There is no lack of advice online on how to train for races, and I am by no means an expert on the subject. However, I do know what it feels like to be new to running and feel overwhelmed with where to start. Like any other new endeavor, it's easy to become buried in information and feel like you're never going to "get it." I started small.
Talk to someone you know who's a runner. For me, that was my brother. When I first started running he had recently completed the Chicago marathon and so was the resident "running expert" in the family. His advice: get a good pair of shoes. That was the basics for him, and all you really need in order to run. He told me to go to a running store, take the athletic shoes I currently owned (so that the associate could see how they were wearing), make sure they watched me walk/run, learn about my pronation (I'm an overpronator), and suck it up and purchase a proper pair of running shoes. I still consider this the most fundamental part of running. I've ramped it up a notch by actually tracking how many miles I put on a pair of shoes, so I can be sure I replace them when needed. But even this you can usually tell by feel.
Start simple and don't overdo it. I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I have a tendency to throw myself into something and then burn out when it gets to be too much. Since I'm aware of this, when I start something new I make sure to pace myself. When I started running it was with the Couch to 5k program. This program is designed to take you from a non-runner (couch sitting) to being ready for a 5k in 9 weeks. You only run three times a week, and it starts of very simple - alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking. There's a temptation to speed up the training to get there sooner, but that increases the risk of injury and burn out. Even now, preparing for the Run the District races, I have to remind myself to take it easy. Right now my running schedule is every other day, and I make sure to listen to my body if I need to take a day "off" or repeat a workout that I don't feel I'm ready to move on from.
Make whatever plan you choose work for you. The great thing about the
couch to 5k program (and the various other programs that advance from there) is that everything is set up for you. To make it even easier, I found a podcast that a blogger had created with music mixes and prompts for when I needed to start jogging and then walking. Downloading these made the workouts incredibly easy. I just picked the correct workout (week/day), pushed play, ran when I was told, and stopped when it was over. (To give you an amusing visual, when I first downloaded these podcasts, I didn't have an mp3 player. So I actually burned them to a CD and jogged while holding my portable CD player flat. That's how cool I looked when I started running...) I was going to include a link to the podcast that I used - but Google Chrome keeps warning me it's a suspicious link, so I won't do that. But trust me, search for free couch to 5k apps or podcasts, and you won't have any trouble finding one. Right now I'm using the ZenLabs Fitness 10k training app. The basic version is free. It doesn't have any music, but I've been various Spotify Running playlists and that has worked well.
Hold yourself accountable and stay motivated. As mentioned in a previous post, I'm an externally motivated person, so I've instituted several methods of holding myself accountable. First it was just registering for races. This gave me a solid deadline for training and I found it to be a huge help. I've also scheduled my runs in my Google calendar. Like anything else, if you write it down and make time for it, you're more likely to do it. I've also started running with a buddy. My husband Doug and I help motivate each other. So even on days when neither of us really "feels" like it, we're still getting out there to run. It's amazing what having a buddy will do for you! I've also been sharing my completed training days on Twitter and Facebook. Blogging about my journey also helps. So whatever works for you to keep you motivated and hold yourself accountable do it!
My Run the District training plan. This is actually what I intended to write about - but somehow this post turned into an advise column. I guess that's what happens when you get carried away... Anyway, as I mentioned above, I'm using the ZenLabs Fitness 10k training app. I timed it so that I would be prepared to do the Chuckle Run this Sunday as a 5k (they have 2.5k, 5k, and 10k options for this race.) The first three Run the District races I've registered for 5k, and the last two I registered for the 10k. My goals for each race is pretty basic - run the entire time (unless injury or something unplanned prevents me from doing so) and improve my time for each race. Like I mentioned above, I'm keeping it simple. I've been doing most of my training runs with Doug, and he's tracking our distance with the Map My Run app since the 10k trainer is based on time not distance. (If I try to run too many apps at one time my phone is not happy - so we split between the two of us.)
Stay tuned for an update early next week on my Chuckle Run experience. I recently read a great article about writing a race report, so I plan on doing that shortly after finishing the Chuckle Run. If this year is anything like last, I should have a lot of fun photos to post with it!