Step 1: Check with your Doctor
Of course, if you *haven't* walked away at this warning, then its often advisable to check with your doctor before engaging in any sort of "fitness program". This is supposed to be so he can convince you to do something else instead, but it rarely seems to work. Most likely your physician is like mine and will actually *praise* you for doing something like this. This is because your doctor is a sick and twisted individual who stands to make cash off your impending injuries. Oh well, better luck next time.
Step 2: Choose a Race
Anyway, which race you choose will affect your needed training fit your needs for the following:
* Your ability to run the distance in good order without distress. Let's face it, at this point in your running career there's probably no such thing. Pick something short, (like a 5k or 10k?)
* Locale (don't make travel too arduous)
* Cost (of entry fees, travel, equipment, etc etc.)
* Social group / family attendance, if so applicable
5k and 10k races are most popular for beginning / novice runners, since they're typically short and relatively inexpensive. Don't even think of signing up for a full marathon without six months to a year's worth of training, and some shorter races under your belt. Finally, make sure you sign up for your chosen race *early*. Yes, some races still accept same-day entries, but almost all require you to enter before then, and many sell out well before that point. Some races are even like concert tickets. The Boston Athletic Association 5k race (run on the last 5k of the Boston Marathon route, the day before the Marathon) is presently sold out now, in September. The race is in mid-April. So sign up early.
Step 3: Acquire some running gear
1. Go to the running store.
2. Reflexively scream "HOW MUCH??" and run away screaming.
3. Go to Wal-Mart. They've got to have shorts for less.
4. Discover that the only shorts at Wal-Mart are made for nine foot tall high school seniors, made from five pounds of material (all of it cotton) and are totally unsuitable for anything even remotely athletic.
5. Ask your friends for advice. Be told (by runners) to go to the running store; non-runners will shrug haplessly.
6. Check eBay. Discover that people only ever sell shorts cheaply is if they're in size XXXL, the world's most hideous shade of puke yellow and live on a remote pacific island where packages are only shipped out once a year at so much expense you may as well (almost) just buy shorts at the running store.
7. Fume angrily and stomp around for a while. Seriously, if you don't do this you'll pull something, and then you'll never be able to run again. (How awful!)
8. Go back to the running store, growl at anything that moves and....*sigh*....pay fifty bucks for a pair of shorts. I remember when life was so much nicer, or at least simpler.
Step 4: Get proper running shoes
Did you know that "proper" running shoes cost ten-thousand dollars? Each. I didn't, but then the running store people clued me in. They remembered the fiasco with the shorts earlier, but they're paid to overlook such things in the interest of customer service and with bankruptcy now inevitable, I made my purchase.
When you go to the running store, somebody will likely perform what's called a "pronation analysis". This involves you running on a treadmill facing a wall (so you can't see people pointing and laughing at you), while the salesperson strokes their chin, stares thoughtfully at your feet and says things like "hmmm." "Pronation" is a latin science-y term meaning "more expensive". It tuns out that in my case I "overpronate", which is a term meaning "REALLY overly expensive". When my final bill for the shoes came they needed one of those "ten to the power of" exponent things to express how much I'd spent. Anybody who needs actual orthopedic shoes should probably just shoot themselves.
Anyway, just pay the running store and get out; you don't want to do the previous step all over again, do you?
Step 5: Train for your Race
Still, you and I really aren't that bright, are we? And you *did* sign up for that race....
I can't help you very much with training in such a short and sweet instuctable because it's such a ridonkulously vast and complicated subject, but that's the bad news. The good news is that just about every single other running related site on the inter-tubes *does* cover training. A lot. Seriously, google around a bit and you should be up to your eyeballs in talk about "quads" and "reps" and "intervals" and all that other stuff people with spandex shorts like to go on about. Try looking for training plans that feature pictures of people with potatoes PhotoShopped over their bodies. (like this one: http://runningmagazine.ca/2010/01/sections/training/blogs/couch-to-kenyan/ )
For our purposes, just try to understand that:
* You need to prepare your body for the idiocy and abuse you're about to throw at it. Not doing so will probably ensure that you die. In public. With people staring and pointing at you, while you collapse on the ground and
* Why just be miserable for one day when you can drag that misery out for weeks or even months preceding the official day of misery?
Step 6: Pick up your race packet and go to the run expo, if they have one
At some point there may be a presentation by a running "celebrity" (note: nobody outside the running world will have heard of this person. In fact few *inside* will have, either). One year, an advertised celebrity at the expo I attended was--no word of a lie--the guy who owned a big chain of running stores. Sadly, I never got to witness what was no doubt his grizzly death at the hands of hundreds of people forced to pay fifty dollars for shorts. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it, though.
Step 7: What your race packet will include
* A juice box containing gunk that the juice company couldn't sell and was going to throw away anyhow. I'm reminded of a conversation from a Douglas Adams book:
(Machine spews out a fluid that is almost, but not quite, exactly unlike tea)
Machine: Share and enjoy...
Arthur: Ughh! This tastes filthy!
Machine: If you've enjoyed your tea, why not share it with your friends?
Arthur: Because I want to keep them, that's why!
* Safety Pins. For holding what's left of your body together after the race. A helpful courtesy. In the meantime, use them to pin your "bib" (below) to the world's ugliest t-shirt (even more below).
