It was a brisk March day in 2008 when I milled about the South Buffalo starting line. I asked someone how to put the timing chip on my shoe, lined up for the bathroom plenty of times, and fought off nerves. The Shamrock Run was my first road race and the mixture of excitement and enthusiasm made me slightly nauseous.
A true novice, I didn’t realize at the time that the annual 8K race is the unofficial official start to the running season in Western New York.
While there are opportunities to race year-round, the first Saturday in March ushers in runners from all corners of the 716 and beyond to kick off another year.
Through my decade of running – from 5Ks to marathons, on road and trail – I’ve learned plenty of lessons. And most of them I need to keep relearning. Here are my top five tips for running to get ready for the 2018 season:
HAVE A GOAL
While I love running, I have a confession to make – some days I’m just not in the mood. I’m tired. It’s cold. I’m sore. The whining begins early and can get pretty loud. But then there’s that goal I have that pulls me forward, the one that gets me out the door. And once I’m out the door and get started, my mood changes within five minutes, even if there’s still some whining along the way.
Shamrock Run: 40th anniversary 8K run, noon next Saturday, March 3, Old First Ward Community Center, 62 Republic St. To register or for more info, visit buffaloshamrockrun.com. $35 by Wednesday; $40 after that.
There are all kinds of goals. You can have a goal race, the one you most want to do or most want to do well at. You can have a goal of running a personal best. Or qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Or completing a 5K without walking. Or completing a 5K by any means necessary.
Your goal could be health-related, like losing weight. It could mental-health related, like working out anxiety. It could be to run one mile every day.
Your goal could be to see how many people you can high-five on a 5K course. How many volunteers can you thank?
Yes, there are endless types of goals you can set. Not one of them is wrong. And not one of them is an edict etched in stone that can’t be changed. For me, goal-setting has become a way to remember why I started this journey, what I love about running, and what I want most from this experience. It’s actually less about the result than it is about the process.
FIND YOUR STYLE
Running sounds pretty simple, and at its heart it is. But it doesn’t take long to find yourself down a rabbit hole of training advice – from what types of workouts to do, how to do them, what to eat, when to eat, what shoes to wear, what training metrics to follow, and on and on.
It can be overwhelming and not just for newbies.
I find the best advice comes from William Shakespeare – “To thine own self be true.”
Some people love numbers. They love metrics and feedback and charts and graphs. They love to know their pace and power and things like VO2Max. They have training plans they follow to the letter. This makes sense to them.
Other people aren’t so attached to numbers. They like perceived exertion versus continuous digital feedback. Training plans are rough guides and they’ll change on the fly to suit what’s going on in their life at the moment.
Chances are you fall somewhere along this spectrum. Running is a mix of science and art.
Everyone is different. Bodies are different. Brains are different. We respond in different ways. So if the numbers make sense to you, dive on in. If you’d rather run based on feel, groove on down the road. The point is, there is no one way to be a runner. Whatever keeps you running and motivated and finding joy in running – do that.
STOP THE COMPARISON TRAP
Competition can bring out the best in you. Many times in a race, I’ve found myself working to stay up with someone or to try and pass them in the final quarter mile. It has nothing to do with them but with finding a way to push myself. If I stay with them and catch them, great! If not, well, they’ve helped drag me along and made me run faster than I would otherwise that day, so great!
Other times, I’m at a group run, listening to people talk about their races and paces. They’re faster. They’re more experienced. And I start to wonder if I can call myself a “runner” after all.
Of course I can. I’m a runner because I run. Results don’t determine whether you get to call yourself a runner or not. But when I compare myself to other people, I get a false sense of where I’m at. Our race times don’t tell the whole the story. They don’t even tell a fraction of the story.
Your running journey is your running journey. You may share it with family and friends, and the sharing may contain more intimate details than you ever expected, but it’s your journey done at your pace in your style with your goals. Don’t measure yourself against someone else. Remember why you want to run.
YOU'RE GOING TO FAIL
Failure isn’t optional. It’s inevitable.
You’re going to blow up in a race. You’re going to get sick or injured. You’re going to miss that goal you set for yourself.
Life is going to happen. And that’s OK.
Running is not all or nothing. If you miss a week (or more), you start again. If you don’t hit your goal in a race, there’s another chance ahead. If you have a completely, no-good, miserable day, you still had the opportunity to run and be free, and nothing on planet Earth will suffer because of your (perceived) failure at a road race.
Find the gratitude in the moment. Get back up. Start again.
If you’re brand new to running, that’s a challenge in itself. But even after your first race, there are ways to challenge yourself.
The obvious is pace – to try and run faster. But speed isn’t the only way to challenge yourself. Find a hilly course. Try a trail run. Do a longer distance.
You can challenge yourself in other ways, too. Say hello and chat with a stranger at the start or finish line. Be a running buddy for someone. Sit out a race and volunteer.
There’s plenty to explore. Don’t get stuck in a rut.
AMY MORITZ TO TALK RUNNING, SIGN BOOK
Amy Moritz is the author of “I Thought You’d Be Faster: The Quest To Become An Athlete.” She has spent her life working as a sports reporter, telling the tales of athletes of all kinds. But it wasn’t until she hit her 30s that she finally answered the call to be an athlete herself. Moritz discusses her journey of defining and pursuing her own athletic identity while discussing how to listen to what’s truly calling you and find the courage to live your passion in all its messy, beautiful reality.
Moritz will give two talks about her book and sign copies during Women’s History Month:
March 12: Noon to 1 p.m., Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square.
March 22: 6 to 8 p.m., Runner’s Roost, 4190 N. Buffalo Road, Orchard Park