Stuff I’m learning

Warning:  if you are not a runner, you’re gonna be bored by this one!  And keep in mind I am SOOO not an expert, but here’s what’s been most useful to me in the past few weeks.   If you are a runner and know better than I do on some of these points, please chime in and set me straight.  Really.  I’m all ears.

  • ENERGY LEVELS –Some days your body has pep and some days it doesn’t and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  Go with it.  Be merciful to yourself on the slow days.  Trust that your body has its reasons, however mysterious.  On a run earlier this week I could barely do 13-minute miles.  Today I did one in 9:30.  Don’t ask me why.
  • REST DAYS — Exercise days tear down your body. Rest days build your body back stronger.  Don’t skip those rest days. Last month I was running 4 days a week.  This month I hope to get in a little more distance and to take shorter walk breaks.  But I’m aiming to run just 3 days a week to allow more rest in between.
  • BODY POSITION — When running, instead of leaning your shoulders forward and ‘sitting’ at the hip (a common newbie error that I saw in my own shadow in my first few weeks), run tall and imagine leading with your chest and pelvis.  It feels dramatically better– it shifts your weight forward and makes your body literally want to take the next step.
  • STRIDE LENGTH — I thought at first that a huge heels-flying stride would make you faster.  (Not that I could DO that– it’s just what I thought ‘real’ runners did.)  But actually quick low lightly-landing steps are most efficient.  Supposedly 180/min is ideal.  Over-striding wastes energy and causes injury, especially in new runners.
  • BREATH REGULATION —  At first I thought breathing ‘right’ meant finding a breathing pattern that would work for the whole run. That sounds silly as I write it, but it really is what I thought.   Actually what you need is a steady pattern that you change incrementally.  That way you can to stay focused and not breath raggedly or hyperventilate.  At the start of a run when I’m fresh and going easy, I take 4 strides during every in-breath,  and 4 during every out-breath.  (“In-two-three-four, Out-two-three-four..”) When I’m warmed up and working a bit harder, I switch to 3 strides per in-breath, 3 strides per out-breath (“In-two-three, out-two-three..”).  When I’ve been running awhile and am working very hard, it’s a two strides/in, two strides/out pattern. (“In-two, Out-two”)  That way I can ramp up my respiratory rate to get more oxygen during hard parts of the workout, but  in a steady way that coordinates predictably with my strides.  So far I can only handle 3-4 minutes in that two-stride pattern– I take it as a sign that I need a walk break soon. But the more fit I get, the longer I can stay in the 4-stride and 3-stride breathing.  Today I got nearly a quarter mile in easy 4-stride breathing.  Two months ago I’d have been raggedly panting and needing to walk after 1/10 of a mile. Maybe the breathing thing is super basic, but once I figured it out, I was able to run in a steadier rhythm, and better gauge the intensity of my effort.

What about you?  If you’re a runner, what things helped you feel successful in the early weeks and months?


  1. I’m following start to Run, which I believe is comparable to C25K. (schedule here: it’s in Dutch, but you understand numbers. It’s run(walk). The fact that I strictly keep to the 3 lessons a week (on/off/on/off/on/off/off) works really well for me. The third lesson of the week is always longer and harder, so I really feel like I deserve that extra rest day.
    Thursday I did lesson 13, which included a total of 20 minutes running, 2(2) 3(2) 5(3) 5(3) 5(2). I was so proud of being able to accomplish that, where 5 weeks ago I was out of breath when walking a flight of stairs! I can tell I sleep better, and just feel better all around. Two years ago I completed the program as well, so I’m confident that it will work out again now. That fall/winter I wasn’t sick and didn’t catch any colds (though I’m a teacher and I’m in touch with a lot of germs). I’m pretty sure that that was thanks to the running.
    Oh and, of course, losing weight and cm’s. Last night in the gym mirrors I noticed the difference :).

  2. Hi Nic– that is awesome! Feels good to be seeing progress, doesn’t it?


  3. hmmm… I’m going to need to see a picture of that “body postion” please. Seriously- lead with your chest and pelvis? I’m picturing Clark Kent ripping off his clothes to become Superman and save the day…

    • lol, I KNEW I wasn’t explaining that well….I was trying to describe the difference between ‘sit’ running with a leaned-over upper body, and running taller, thinking ‘hips-forward’ …. sigh….does that make a lick more sense? (physical description is one of the millions of reasons I won’t be writing a running book anytime soon) šŸ™‚

    • Keep your shoulders back (not to excess – just to good posture), and keep your lower back straight, rather than arched. When your lower back arches, it puts your weight on your piriformis and other muscles that can’t handle it, along with making your stride really choppy.

