. In terms of options, trail is better than park is better than open road. Both in terms of knee-impact and safety. But any of these is good. So don’t let the option deter you.

When to run?

This again is a matter of personal choice and what you can practically do. If you start work early or need to drop off your kids to school, then maybe evenings are all that work. I know runners who run at 5am, and those who run post a light dinner, at 11pm. So anything goes.

But when you’re starting out, I’d strongly suggest running in the morning. Right after you’ve woken up. On an empty stomach.

Why?

Four reasons.

  1. You’re well rested. Your body hasn’t gone through the day’s grind. It’ll be most agreeable to a pounding at this time.
  2. Your brain hasn’t fully woken up. Ever noticed how your brain takes a while to really get up and running (no pun). Over years I found that if I start lacing up as soon as I get out of bed, my brain doesn’t even comprehend what is happening. And it can’t oppose what it can’t comprehend. By the time it comprehends, I’m well into my run. Contrast that with trying to convince yourself to go for a run after a long day at work. No wonder the brain wins.
  3. If you start the day with a run, you enjoy the fat buring benefits of a heightened metabolism throughout the day. #Win.
  4. In the begining you won’t like it. It won’t be something you look forward to. So do it in the morning and get it out of the way. Then you won’t be dreading it all day.

As an extra, did I mention that mornings also happen to be the safest times to run – assuming you’ll be on the open road. So there, if you’re confused about when to put on those sexy shoes I’ll make you buy next, just pick the morning and run with it (yes pun)

Running is too painful

It is. And if you ask any long distance runner, overcoming that pain is part of the pleasure of running. But that stage is a long way away if you’re just starting out. At the start, your body will literally revolt at the mere mention of voluntarily putting itself through such pain. And your brain, conditioned as it is to follow the path of least resistance, will only add to the narrative. How do you break this nexus?

You listen to their concerns, show empathy, and then you negotiate.

The body’s first concern is valid. Running is a form of violent pounding for the knees. So don’t fight that argument. Solve for it. Invest in a GREAT pair of shoes.  As a runner, there’s no better investment you’ll make.

While the proponents of Barefoot Running would argue otherwise, I’d stick my neck out and say that a set of shoes to fit your foot type can help you avoid a ton of pain and injuries as you start out. There might come a time when you transition to Vibrams and eventually to no shoes. But when you’re just getting off the mark, you must find a pair of shoes that works for you and then pay whatever astoundingly inflated price they ask you for it.

*Choosing the right shoe for your foot type can be a bit tricky, especially given the ton of ’sales-speak’ out there that overcomplicates the process. I’ll go into details of how to find the right shoe for you in an upcoming article.

Running is too boring

Now that you’ve mitigated the physical agony by investing in a good pair of shoes, the mental agony of running pops its ugly head up. And again, as you’ll discover, running is guilty as charged. Atleast when you start off.

We don’t notice we’re running when we do so while playing a sport. Because during a sport, running isn’t the focus. The game is. Running is just a part of the game. Your brain is tasked with reaching across the court in time to hit the ball back. A process that needs every body part – hands, legs, eyes etc to coordinate and contribute. So the legs don’t get any special mention. The brain is too occupied to notice. Not to mention, the running bit in most sports happens in bursts. So it isn’t the repetitive, dull, boring process that it is when you’re only running.

So how does one solve for it. Well, the answer lies in the comparison above. We need to find the brain a distraction. My favorite three are these:

Music. Buildings. People.

How I fell in love with Running

When I started out running, I used to go to the park near my house, and run around it in circle(s) (Getting to plural took me 4 weeks). At the time my only distraction used to be a good, peppy, party track playlist. Clearly, we humans respond to a good rhythm. And nothing makes a run better than running to a beat. So creating a thumping playlist that both gets you to move, and makes you lose yourself in the music, is an absolute must.

When I started out running, I never made eye contact with people. The park was flooded with friends, neighbors and other people I knew, and I was ashamed of the way my blobs of fat wiggled during a run. I had no inclination to watch people as they watched me struggle. So I kept my head down and ran.

But over time, I found observing people, and the things they do, to be a great distraction. The fact that you are running past them puts them at ease and they don’t change their behaviour (like they would if you stopped and stared). Which makes this voyeuristic indulgence of mine all the more pleasurable. Butt scratching, nose-digging, shouting, pouting, apologizing, making up, making out, friendly banter, lonely crying – it’s insane -the number of private moments I’ve run past.

Also, once I outgrew that 500m park and started running out on the open road, I started rediscovering my neighborhood. Abandoned houses, small playgrounds, shady sex clinics, bespoke tailors – I saw things that I’d been driving past for 20 years and yet never noticed. Over the years, running has become my favorite way to discover any new city I travel to. No better way to know a city than to run past its houses and watch what its people do.

These are my three favorite distractions. I’m sure you’ll find yours once you start. Over time, as you start loving running, you might not need a distraction at all (doesn’t mean they won’t be fun anymore – just that you won’t be dependent on them). In future articles I’ll also speak about how the very ‘repetitiveness’ of running we all start out hating, is kind of the whole point. And a sure shot way of achieving that ever elusive state of Flow.

But for now, buy that shoe, make that playlist, find what satiates the voyeur in you, and hit the road!

And remember. Don’t worry about how much you ran today. Just run a little more tomorrow.

Comments

  1. Sharan

    Great post Shashank ! I had been waiting for your post on running as it’s my new found love.
    Looking forward to some more posts on long distance running.

    1. Post
      Author
      shashankmehta

      Thanks for message Sharan – good to know someone’s reading and finding value 🙂

      Will def write a lot more on running in the near future.

  2. Shweta

    Thank you so much for a very practical and yet motivational article on running. I’ve been wanting to run a marathon for Two years. I started with 4 kms and now I’ve gone to 8 kms on the treadmill. And what has helped me is your brilliant idea of “ run a little more tomorrow” so I shall keep pushing and keep running!

    1. Post
      Author
      shashankmehta

      :))

      So happy you found value in this. And you’re ability to do all that you do and still keep progressing on the fitness front motivates me. Keep going. you are built for the long run 🙂

  3. mahima

    hi shashank recently discovered your blog..really appreciate what you are doing. wanted to know your thoughts on running on treadmill can it be harmful to knees.

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