30 Jan 2018

Capitol Hill:

From Couch to Coach: How to Start a Running Habit

“Why on earth would anyone run a marathon?”

This was my thought every year as I cheered for neighbors and my gym teacher at the NYC marathon, blocks from my childhood home. The cheering was fun—the running, not so much. Didn’t these people realize they could get to Central Park quicker by subway than by foot? I’m pretty sure Ms. Hansen, my high school gym teacher, would not believe that the girl who used to hide out in the bathroom rather than run laps is now a running coach preparing to run her second Boston Marathon.

So what shifted? How did I go from hating running to making it my livelihood? If you read my last article you’ll remember that it was a desperate desire to lose weight and lift the veil of post-partum depression that compelled me to hit “sign up” for the Marine Corps Marathon thirteen years ago. I continue to run because it is a source of great joy and it is something I now share with my daughter. Here are some of the reasons I think you should give running a try. I also tell you how to get started.

Running is easy

It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Running is efficient

Running is a quicker way to burn calories. You can probably run two miles in the same amount of time it takes to walk one mile.

Barrier to entry is low

In other words, it’s cheap! A running program requires minimal start-up cost. The biggest expense is finding shoes that fit well and these can be purchased for under $100.

You can run anywhere!

Once you lace up and open your front door, the running opportunities are limitless especially in Washington, DC where there is always a route/trail waiting to be discovered.

You will appreciate nature in ways you never imagined

We are lucky to live in a place with four distinct seasons (sometimes all in one week). Every time we transition into a new season I am convinced it is my favorite, until the next one arrives. As I run through the summer in DC, I am often tempted to complain about the oppressive heat. Instead, I remind myself of how lucky I am that I don’t have to spend money to go to the spa for a relaxing steam. During fall, I imagine nature hosting a party for me with colorful leaves as confetti and the wind whispering a cheer. In winter, I notice trees that look like crystal chandeliers, the way the ice hangs from their bare branches. By the time spring arrives, I’m ready for the riot of color that erupts. Unlike indoor cycling and yoga classes where the instructor motivates us with outdoor visualizations, running through the seasons requires no imagination at all!

Running as a natural anti-depressant

I would never tell anyone to discontinue their anti-depressants without a doctor’s approval; however, many people find that a regular running routine is mood-enhancing. Running elevates the level of endorphins more than any other cardiovascular exercise. Endorphins are hormones released by the pituitary gland that can elevate mood and create the feeling of a “runner’s high.”

Running makes you feel young

The next time you’re out and about, walk by a playground and observe the children running. Often they are laughing and have no real purpose to their running other than being present in the moment and practicing joyful play. Wouldn’t you like to feel that way?

I hope I’ve convinced you to give running a try. If so, here are some tips on how to get started.

Start out Easy

If you are new to running I recommend starting out easy. When I first started running, I could not run for more than one minute without stopping. Rather than get discouraged, I embraced where I was and took walk breaks. There is a whole body of research that supports run/walk as a strategy for race training and Olympian, Jeff Galloway, has created a well renowned program devoted to walk/run. I trained for my first marathon with his program, running for one minute then walking for one minute. Once I got comfortable I ran for two minutes then walked for one minute. After a long slow build I was running ten minutes with one minute walk breaks and now I can run for hours without walk breaks.

Tell Friends and Family

Tell friends and family that you started a run program and ask for their support. The people who care about you will want you to succeed and it can be motivating to have people ask you how it is going. Another option is to join a virtual community such as Strava or Map My Run where you can download your running stats and ‘friend’ other runners who will help motivate and keep you accountable.

Find a Group

When first starting out it can be very motivational to run with a group. Knowing that there are people waiting for you can help keep you accountable. There are many free to low-cost run groups in the DC area and one of my favorites is the Wednesday night Hill Runner group at Summit to Soul on Capitol Hill. (Hint, hint!)

Choose a Race

Put a race on your calendar. With a race as the end goal, you will be more likely to schedule your runs and stick to them. For some, the promise of a medal and bragging rights is a great motivator. If you’re looking for a great race to train through winter, look no further than the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. It’s a neighborhood tradition that supports the Cluster School. DC Road Runners Club is running a training program out of Summit to Soul that I’ll be coaching.

Plan a “Runcation”

A runcation is a vacation with a race tacked on. It can be a great motivator and make you feel like you earned your trip. I regularly plan runcations and take friends along with me. One of my favorite race destinations is Las Vegas, which provides a variety of races on trails and the infamous strip. Post-race, I dream about spending the day at the spa and the evening rewarding myself with a four-star dinner.

What are you waiting for? Get outside and get your run on! Check back in two weeks where I’ll highlight some of my favorite local running routes and how I stay motivated and warm as I train from Capitol Hill to Heartbreak Hill!

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