Hi friends, happy Saturday! Carolyn here. You might have read my reviews of different local fitness studios in our Chicago workout series, but today I’m talking about my favorite workout of all: running. I wasn’t always a runner—I begrudgingly started jogging around the block to stay in shape for high school sports and to give my family’s energetic dog a little exercise (per my mom’s orders), but those runs weren’t anything to write home about. Eventually, though, I started to crave the feeling of lacing up my shoes and letting my legs carry me down a familiar route, and my runs started to get longer and more frequent. I joined the cross country team at school (I was a bit more successful at that than soccer, haha) and kept up running consistently even after heading off to college. I’ve now done more half marathons than I can count and I’ve completed the Chicago Marathon three times (even qualifying for Boston during one of those attempts!). While my schedule—or the Chicago weather—hasn’t always allowed me to run as much as I would have liked over the past few years, it’s a form of exercise I’ll always come back to and enjoy. When I run, I’m ultimately stronger, more inspired, and most myself.
Now, I realize running isn’t for everyone—and I totally get that. There are so many wonderful workouts out there and by no means do I believe running is the best or only way to stay in shape. But if you’re looking for a no-frills, practically free, do-anywhere workout, running may be for you. I know it can be a bit intimidating (not to mention uncomfortable) to start running for the first time, so I wanted to share a few key tips I’ve learned over the years. I’ve also solicited the advice of my sister, Julia, who’s currently a junior on a D1 track and cross-country team in college, and who knows more about running fitness/injury prevention/the world of running than almost anyone I know. You’ll see a picture of me after my last Chicago marathon on the left and a photo of my badass sister on the right, below.
How to Start Running
- Get the right pair of running shoes. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. The right pair of shoes will save your knees, your shins, your feet, your motivation. Most cities have a specialty running store—go there and buy your shoes, in person. If you go to any of the Fleet Feet running stores in the greater Chicago area, they will take specific measurements of your feet and film you running on the treadmill for a gait analysis, which allows them to recommend the best type of shoes for your exact running style. I hate to break it to you, but the ideal running shoe for you may not be the cutest pair—I’m currently running in a pair of Hokas that are entirely bright blue—but it doesn’t matter. Comfort and staying injury-free are more than worth taking a pass on style. Other than running shoes, you don’t need much else in the way of equipment. Except for a good sports bra. Don’t try running in a yoga bra.
- Be patient and have a plan. I broke my foot one time and was a bit too excited to get back to running after being in a boot for three months. I ended up misaligning my hips, giving myself shin splints and having to do several weeks of physical therapy. Whether you’re trying out running for the first time or starting back up after an extended break, there’s no shame in taking things verrrry slowly to start. Most programs will recommend a run/walk routine to start. I like this 8-week beginner plan or any of these plans from Runner’s World, which tell you how to start running, run nonstop, run faster, or run stronger. If you’re already running but want to sign up for a race, I like Hal Higdon’s plans or these race plans from Runner’s World (both sites have resources for everything from 5ks to marathons).
- But don’t be afraid to mix it up. It’s so important to have fun with running, especially when you’re first starting out. Find a buddy to train with (and hold each other accountable), explore new trails in your city, or use running as a way to see a new city when you travel. I lived in London for five months, and I saw so much of the city by running around all over the place. That’s why running is so great—you really can do it anywhere.
- Listen to your body. Sore is good, hurting is not. Get a foam roller, keep a bag of peas in the freezer for some preemptive icing, and emphasize wholesome, nutritious meals. Recovery (stretching, icing, sleep, and quality nutrition) are just as important to your training as the actual running. Make sure to mix in cross-training at least twice a week, or even every other day. Biking uses different muscles than running and lets your running muscles recover while you still get some exercise; yoga, barre, and light weight-training all help to strengthen those core and glute muscles that are so critical to running. Below, I’m listing out several exercises that are good for both strengthening and injury prevention. If the description isn’t clear, I linked to a YouTube video that shows how the exercise is done. Try to do these at least a few times a week—if you run out of time after your run, you can always do these at night while watching TV!
Strengthening Exercises for runners:
- Five-way lunges (I like to these before a run to warm up)
- Clamshells with an exercise band
- Monster walks with a resistance band
- Ankle Four-Way with resistance band
- Bridges (get those hips up!)
- Toe scrunches on a towel
Stretching Exercises for runners:
- Calf stretches on a step
- IT band stretch
- Hamstring stretch
- Reclining pigeon pose
- ½ kneeling hip stretch (tuck your booty under to open up your hip flexors even more)
- Quad stretch
I hope this post is helpful! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. I know runners can seem like an intense bunch, but there are so many people who run just for the fun of it and reap all the health benefits with none of the competition. That’s one of my absolute favorite aspects of running—most of the time it’s just you and the road, a completely judgment-free zone. Good luck, and HAVE FUN!