* Your race "bib". You know how people are increasingly concerned about their privacy and about strangers knowing too much about them? Try running down the middle of a major avenue in your city with your name and an identifying serial number pasted to your chest; that'll fix the problem. Oh, also I've found that these tags happily contain advertising for sponsoring companies on them, because Adidas finally got all my letters saying "I wanna be a human billboard!" Just think, if you'd decided to enjoy life instead, the only bib you'd be wearing would be in a nice restaurant and have a picture of a lobster with a knife and fork on it.
* The world's ugliest t-shirt. I don't how race organizers manage to keep providing what is clearly the world's ugliest t-shirt at every single race and yet make it look different every time, but they do it. Further, is "radioactive vomit yellow" a colour? Because I now have three shirts in this hue, all of them stuffed in the back of a drawer, never again to see the light of day.
Step 8: Take it easy...ish.
The point is, that on race day, do everything carefully, do things as right as you can, but realize that with no experience comes no responsibility. You're going to screw this up, so just relax.
First timers at many races are typically advised to "just finish", without regard to specific times. Its a nice way for veterans to say, "look kid, just keep your head down and try to survive. Don't try to be a hero." if you don't follow this advice, try making your goal time reasonable. "Reasonable" means sucky. If your goal isn't reasonable, at least try not to be disappointed when you fail. Above all else, realize that this is not the biggest race of your life, that you should concentrate on enjoying the experience and that you WILL run faster races in the future. That's the delusion, anyway. If you plan not to race again after this one time, good for you. Encourage others to follow your path.
That all said, run as fast as you care to, pacing yourself for the distance and go for a "challenging" but not "distressing" race. You'll likely be familiar with these concepts from too many hours of first hand experience. If not, you'll learn soon enough.
Step 9: Go to the toilet
Its hilarious. Well, at least its hilarious until you actually have to GO to the bathroom yourself. Then you have to line up behind fourteen thousand people (ten minutes before the race starts, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of time) and try desperately to hold it in with everybody else. The fact that in many races one HAS to go as a matter of basic comfort and even strategy ensures the toilet is not an optional, scenic detour on your race day experience.
The lesson, clearly, is this: hitting the bathroom before a run is like voting--do it early, and do it often. Further, go both number one and number two. Hell, try going number three if you can, because once that gun goes off, anything left..ermm.."unsaid"....WILL decide that now is the time it would like your attention. I hope you're enjoying the euphemisms, incidentally.
[*] Literally. Fourteen thousand people. Same place, same time. I know it sounds like hyperbole but I'm actually serious!
Step 10: The Starting Corral
Now would be a good time to explain to the random strangers around you that while you forgot to do any training for this event, you had a *reeeaaaallllly* good excuse. Honest.
Race organizers might play the national anthem. Somebody else might make a speech. Or not. Still others will shout things chaotically at the crowd with megaphones, but you can ignore them because by law they're required to be completely intelligible. Anyway, all they're actually doing is giving out important last-minute instructions about how the route has been changed and you really need to *mufflemmrrmphhrmmrllll*. So just relax, you'll be fine. If you really *do* have to pee yourself, just go ahead and whittle....likely nobody will notice. [Note: this is actual race day advice I've seen out there. You just can't make this stuff up]
By the way, this is your very, very last chance to quit this whole stupid running thing, go home, drink a beer and actually enjoy life. I implore you--do the right thing.
Step 11: The Race Begins
ON YOUR MARKS....GET SET........POW! [*]
Well, now you're boned. You've actually got to run this thing, or die trying anyway.
If you've got this far, I'm sorry. Really. I've failed to convince you to do otherwise and now you're running some ungodly distance, possibly for some vaguely undefined reason to do with charity or health or because you don't want to be one of those disembodied beer guts featured on the news when another doctor (who owns stock in the running store) wants to scare people into buying $50 running shorts. Really, I'm very sorry. At this moment, you have my sympathies.
[*] In Detroit and certain parts of Los Angeles if the guy with the starting gun actually hits somebody, they automatically win a free game. I'm not sure what they win a free game *of* since I'm afraid to talk to people like that, but I'm sure its almost as fun as running.
Step 12: How to run
10) Left foot
20) Right foot
30) Goto 10
Eventually your body will start to feel very dense, sluggish and above all heavy. This is a defense mechanism meant to encourage you to roll into the gutter and die of exhaustion. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what its a defensive mechanism against, but you've got to admit--it's really not a bad idea right now.
Step 13: Water / Aid stations
Step 14: Your finisher's medal
Step 15: Go home
While you're back to enjoying life:
Considering Running a marathon?
Or maybe just doing some time on the treadmill... :
Step 16: Show off your accomplishment
1) Go to the most hateful, terrible, hellishly disorganized, disgusting pit of soul-crushing horror you can find. Why go to Ikea, you ask? Because they've got display cases there for cheap.
2) Buy whatever's on special. It'll be made from particle board and broken Swedish tractors but we do what we can in a recession. Spend three weeks fighting with your significant other about what the little man in the instructions is doing with his screwdriver until there's a finished display case in the corner of your living room. Insert medal.
3) When people ask how you managed to actually win your first race, cough nervously and mutter something about "finisher's medal". When your friend laughs and makes a comment about "everybody gets a trophy day", disown them. Its just easier this way. And what the hell, you're a runner now, and don't have any time or energy left for a social life.
4) Just in case you didn't realize it: I told you so. G'nite everybody! Be sure to tip your waitress!