Coming Back from Setbacks

Since I got serious about running, I have been very lucky when it comes avoiding injuries or any setbacks that would take me away from running for weeks at a time. However, life is full of surprises. On an evening about 9 weeks ago, only 4 weeks into my Berlin Marathon training cycle, I was rushing downstairs while wearing socks and slipped and fell on our wooden stairs. After a chaotic midnight ER visit, I was informed that I have an acute, comminuted fracture of the inferior sacrum, which I had to google. “You are lucky it’s a clean break! You need to refrain from any exercise for a couple of weeks, but you can probably still run the Berlin Marathon,” doctor said to me while putting me on a heavy dose of painkillers to help me rest.

I knew then that if I didn’t want this injury to consume me, I needed to make some changes in my life and how I approach running. And I was also aware that being injured sucks. I knew that I would be sad and frustrated during the recovery process no matter how hard I tried to be positive, and it’s totally ok to feel those feelings. Sit with them. Process them. For me, it was a lot of sitting in a dark room playing back the scene when I fell in my head until I got to the point where I acknowledged that there was nothing I can do to change what has already happened. I accepted the situation, and tried my best to stop blaming myself. I still fall back into that negative mental space from time to time, thinking what if. I have to constantly remind myself that I am here now. I need to look ahead and move forward. 

Separating Myself from the Sport

I happened to be reading the book “How She Did It” when I was injured. There was a quote from the sports psychologist Ro McGettigan, “It’s a secure place to know and believe that you are whole without this sport.”

I tried my best to be intentional about the things I do to cultivate a positive environment for myself. I deleted Strava, and stopped listening to running related podcasts (which was about 60% of my podcast consumption). I made a list of things that bring me joy outside of running. It included things like reading, cooking, baking, socializing, and bubble baths with scented candles. But in the beginning of the recovery, things were rough. I couldn’t stand for an extended period of time, and I couldn’t sit up straight without a donut pillow. And even with the pillow, I could only sit still without pain for about 20 minutes at a time. This ruled out most of the things that were on my list. Luckily, listening to audiobooks was still on the table. So in the first couple of weeks, I was mostly in the crocodile pose, listening to audiobooks recommended by friends and family. 

Slowly but surely, I was able to take longer walks, start cooking on my feet, and hanging out with friends. Every little bit of progress felt like a big milestone. 

The World Athletics Championship was happening two weeks after my injury. By then, I was able to get into a good mental state knowing that I can still be a fan of the sport without being a part of the sport. I cannot tell you how much energy and joy the track and field events gave me. Being able to separate these two things changed my perspective of this injury, and allowed me to maintain a healthy relationship with running. 

Adjusting Goals

I had big goals for Berlin. I have been seeing significant progress in my marathon times over the past couple of years, and I wanted to see how fast I could go before taking a much needed break from back to back marathon training blocks. After the injury, I had to let go of my racing goals. I tried my best to look at the positive side that I still get to go to Berlin and run the course. I knew that I wouldn’t do well in Berlin, but I wanted to be there. The new main goal was to finish the race healthy.

I reeled in my focus to small and attainable goals, like staying present (instead of thinking about what if), staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, walking 15-20 minutes every day after week 2, learning about aqua jogging and starting to incorporating that into my training, scheduling a PT session before attempting to run, trying to run/walk for 30 minutes after week 3, and starting to work with my running team’s running coach individually. I didn’t come up with all the goals at once. Many of them were built on each other based on how my body felt. I learned to be flexible with the physical goals so that I could be kind to my body. As much as I want to run the Berlin Marathon, I will take a life-long relationship with running over 3 hours in Berlin in a heartbeat. 

I played around with the idea of setting long-term goals like starting weight training by x day and signing up for races down the line to fire up my competitive side. But I didn’t want to rush my body to get ready for a race if I didn’t have to, and I didn’t want to put extra pressure on my mind, which was working overtime to stay positive. I know I will race against the clock again in the future. I just don’t know when that will be at the moment. 

Adjusting Body Image and Self-talk

I have always loved sweets and baked goods. And I often struggle to keep my weight up during marathon training. During my recent back-to-back marathon training blocks, I was able to eat all the sweets and pastries and ice cream that my heart desired and count them towards the fuel that my body needed to recover from hard workouts. 

When I went from running 40-50 miles a week to barely able to walk, my body naturally started to change. A week after the injury, I noticed that a pair of jeans was feeling tight and I freaked out. I cut down my meal portion, refused to snack during the day, and announced to my husband that I wouldn’t have any sweets until I started running again. Was I hungry? Of course I was. I was drinking flavored water like tea and Nuun to distract myself from hunger. 

About 4 weeks after the injury, I stepped on a scale (which I don’t really do). I did a double take at the number in disbelief. The last time I was that light was before high school. I asked my husband to weigh himself to see if the scale was broken. It was not. I was broken. 

I started reflecting on my relationship with food, and how I let my mental image of myself and my unhealthy relationship with my body get in the way of fueling my body to recovery. Although my physical activities have gone down, I still need energy and nutrients to help in the healing process. I realized that I needed to have a healthy relationship with my body, outside of the sport. 

