Now that the new year is in full swing, the impetus for many runners in 2012 is to emerge from the fog of holiday overindulgence with a new body, a new lease on life, and just maybe, a slimmer waist line.
If this year's resolution is to run yourself back into shape, Savannah is certainly the place to do it. Our city's parks, streets, and sidewalks were flooded by more runners and bikers in 2011 than ever before.
Last November, a whopping 23,000 people crossed the half and full marathon finish lines at the first annual Rock 'N Roll Marathon. December's Enmark Bridge Run saw just over 6,000 people scale the Talmadge Bridge for the harrowing 5K, 10K and 15K treks.
It seems the trend for 2012 to embrace a more active, and perhaps more competitive, lifestyle. The healthier mind and body that a regular running habit brings isn't enough for some folks: More and more new runners set their sights on a race-day finish line.
Experienced runners will likely push themselves to achieve a PR (that's "personal record" in runner's jargon) at the Critz Tybee Run Fest on Feb. 4, and even some beginning runners may find themselves itching to run a race, any race.
So how does a novice transition from recreational jogger to marathon runner? In a sea of unsolicited advice and crisscrossing information, training for your first race doesn't have to have you scrambling around in circles. Reframing your goals and throwing out preconceived expectations can be the single-most beneficial step in a long career of healthy and consistent running.
For every resolution that begins with "This year I will..." and ends with "marathon," there are at least as many early burnouts and frustrated towel-tossings. My own running history is a timeline of various degrees of love and hate; I completed my first race only after I abandoned the idea that I needed to finish one.
With that in mind, here are a few tips from one fledgling racer to another that may help you avoid a mid-January burnout or a career-ending injury:
• Consult a doctor (or at the very least, your own body) before you set your sights on a race of any length. The surest way to end your new running career is to start off too fast, too long, or too intense.
• Purchase a comfy, well-fitting pair of running shoes. If possible, visit a local running store to have them fitted to suit your gait and personal running style. A good pair of shoes is the easiest way to avoid preventable injuries.
• Set small goals that can be achieved on a daily or weekly basis. Set a target mileage each week if you fancy yourself a more intermediate runner. Aim for intervals of walking and running if you're just starting out.
• Take a break when training becomes a chore. If going for a run seems about as fun as a trip to the dentist, give yourself the day off. But don't let a day turn into a week: Cut your training in half or reduce intensity, but commit to lacing up your shoes and getting out the door.
On a personal note, my 2011 Rock 'N Roll half-marathon finish would not have been possible had I not learned to enjoy my day-to-day training. After many abandoned resolutions and brand new pairs of running shoes, I stopped setting unrealistic goals and stopped beating myself up every time I slept through my alarm clock. I also stopped concentrating of bragging rights about how far I'd run and simply began respecting what my body could do when I ran strictly for the thrill of running.
This year, resolve to be consistent in your motivation. Running is as much about the journey as it is about the finish line. The majority of successful runners do so because they enjoy each run separate from the one before it.
The more you enjoy running, the more likely you are to continue doing it. Inevitably, the more you run, the more likely you are to enter - and finish - a race in 2012.