  4. I wouldn’t call myself a runner by any stretch. But over the last five months I’ve lost 50 pounds and as a result, I’ve started walking several times a week. As the weight has come off I’ve picked up the pace…much easier to run without lugging all that extra weight around! At any rate, I’m still walking more than running, but I’m surprising myself by wanting to run more as I’m out there. I think I’m doing quite well, despite a cold arlier this week that set me back. All that said, I thoroughly agree with you on a few of your points.

    The stride thing I figured out pretty early on watching other runners run past me. I was out at the same time as the local high school cross country team one morning and I saw that all of them had a very controlled stride, which I then started to mimic and discovered I could run a bit longer and more comfortably.

    Also totally agree with you on the energy level thing. Especially after a few days of being sick and trying to get back into it, it’s been especially obvious. But there are definitely days when I can whip out my 2 1/2 miles seemingly effortlessly and others when I’m practically crawling to the end. And they could be days in the same week!

    As for the other points, I’ll have to try them out! Not far enough along to have gotten to breathing patterns. I’ve also marked down the books you mentioned the other day…looking forward to getting better at this whole running thing, the whole idea of which (Me? A runner?! HA!) is highly amusing. You’re a great source of inspiration!

    • Christine,
      I can totally relate to the ‘Me? A Runner?’ feeling. Actually, I hesitated to even write this post…but since it was stuff that has helped me, I decided to get it out there. And good for you for losing weight! That is so hard!


  5. Mary I’ve been a long time reader and this year in March I started running, did my first 10k in June and one of these crazy Ragnar relays in July and completed a 1/2 marathon in October. I love running and am delighted you have picked it up as well.
    Like you I have more energy and I feel better in my body. I also believe that as wives and moms we give and end up neglecting ourselves. Running gives me a sense of accomplishment, freedom, and power. I have found that I run better if on my days off I do some cross training (yoga is my favorite) to help with upper body and core strength. I pick one day to yoga and one where I do a few lunges, squats and sit-ups, and stretch. Sundays I take completely off. This is when I’m training for a race.
    Also I listen to my body and if I need an extra day off I take it.
    I try and drink like a fish because my brother the bio-chemist says all our muscle hydration takes place the day before. So I can’t cheat and guzzle water before I run and expect that it will help me.
    Salt is your friend.
    I love reading about your adventures and hope you have as much fun as I have with it!

  6. Mary, I know this is a really personal question, and if you choose not to answer, I’ll completely understand. I was wondering if you’ve noticed any weight loss yet. I’ve been running for about the same amount of time (2 months), and have yet to see the scale sway more than a pound in the downward direction. I know what’s important is feeling better (and I definitely do), but I have to admit that the expected weight loss was bolstering my inspiration, too. Not seeing any yet really has me discouraged.

    • @Jennifer: did you know that muscle is heavier than fat? That’s why usually you don’t lose weight right away, because the fat tissue changes to muscle. Do you notice difference in inches?

    • Hi Jennifer, I’ve lost exactly one pound. Clothes are getting looser tho, so I’ll keep at it!

    • Muscle weighs about three times as much as fat, per unit volume. Often for the first while you’re building muscle faster than losing fat, so even though you’ll look trimmer you might actually gain weight.

  7. My weight has stayed stable too, since I started running 3 months ago. But my husband insists that he sees huge differences, and his opinion means more to me than what the scale says. šŸ™‚

  8. Hi Mary! I started couch to 5k about the same time you did, and agree with everything you say. Regarding energy levels, I have noticed that when I am more hydrated I can go longer and faster than when I neglect to drink enough water. I stay well hydrated in summer because it’s HOT, but we need that water just as much in the fall and winter!

    Just yesterday, I did a “dry run” of a 5k distance and completed in 48 minutes. I am registered for a run on New Year’s eve, so am hoping to shave a good bit of time off that 48 minutes between now and then. You know what they say, the only difference between a “jogger” and a “runner” is an entry fee!!

    Best of luck to you, Mary.