Of all the pleasures running has given me over the years, one of the greatest is when I get to mentor a new runner as she enters the sport. The last opportunity to do this came during my recent injury.
A friend of a friend – a woman 20 years my junior was over at the house and she remarked on the incredible shape I was in…”For my age.” (I should mention that I have a love/hate relationship with this “for my age” thing. On the one hand it feels like a compliment. On the other, it serves as a reminder that, well, time has certainly marched on and there’s no mistaking the fact…I’m no longer “one of the girls.”)
She asked me what I did for exercise and of course I did my 10 minute sermon about the benefits of running; the weight control, the mood elevation, the sense of self-confidence, the PMS buster, etc., etc. I paused for a response. “Yeah, you know I tried running when I was in high school,” she said, “And I hated it. Sooo boring!” What is it anyway about our high school gym teachers that put so many of us off running for life? I know a lot of women who just despise running due to their high school experience. It’s really a shame.
Anyway, my young friend and I talked about hiking in our local hills and going to the gym at her condo complex, swimming, all the alternatives to running– and she really didn’t seem much interested in pursuing the “getting started” conversation. Now, I don’t want to be an annoying running evangelist, so I didn’t harangue her any further. We moved on to something else. Then, that Saturday, muscling around with an SUV that failed to stop at a light, I fatally dodged a bumper and landed in the hole that tore my tendons. Grounded!
Fast-forward about a month and in comes my young friend again looking absolutely terrific. I remarked on how it appeared that she had a lost a few pounds and she exclaimed, “I took your advice and started running…and I am so addicted!” Wow! You could have knocked me over with a feather. ‘We have to go running together some time!” Well, it turns out that she started running with a friend who marathons and they were training on the treadmill and in the Hollywood Hills (one tough mother of a workout). Seems that she was already up to 4-5 mile runs (remember- this girl is in her early thirties; young and foolish) and loving it!
So, what does any good running evangelist do? I suggested that she sign up for a 5K some time in the spring. Of course, I invited her to the LA Marathon 5K that I will be doing in March…and I’m hoping that she takes me up on it. Besides, I have a little side bet that I’m gonna kick her a*s now that I’m up and running again. ;-)
Every one of us has a regular opportunity to help change a woman’s life by encouraging her to start running. So what is the best way to help a friend get off the couch?
Start Slow. One of the biggest impediments to new runners is that fact that most newbies start too fast, get really sore and uncomfortable and just quit because it’s so hard. Encourage your friend to start with walking for 30 minutes every other day at a challenging pace until it becomes easy- usually a couple of weeks. (I’m convinced this is where our high-school gym coaches went wrong with many of us).
Gradually Incorporate Run Time. Next, start incorporating one minute of running for every 3 minutes of walking in a 30-minute workout ever other day. Remind her that she should be running at a conversational pace (she can carry on a conversation with ease while running).
Share What You’ve Learned. When I first started running, Galloway’s Book of Running was my bible. Every question I had about stretching, after-workout soreness, preparing for racing, running hills…everything was covered by this book and reading it helped me stay motivated. Share your favorite running resources with your friend, whether it be a website, a magazine or a favorite book.
Help With the Gear. Shopping for running shoes for the first time can be an intimidating experience for a new runner. What should she be looking for? Where should she be shopping? What questions should she ask the sales associate? Offer to go along for the ride to your favorite store- and while you’re at it, a little bra advice is helpful too. Also, I should mention parenthetically here that if funds are available, there’s nothing more motivating than buying some cute running clothes!
Run Together. Running with someone who is new to the sport is so much fun. I thin there must be a little personal trainer in all of us. You can talk about training while you run, how she’s feeling, motivate her as you approach a hill, instruct on proper form…very fulfilling and helpful to a new runner.
Establish a Goal. We all know how important it is to be constantly establishing goals as a runner. This helps us stay motivated- regardless of experience level. Encourage your fledgling runner to pick a do-able race like a 5K and offer to help her train for it. This is a fantastic way to help your friend keep the promises she makes to herself and you can easily join her on your easy training day.
Can there be anything better than having the ability to share something truly valuable and beneficial with a friend? Use your running knowledge to help improve someone elses life. You will be totally amazed at how it increaes YOUR motivation as well!