Back when the world stopped last year in March, I got a cough and I couldn’t breathe.
Wait…let me back up.
In February on 2020, I was on track with my training to run a marathon in the Azores (It’s an island chain off the coast of Portugal full of volcanos) The training was brutal and humbling, but I was doing it.
I had a plan, time set aside to run said plan, and people to help me…because I needed buckets of help. Then the world stopped, and I started coughing…for 3 months. Running went from running for 20 miles up and down 4,000 feet of elevation to gasping for breath walking up the stairs and not sleeping a wink.
I found myself in the hospital one Sunday morning where the doctor explained post-COVID symptoms was attacking my lungs. I was sent home with steroids and an inhaler. The drugs worked, I got better, and felt lucky.
A few weeks after the hospital, I put my Garmin on and looked at my unworn-for-months shoes for a solid 5 minutes. I was worried about running again for all kinds of reasons: I was back at square one, I had no one to run with, and zero races to train towards.
This brought up a whole new bag of feelings that I was curious about. I felt humbled, discouraged and scared to get out there.
How do you get back the running mojo, and why should you even try?
How do you get back out there when the game re-starting is so hard? Added in with all of those mind games were voices whispering in my ear saying, “Oh, what happened to you? Why are you so slow now?” Please tell me that I am not the only one who hears this little pest, am I?
Let’s hit the back-up button one more time.
When I first started running in my mid-twenties, I made it a whole two blocks, started hyperventilating like a hyena, and then proceeded to cry…like, ugly cry. I honestly thought there was something wrong with my body and my head, and that I might be dying. Those sure were good times. But I kept at it. And the next few weeks/months that I went out, I calmed myself down and proceeded to run.
It wasn’t pretty or fast, and my boobs bounced more than kids on a trampoline, but I ran.
An entire year after that, I did my first 5k, and a year after that I completed my first marathon. I did not win any of these races, but you bet your booty I completed them. And there were maybe some tears at the end – happy tears of course. I went on to do about 20 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons and a gazillion races in between. I was hooked.
Now we’re gonna fast forward.
So here I am, on the other side of that first race finish line, whispering into your ear, “You can do this.”
Well, I kinda want to yell it to you, but that might be too much since we just met. At the beginning of my running career, I made so many mistakes that, had I avoided them, it would have made the whole journey a whole lot easier and with far less cussing.
So here I am gathering my failures, transforming them like magic, and handing you the lessons of my journey. You see, I turned my running mis-steps and turned it into a career…I have also been coaching new runners for the last fifteen years. I have coached about 3000 people to start or restart running.
I have seen these traits in others, noted and researched them, and would like to impart these words of wisdom to those of you who are thinking about running or starting again.
What helped me to get back in the saddle is to remind myself of the feeling I get when I do start running, and then to tap into that magical pool. From there, it is just reverse engineering to get back into the running habit. This has been a huge help for me and my clients and can also re-work your mindset so you can stay motivated.
There lies the question, “How do you get back on the horse?” and get out and make it a routine.
That leap from sitting on your quarantine couch to regular running can be Grand Canyon sized. It was hard to re-find routine and back to my running habit! For me, and a lot of runners, it’s a goal to become a habitual runner; to turn on the autopilot in your head.
Wake up, squeeze into bra, clothes go on, shoes go on, step out the door and run… without even thinking about it. No fights with your brain, no negotiation, no temper tantrum. Oh, wouldn’t that be grand?
It’s the big door prize, ultimate goal, right? Especially for new runners, when any new interference (cough *like a pandemic* cough) or set back can throw a wrench in your running schedule and that autopilot goes haywire. Houston, we have a meltdown.
But the good news is, you can train yourself to make running a habit or re-habit again.
It takes time and a couple of tricks to get it into the subconscious and put the steps into action without thinking about it.
The big thing is about starting over is accepting where you are. You might not be the runner you when the world closed down or when you were in college, you are an older, wiser and a back-to-square-one, runner who is brave enough to take on this awesome new adventure.
Here are four (4) steps to get back into the running game again. The Beginner Training Plan From Couch To 5k
STEP 1 – Bump It Up
Bump it up to something you do all the time. I call these non-variables. It’s something you do every day, like wake up, (hopefully).
It takes a whole lot of willpower at first, but the more you do it, the more engrained it will become. It turns into a no-brainer. “If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.” Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit.
If you listen to Mr. Duhigg, it would be better to get that task done in the earlier part of your day. The earlier the day you turn on your new habit, the less decision making you have. In the morning, you don’t have the weight of your day, your boss, kids to deal with. You just have the morning and the alarm.
STEP 2: Start Small
Start Small. Just go for a quick jog in the morning, let’s just say for 5-10 minutes. See how that feels. Then just add a little more every week, no big deal. Build on your small wins.
The hardest part honestly is getting out the front door. I also tell people to set out their clothes the night before, like you would if you were a 5-year-old kid. It helps!! I also recommend tracking your runs with a running log or an app like STRAVA. Tracking runs makes it feel more tangible, which makes your brain happy.
STEP 3: The Reward
Know Your Reward. What does your brain like? This is the fun part.
Find out what makes you light up, what you are counting on… You’ll be more likely to do a task (running) to get that reward. Yes, everyone, Yes, we’re basically dogs looking for treats. We want the bone and we’ll do stupid things to get said prize.
Rewards can be social time with your running buddy, post run coffee or beer or a hot bath with yummy smelling scents. Play around with what your brain likes and find your reward. If you track your progress, and celebrate the big milestones, your brain will see that as an accomplishment which is the same as a reward. I am also a big fan of gifting myself with fun socks, new bras and the very coveted running hats. I have a million. True story.
Step 4: Commit
Commit, damnit. Sign up for a race or a fun run. Now that races are in person now, this is a great time to get out and see what your bod can do.
If you have never done a race before, they are really fun and less intimidating then your brain might lead on. If you like racing, try to challenge yourself, like singing up for one every month or beating your previous time. Get your family involved and make a day of it. The benefits will only make you want more…promise. If you sit at your computer a lot, you will appreciate getting outside for a run. Here are some idea on ways to gain strength and more more flexibility.