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Paced my daughter to her first running race at the McCarren 5k

Tips for Beginner Runners: Collected While Guiding My Daughter Through Her First 5k

– Posted in: Running

My older daughter and I completed a 5k race together last weekend.  It was her first ever running race, and the culmination of three-months of training together.  Here I share our history of running together, and my tips for beginner runners.

My history with running

I am a life-long runner, well at least in my adult life.  I discovered running in 1994, a year after graduating from college.  Since then I’ve run over 200 races, including 18 marathons in 11 states.  I’ve also done a fair share of triathlons, my longest being a half-ironman.

Historically, though, running for me has been a solitary activity.  While my family has been very supportive over the years, generally they have not joined me in any kind of participatory way.  I’d always been very happy when my older daughter, now 21, expressed some interest in running and joined me from time to time.

Joined by my daughter

According to my running logs, the first time we ran together was a set of three short runs in October and November 2010, when she was 14.  After the first few runs, she got too busy or lost interest.

Our next foray into running together came in the summer of 2013, when she was 17.  She had just graduated high school and I think was looking for a new challenge and had time on her hands over the summer.  My log shows 19 runs that summer and into the fall, our longest maxing out at 4 miles.  She was having a really hard time dealing with side stitches during those runs, which held her back from enthusiastically loving the activity, and so we incorporated walk breaks into our efforts.  We had signed up for a 5k race in September 2013 but it ended up getting cancelled due to a conflict in the park that day.  Once school started in the fall, she had less time for running, and the frustrations of the side stitches caused her to again lose interest.  I counted 6 more runs in 2014, but not enough to sustain a good habit.

This year she again expressed an interest in running, and with myself being on a flexible work schedule since I’m now working at home, we’ve been able to get out and run on a pretty regular basis over the last 3 months.  We started with just doing 1.5 miles, and our effort culminated in a 5k race, completed in a respectable time of 33:35 last weekend, and she had a blast doing it!

Tips for Beginner Runners

I was her trainer and responsible for getting her safely up to the 5k distance and getting her ready for the race, as well as pace her through the 5k.  Here are my tips for beginner runners:

Keep the pace slow to start

It is really important to keep a steady and slow pace as a beginner.  It is very easy to get overeager, run too hard, and flame out after only a short distance.  In the first few weeks, aim from increasing the run from one to two miles at a time, ideally getting up to 25 minutes per session.  Ideally you would incorporate walk breaks as a beginner.

I would recommend starting with intervals of 5 minutes running and 3 minutes walking, and gradually increase the running minutes and reduce the walking minutes over the first weeks, until you are able to complete the full 20-25 minutes without walking.  My daughter refused to take walk breaks, and as a result I felt like we didn’t cover as much distance as we otherwise could have, and the sustained running, even when she was hurting, resulting in a minor injury to her knee.  The knee injury caused a two-week shutdown and a few visits to a physical therapist.

If needed, it is OK to stop for a moment to walk or stretch

Sometimes in the middle of a run, something will feel funky.  Unless you are in some kind of competition and there is something on the line, there is no need to continue to run through that kind of pain, and in fact it can cause more harm than good.  The best thing to do is to stop and do a brisk walk for a few minutes to let the funkiness die down a bit, or stretch what is causing the problem, and then resume the run.

Quad tightness is common with new runners, for example, and when your quad barks mid-run, it is much better to stop and stretch rather then push through it and have the quad tighten up for multiple days afterward.  This is also advice my daughter refused to take, and again, I think it contributed to holding her back a bit as we trained up for the 5k distance.

Failing is OK

Even though my daughter didn’t follow the sort of advice I outlined above and I believe it contributed to her knee injury and other soreness, she still was able to train for a strong 5k within 3 months.  The body is extremely resilient and self-healing, and virtually any beginner injury will resolve itself with a few days (or at most a week or two) of rest.  In fact, the best way you can learn that something you’ve done isn’t the brightest thing is by doing that thing, failing, and recognizing the mistake.  Then give yourself a few days to recover and give it another try.

Don’t let a bad run or a bad day prevent you from continuing.  There are many factors that can contribute to a bad run, such as poor sleep, poor nutrition, humid weather, a windy day, etc.  I am a strong believer that a run that seems like a fail because you didn’t finish it, or you felt terrible, is a data point in training your body how to deal with that condition in the future, and a barrier broken through that you’ll be able to beat the next time.

Running is very much mental

Some people take this a bit too far by insisting that running is simply mind over matter and if you set your mind to something, you can do it.  As a beginner this is not the case.  Your body needs to gradually be trained to run long distances, and you can’t simply go out and run a 5k with a mind over matter mentality.

However, I do strongly feel that the body will fight you when you start doing something foreign, such as running multiple miles at a time without stopping, and this is a mental hurdle that you can definitely overcome.  The body will fight back by giving you an ache here or there, or a side stitch, or chest pain, or send strong signals to your brain that it is time to stop running.

As a beginner, you have to work hard to fight back, and send a strong signal back to your mind that you will not stop.  And with each completed run, you break through those small barriers and you’ll find the body won’t fight those same barriers again.  That is why you have to increase the miles slowly – be nice to your psyche by not taking steps forward in your training that are too large.

One simple example I used to try to combat this mental fatigue was developing a run course that is a single loop, where you do not have to repeat any part of it a second time.  When you start at a specific spot, when you return to that spot after the first loop, it is a single to your brain that you are done, and your mind will give you a hard time on the second loop and beyond.

Ideally you would run in a park or in the streets of your neighborhood that can accommodate a full three mile loop.  While you might start with a shorter loop within the bigger loop, you can gradually increase the course to the full loop.  If your two-mile run will consist of four half-mile loops, you’ll find that to be much harder to complete than a single two-mile loop.

Anyway, I’m very happy I was able to be there for my daughter to help her along in her running journey, train her up to the 5k distance, and pace her in the race!  She’s off to India soon for the summer so we’ll be taking a long break in running together, but I look forward to picking up our training next fall and planning another race!

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