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6 Tips to a Successful Running Experience


Donna Leff is a Runner & graduate of Iowa State University, currently working as an Operations Specialist with the US Dept. of Agriculture.

I’ve always been a big believer in the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” I’ve made a ton of mistakes as a runner and learned a lot along the way. To that end, I’m going to equip you with some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about running with the hope that you will heed my advice, make a new set of mistakes, and pass along the lessons you learn to others.

I started running after college. I had just moved to a new town, I didn’t know anybody, and on top of everything else, my mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. I had no running experience whatsoever. I was terrified of the track coach at my high school, so needless to say I wasn’t a track runner. I was looking for something I could do on my own to take my mind off of everything and that quite frankly wasn’t too hard to figure out. So I thought running was the perfect option, since I’d been putting one foot in front of the other for most of my life.

How could I screw up something I’d been doing most of my life? It’s easier than you might think. That being said, here are six big tips I have for you.

Appropriate running attire is vital. This includes shoes, socks, and clothes. More about shoes later on, but quality socks (NOT cotton) are essential. My favorites are Fitsoks (which you can order from State of Run), but there is a number of high-quality options. Depending on where you live, what to wear might be an easy question to answer. Here in Minnesota the weather changes as often as the clock. Before I venture out for a run, I use this link as a handy guide to help me decide how much I need to wear.

Don’t forget about other things you might need to carry as you run! You might also want to consider a waist, arm, or ankle belt to hold your keys, phone, ID, and anything else you’d like to have along.

Get a gait analysis. Not all shoes are created equal! Find someone who knows running and knows running shoes to help you pick out your shoes. A number of specialty running stores have staff on-hand with the background and expertise to analyze your gait and help you choose shoes that will optimize your comfort and reduce your risk of injury.

Many specialty running stores have generous return policies so you can do a couple trial runs in your new shoes and return them if you have a problem with them (I’m currently utilizing this option myself). You will want to ask though; every store is different.

Develop a good support system. This one really became obvious to me after an injury that sidelined me for an entire summer and then some. In the process of recovering and healing, I had to rely on the expertise of a lot of other people; you just can’t know everything yourself. Depending on your own knowledge and experience level, the number of miles you log, and your individual needs, here are some people you might want to consider having on “your team”: a doctor, a chiropractor (they’re good for more than just backs), a physical therapist, a shoe guru, a personal trainer (see tip #4), and a dietitian (see tip #5) for starters.

Don’t forget to look to your fellow runners for knowledge and motivation. The running community is truly one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever been a part of.

Remember to cross train. If you don’t have some muscle, get some. If you don’t know the first thing about lifting weights, find someone who does; gyms employ people who can help you with that. There seems to be some amount of friction between runners and weightlifters in the fitness world. In my experience, there is plenty of room for both in your fitness routine. Lifting has definitely improved my pace and reduced my recovery time and occurrence of overuse injuries. At the same time, the endurance I’ve gained from running definitely helps me in the gym.

Pay attention to your nutrition. It’s important to fuel yourself well if you plan to run well. I like pizza and ice cream just as much as the next person (and cinnamon rolls…don’t even get me started on those), but balance is important. Consider your goals too. A person who’s trying to lose weight and a person who isn’t don’t need to eat the same amount of food, nor does a person training for a 5K and someone training for a marathon.

My most important tip: have fun!: You won’t feel like a Boston qualifier on every run, but you won’t feel like you have bricks tied to your shoes on every run, either. Just stick with it, remember why you started, and enjoy the journey!


-By Donna Leff