There was a time, though we may not remember it, when we all were beginners.
Maybe it was just a couple of years ago and you still remember with great clarity your very first three-mile loop at Town Lake. You remember that it was Austin hot—you remember that summer—how you wore the running shoes you’d bought years ago, in college, because it was the ubiquitous footwear status symbol, and after the run your feet were blistered and sore. The next day your legs were so stiff and cranky that you vowed never again, but yet something drew you back down to the trail.
Maybe you don’t really remember your first run. Maybe it was so long ago that it just happened at some point. It’s part of your own mythology. You grew up running in some form or fashion. Your dad nudged you to do it, because he ran. Or maybe it’s how you commuted between your neighborhood friends’ houses. It was how you daydreamed your way through adolescence, how you escaped.
Whatever the circumstances, now you’re practically a professional. No matter that you pay more in race entry fees, gear and travel expenses each year than most professional runners earn. But you know pretty much everything there is to know about anything that is running. You’ve read Once a Runner. You keep your customized recovery shake chilled in the cooler on the back seat, waiting for you after you run. You know the weight, offset, stack height and durometer of each of the trainers and racers in your Marcosian collection of running footwear. When in training—when are you not in training?—you log your daily efforts electronically, and note heart rate, perceived exertion, caloric expenditure, average pace, volume, distance to the one-hundredth of a mile, stride rate and changes in altitude and vertical oscillation. And after you log it, you blog it and then Facebook it, so that you hold yourself accountable to the virtual world.
And, of course, you talk about it, and know what’s good and bad about your training, and perhaps about everyone else’s training, too. So-and-so is running really well right now, you say to the assembled at breakfast after your long run, but she really needs to work on keeping her hips forward on the hills. Or whatever. There’s always something that can be improved, isn’t there?
Of course, each of these things is part and parcel of the whole running thing. Thanks be to the marketing gods, we have access to way more information than is truly necessary, but contemporarily, it’s just the way things are. It’s pretty standard, I would imagine, in any hobby or passion shared by a connected group or community. People who enjoy talking about cars or, I don’t know, cheese can go on ad infinitum about all that stuff. We talk about running when we talk about running. It’s how we connect with each other. And for the uninitiated, it can be pretty overwhelming.
If you get the chance, hang out in a running shop for a couple of hours on a busy Saturday afternoon. See if you can determine who is new to running and who is seasoned. Watch to see how each person interacts with others. Listen to their questions. Listen to the way they answer questions. And then try to remember what it was like the first time you went in to your running specialty shop and bought running shoes. Remember when you first asked about learning to run. After you’d tried it yourself for a couple months and couldn’t shake those damn shin splints. Before you knew what a BQ was. Remember all that?
As much as we know about running, there are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the beginner.
Ask yourself what you would do if someone new to running asked questions of you. How would you answer those questions? Remember for a moment that the person in front of you knows absolutely nothing about any of this. They don’t even know the vocabulary. They’ve never bonked. They don’t even have real running shoes. Do you talk about fartlek? Do you talk about periodization? Do you ask them what the stack height is in their shoes?
No. You feed them with baby steps. You tell them that they need to get consistent first. The old “30 minutes-a-day” thing. When you can get to 30 minutes a day, every other day, relaxed, then you consider thinking about possibly doing more. But the consistency has to be there first. Baby steps. Because the learning curve for them is so great, so hyperbolic, that every run is the most amazing thing ever. It’s still new, it’s still fresh and it’s not yet a practice, so they tend to go into each run with childlike eyes—wide open and welcoming. With no expectations. That’s the key. That’s the first lesson we can learn from them. Go into each run with wide open, beginner’s eyes. Because the reality is you don’t know what is going to happen on any given run, on any given day.
Go into each run with the excitement of doing something for the first time. Before I step out the door each day, I visualize a couple of things. I like to see a picture in my mind of my kids running in the front yard or on the playground, playing Star Wars or ninjas or whatever is cool that day. They’re still pretty young so they fall down on occasion and when they do, they get up and keep going. They’ll stop to brush off the gravel or something, but they keep going. I also like to think of the picture of a family, arriving at a beach vacation in the family wagon, with back doors flying open and children and dogs scattering all helter skelter toward the sand and water. That’s running. Those are beginner’s eyes.
How fortunate those beginners are. How cool is it that they’ve never run an AT run, bookended by quarters on the track, or done max effort hill repeats up Rainbow? How cool is it that they have one pair of shoes? How cool are they that they can get away with a run in a cotton tshirt? How cool are they that they don’t care what their average pace is? They don’t know training. It’s just running. How cool is it that now, after reaching they point when they can go 30 minutes, every other day, they are absolutely madly in love with running?
Ask yourself when running became training for you? When did that happen? Do you still have that love, or is it something different now? If it is different, can you get that back?