Every “runner” was, at some point in time, a “beginner.” The transition from beginner (or “jogger”) to runner is much more than buying expensive running shoes, joining a training group, or increasing mileage. The shift is multifaceted and marked by distinct changes in running habits, as well as a purposeful transformation in one’s approach to running. There are plenty of articles, blogs, websites, and books that offer tips for learning the basics of running. The scope of this article is far too limited to offer a comprehensive plan to help “someone who runs” make the transition to “runner.” However, it is useful to get some pointers so that beginners know what to study, where to start, and how to identify the characteristics of the runner that they strive to become.
The key difference between a beginner and a runner is the level of focus and consistency in running. A beginner might run the same routes or distances without much planning on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. There is no real focus on the purpose of each run, and the beginner’s routine or performance might be somewhat inconsistent. It is true that beginners need a lot of what’s known as “time on their feet” to strengthen their running muscles and build endurance. Accordingly, it is appropriate for a beginner to run “just to run” instead of assigning a specific, focused purpose to every run. Similarly, the beginner needs to be flexible and should adapt the running routine to accommodate that individual’s ability and need for recovery.
The shift to becoming a runner is marked by an increased focus on each run’s purpose and a consistent running regimen that follows a logical, measured pathway towards specific goals. A runner understands that different runs have different purposes. The focus of an easy run is far different than that of a tempo run. Likewise, a runner aims for consistency in running: consistent pace, consistent effort, and consistent results.
This does not mean that beginners must assign a specific purpose to every run or adhere to a strict regimen every week. However, beginners should strive for running consistently; it’s important to avoid the “start and stop” irregular pattern that is most common after New Year’s resolutions. Adding focus can help with the boredom that many beginners experience. Instead of always running just to run, beginners can add focus, such as aiming for a consistent pace over the course of a regular route, to keep workouts interesting.
Even though they may have long-term goals, many beginners tend to approach running with short-term vision. For example: A beginner might start running to lose weight, to get fit, or to complete a 5K race. Even with those long-term plans, one week’s runs may look much like the next week’s runs. At the same time, a beginner might be somewhat impatient, and, therefore, try to run longer or faster each week without thought toward building a training plan.
Experienced runners think of running, or training, in terms of weeks and months. They plot their weekly runs with a long-term goal in mind so that every run has a purpose: an easy run for aerobic endurance; a tempo run for stamina; speed work for leg speed and race-specific stamina; hill work for strength; or a long run for muscle endurance. Moreover, runners learn patience with their running and training. They understand that this week’s workouts are designed for results that are weeks, months, and even years, ahead.
The beginner who wants to develop into a runner does not have to learn all the technical points of highly specialized training. But for any runner who wants to move beyond a purely recreational viewpoint, the pathway is paved with planning and patience. Coupled with focus and consistency, the end result is the satisfying feeling that running is less like “work” and more like “reward.”
Beginners often have no idea what type of running shoe they need. The first piece of advice for a beginner is to find a reputable running shoe store, spend some time with the sales staff learning what type of shoe works best, and make a decision based on comfort and fit. Veteran runners usually understand the difference between neutral, stability, and motion-control shoes as well as have enough experience with different brands and models to know which shoe works best for their individual needs. Over time, the beginner will gain this knowledge and become comfortable buying shoes based on experience instead of someone else’s advice.
Many beginners never use a watch when running, which is perfectly fine. However, it is critical for beginners to keep track of the amount of time on their feet. Without a watch to keep track of time spent running, the only option is to guess—and the tendency is to err on the side of estimating more, not less, time running.
Likewise, runners use a variety of tools such as headlamps, moisture wicking clothes, key pouches, water belts, and an endless variety of running headphones, hats, sunglasses, and socks. For the beginner, the most important tools (besides shoes and a watch) are comfortable, durable clothing. “Workout gear” is not the same as running attire. A lot of shirts and shorts have seams in places that can be very irritating over the course of a 45-minute sweaty run.
Be patient, plan your runs, focus on the purpose of every run, and strive for consistency. Buy proper running shoes and attire, and use a watch to keep track of minutes spent running. Over time, the transition from being “someone who runs” to “a runner” will be complete.