What I learned from running for over 3 years

source: gettyImages

I started running regularly at the end of 2017 and have learned a lot from my effort to stay consistent. I have seen the benefits of running reflected in many other aspects of my life. In this article, I will share four of my lessons and a few tips for runners.

  1. Start small

I started walking a km to the market every morning to get some fruits in July 2017. I stepped up to jogging and eventually started running to the market. I then built a routine of running in the morning for 20 minutes and then 30.

To start and stay consistent with something as demanding as sports, enough activation energy needs to be mustered every time. The more demanding the run, the greater the activation energy needed to start. It is common to go from running 0km in over 20 years to running 8–10km in the first few days. The energy needed to sustain this change is huge and for most people not sustainable for more than a week. Starting small requires lower activation energy and helps build the personality of a “sporter” or “runner”. It becomes easier to switch up gears when the personality is built. I have seen this apply to many aspects of life. To start any new habit, say reading, I have found it sustainable to start by building a “new” personality around it — start reading a page or two a day and focus on consistency to enforce this personality. It will be easier to increase the number of pages once the routine is in.

Build a personality around a habit first before switching up gears.

2. You can only improve what you track

I ran for two years without tracking my speed, distance, or anything. A friend recommended the Nike run app and I was very reluctant to try it, asking him “what is in there for me?”. When I started tracking my distance and speed, I immediately started trying to run faster to beat my previous record. Each time I break a record, I would think “man, there is no way I can run faster than this!”. In a few days, I would run faster than that. Without tracking, it is difficult to evaluate improvement. This also translates to other aspects of life. If I plan my day in the morning, I can look at the plan at the end and tick what I accomplished, same with the week and a month. If I start reading and track the number of pages I read every day, my competitive spirit will let me increase the number of pages eventually.

If you want to improve any aspect of your life, start tracking it.

3. Too often, we are not present

I run in the morning on the pedestrian track and sometimes, I meet people walking towards me, blocking my path. They are awake and walking, so I am thinking they will give way especially with my pace. They only realize when I am almost hitting them and try to give way then. I always have to slow down and this interrupts my pace. I tried increasing speed when running straight to a group, but this did not help. I tried calling out, but they only hear it when it’s too late. My thought for a while was that “people don’t care”. I finally tried hand gestures, pointing, or showing the direction I want to take and this worked miracles. The hand gesture seemed to snap people out of where they were to the present and they give way. I realized it’s not that people don’t care, but they are often not present. The eyes can be focused ahead but the mind is somewhere else and only realizes the danger when it is close.

With running, I have to be very present especially if I am trying to maintain a pace. It is this focus that helps me realize in time that some people are blocking my path. No wonder people go for a run to “clear” their minds. A run forces me to be in the present, where the only thing on my mind is my next step and how not to bump into anyone or anything. When my mind wanders from the present, my pace drops significantly. After a focused run, I can better focus on my work because the mind has been turned into its “focused” mode. This is the major reason I run in the morning. Whatever the time you do sports, be assured that your focus will be improved.

To clear your mind or improve focus, go for a run

3. Dieting

Some days, I feel really strong and amaze myself with my pace. Other days, my legs are heavy and I finish the same distance at almost twice the time. I started looking into various aspects of the previous day which affect my energy levels including when and what I ate, when and how long I slept, and my state of mind.

What I discovered was that food plays a very important part in my energy levels the next day. If I eat too much food and immediately go to sleep, I barely have the strength to run the next morning. When I eat 2 to 3 hours before sleep, I feel more strength the next morning. The other factor was what I ate. Somehow, when I eat food like potatoes or rice, my legs are lighter the next morning. When I eat a heavy protein diet like meat, I struggle the next morning with running strength. Fruits and veggies also make my legs lighter. I settled on a mixed diet (proposed by my good friend Kizito Nyuytiymbiy). I mix carrots, tomatoes, bananas, and avocadoes (and sometimes cucumbers). I eat this after a “light” evening meal and this gets my strength at its peak most of the time.

My heavenly strength combination

It is up to you to study what foods give you the most energy in the morning. One thing that stands out for me as the greatest strength killer is alcohol (in any quantity). My strength drops in proportion to the amount of alcohol I took the previous day.

Find an appropriate diet to get your strength to its peak the next morning.

Bonus: Tips to Runners

  1. Keep constant pace

In every run, find a pace and try to keep it. I discovered changing pace kills my energy. I like to start slow and increase the speed to what I am comfortable with and try to keep it till the end of the run. It is difficult to keep pace on terrain with elevations so I try to find a flatter surface. If I can maintain a speed throughout the running, my improvement becomes a slight increase in my current pace.

2. Reduce change of direction.

Changing direction too often kills my energy. I guess this is because it interrupts my rhythm. This happens to me when I meet other pedestrians unwilling to give me a straight path. Choose a path that will minimize a change in direction.

3. Lighten your legs

When I put a lot of force on my legs, they build lactic acid too fast and become heavy to lift. I started decreasing the tension on my legs to the minimum tension to keep me running.

4. Focus on the stride

When I am tired, I focus on leaning forward and making longer strides. This helps to keep my pace and conserve energy.

5. Stretch often

It is very important to stretch properly before and after a run. I actually reduced in height from running without stretching because my muscles became too compact. I decided to dedicate two days a week to stretching only.

6. Do not stop abruptly

When I finish a run, I always walk around for a few minutes before sitting down — beginning with faster steps and slowing down eventually. This helps my body calm down from the “elevated” state. When I stop abruptly, I feel dizzy and sometimes I feel I can pass out especially after fast runs.

Conclusion

Running regularly has significant benefits which extend to other aspects of life. It is important to start small, track progress, and consume the right nutrients to raise energy levels during a run and for the rest of the day.

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Software Engineer, aspiring Writer and Entrepreneur.

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Clasence Neba Shu

Clasence Neba Shu

Software Engineer, aspiring Writer and Entrepreneur.

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