The Outsider November: Get the Habit

They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. In the case of becoming a runner it took me over 30 years … and then 21 days. I ran track in high school, avoided running in college (with only the occasional mad dash to English class) and then in my mid-twenties took up what could only be described as “haphazard jogging” around downtown Nashua whenever the mood struck. I would see someone out for a run and think, “Oh, I should get out today, too,” and then pound my way down Main Street much too quickly, start flagging around mile two, then wobble back to my apartment, red-faced and wheezing, drawing concerned looks from passersby. The next day would find me nursing strained legs and a bruised ego. Heck, I’d run plenty of times before … so why didn’t it get any easier?

Last winter I got running again, this time indoors on a treadmill. For three weeks I willed myself to the gym regularly, paced myself and slowly increased my lung capacity, conditioning my legs to do the work until I actually needed to run because it made me feel really good. Since then I’ve taken many of my runs out of doors to soak in the sun and the sights. And that’s what I love about running. You can do it anywhere, any time of year, and in New Hampshire the beauty and variety of terrain makes the routes and trails endlessly diverting. So what are you waiting for? Go on and run. Your heart and mind will thank you.

Impressive Fact

Back in 1904 a medical student named George Foster was credited with the first timed run up Mt. Washington. He ran it in one hour 42 minutes, faster than any car at that time had made it. The Mt. Washington Road Race is held annually in June partly in commemoration of Mr. Foster’s great feat.


Gear Box

When you first get going running the only things you really need are a good pair of comfortable running shoes and clothes that will wick away sweat (avoid cotton). It’s really important to get fitted properly for shoes, so visit a store that has experience in fitting runners. But if you’re a gear head, there’s no limit to the clothing and accessories you’ll find for today’s running enthusiast. Here are just a few:

“Fun on Foot in New England” ($12.95) features several great paths and trails for walkers and runners in New Hampshire, including the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon and the New Castle Loop out in Portsmouth.

If you want to put your best foot forward when beginning to run, it’s essential to get properly fitted for your first pair of shoes. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8 ($95) is a favorite for stability and long-lasting comfort.

Fuel Belt’s 4 flask belt ($29.95) is a great way to keep hydrated on those longer outdoor runs. With fully adjustable Velcro closures, no bounce bottles and a pouch for carrying extras, you have no excuse to stop for a drink.

Nike Pro Basic tights ($35) are an affordable way to keep you warm during those chilly mid-winter runs and the Dri-FIT fabric wicks away moisture to keep you comfortable. They will also stand up to repeated washings and not fade or wear out.


Expert Advice

Barbara Higgins has been a runner for 30 years, competing in more than 700 races (she’s lost count – it’s probably many more than that) and has been the coach for the Concord High School girls’ indoor/outdoor track and cross-country team for 19 years. When she isn’t coaching or out for a run, she can be found chasing around her own two young children.

What does it take to become a runner?

In my mind you become a runner through the process of beginning to run. It may or may not happen for everyone, but many former hard-core non-runners suddenly realize they are in fact runners through the process of regular running. It sneaks up on you. It is a daily grind. You hate it and really suffer … then you get sick, or there’s a blizzard and you can’t get outside for a few days … and it dawns on you that you actually miss it.

I tried running once but it was too hard. What can I do to make it easier to start?

Run really, really, really slowly. The biggest mistake people make is “running” from step one. As fast as I am able to run … all of my runs start out as a shuffle. I take over a mile to get into my training pace. This lets both my body and my mind warm up to it. And I mean slow … my training pace is 8 minutes per mile. I start at a 10-minute pace.

Isn’t it true you need to be a certain body type to be a long distance runner?

No, not at all. Having said that let me acknowledge that certain body types (mine included) have an easier time getting started and staying healthy, but people of all shapes and sizes can run. So long as your feet reach the ground, then you can do it.

Doesn’t running cause a lot of harm to your knees and joints?

Lots of things can cause harm to your knees and other joints . and due to the repetitive motion of running … there can definitely be running-related wear and tear.

However, the cardiovascular and muscular benefits and osteoporosis prevention benefits of running far outweigh any potential joint injury risks. Proper footwear, stretching and strength training can prevent all types of joint problems. (I have been running for 30 years and have not yet had a knee injury. Don’t ask me about my feet or lower back, though!)

What are the benefits to running outdoors during winter?

Oxygen! Fresh air during the winter months will help to stave off illness and can reduce the effects of depression. As cold as it can be outside in the winter, there is nothing like the glow of a full moon on a snow-covered field, the sound of snowflakes landing or the thrill of running down Main Street in six inches of snow before the plow has come. I only go indoors if there are icy conditions. Otherwise, I am outside all winter.


More Info
A directory for N.H. runners for links to the state’s running clubs, area races and records held in New Hampshire.
The essential runner’s resource guide to news, training and race results nationwide.
Pick your starting point and map out a run from anywhere in the world or check out established runs in your area, based on your preferred distance.
The Runner’s World magazine online with all things running, all the time.
“Fun on Foot in New England” ($12.95) features several great paths and trails for walkers and runners in New Hampshire, including the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon and the New Castle Loop out in Portsmouth.