I added more vegetables back, then carbs, then a controlled amount of sweets. With the increased calories, I noticed a significant change in productivity at work and energy during the day.  There are still days when I caught myself trying to skip meals because I didn’t “move enough” or simply because I “felt heavy”. I had to remind myself that my body needs the energy to heal and recover. It’s still a work in progress. But at least it’s going in the right direction. 

In Summary

I’m not back yet, and that’s okay. I’m going to be here, and in running, for a long time. And that’s the point. More updates to come in the future, many more updates.

Stepping Into the Unknown

I started writing this post back in January. But the challenges of training a full marathon in the dead of winter in the Midwest took away most of my mental and physical energy. I had an internal fight with myself every day about how I would feel bad if I missed a run, but the freezing cold and lack of sunshine placed a challenge for my motivation. “I am strong, I am tough. I can do hard things”, I don’t remember how many times I said these cheesy phrases to myself to hype myself up for runs. Anyway, now that the days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the temp is warmer, I am finally back to pick up what I left off! 

Winter training is in full swing (well, it is almost spring now…). It’s always fun to meet the new faces on the team at the beginning of every training season (I run with Fleet Feet x New Balance Racing Team, and Chicago Endurance Sports. I will share how I got involved in these running groups, and why do I think having such running communities is useful in my next post!). I love getting to know how the runners got here, what’s their favorite pre/post-run food, and what keeps them motivated. Let’s be honest, most “sane” people don’t run outside in Midwest winters. Most people join the team because they are training for a specific race. And there is always someone whose goal race is a distance that they have never run or raced before. I can see the hesitation on their faces when others ask the question, “what’s your goal time?” since there is not always a benchmark for them to measure against. 

I still find myself in that situation sometimes. I am not a middle-distance runner. After I signed up for a 5k race last minute in the fall, I stared at a pace chart long and hard trying to figure out what’s a reasonable pace that I can hold over a 5k distance without busting. It felt more stressful than putting together a race day plan for a marathon. The unknown was scary. 

That’s what I am here to talk about today – the unknown

For a good 3 years, for some personal reasons, I didn’t know where I would be living in the following quarter. No, I didn’t grow to love the unknown. But I have lived in the unknown for so long that I figured out ways to eliminate the variables and always prepare myself for plan b, plan c, and plan d. It allowed me to make the best of the situation, and not be fully in the dark. The same kind of mindset can be applied to running. 

Here are a couple of situations in running where you may encounter unknown:

Unknown pace

As Robin Arzon (@robinnyc), the VP of programming for Peloton, said, it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. Running doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger and faster. For me, the potential of testing my physical limits is the beauty of racing. However, I have to admit that it is always intimidating whenever I attempt a new distance PR. Or worst, trying to come up with a pace for a distance that I never raced in. Honestly, since the marathon is the only distance that I regularly train for and race in, I do not have a good grasp of my capability in the other distances. 

Here are the steps I use to determine my goal pace:

  • Do a 1-mile time trial to figure out my fitness level, or if I ran a race within the past month, I would use that time as a benchmark 
  • Use a pace calculator to understand how this pace translates to other distances (with Jack Daniels’ calculator, you can put in your pace for a certain distance on top, and then click the “equivalent” to see what that pace means for other distances.)
  • Running goal pace during your training runs. No, not all of your runs should be at your goal pace (I absolutely did that before, and ended up with an angry Achilles tendon.) But you should have some goal race pace miles built-in for your speed training, tempo runs, or long runs. Personally, this was one of the most helpful things that my training plan had during my last marathon cycle. For example, we had an 18-mile run that consisted of warm-up miles, 3 sets of 3 miles at marathon pace with 1 mile of recovery between working sets, and cool-down miles after the programmed sets. Runs like this helped me to get an idea of what it feels like to hold my goal pace and to determine whether or not my goal pace was realistic. Since we had multiple runs that were similar to this one, I tried a couple of different paces before picking a pace that was challenging but not too aggressive. 

Unknown distance

It feels scary running or even racing a distance that you have never done before. For most people who are training for their first half-marathon, full marathon, or ultra, almost every long run would likely be the longest distance you have ever run. I totally understand the uneasy feeling of seeing a big number for the long run. What helped me during my first marathon training was counting up to halfway, then counting down for the rest of the run. For example, for an 18-miler, once I get to 9 miles I would start counting down. I would tell myself, I have done 9 miles before, I can do this. I have also broken down the long runs into 3-5 sections of 3-6 miles and tell myself I only have less than 5k or 10k to go! It’s the small mental tricks like this that helped me push away the iffy feeling when tackling long distances. 

What about a distance that you have run before, but never raced? This is when all the things mentioned before for dealing with unknown pace come into play. Figuring out the pace that you could potentially hold for that distance, and practicing running at that pace during your training runs to get used to what the pace feels like.

Unknown condition

Your obsession over the weather app a few weeks before the race can’t change the weather. I have to tell myself this every time before a big race. But luckily it doesn’t bother me as much as it may others. Part of it is because my team trains in ALL CONDITIONS (it was just hailing during one of our speed training sessions…it hurt, but it didn’t stop us!). I know whatever the condition is, I experienced it and I am prepared for it. 

Next time when it’s raining or snowing or super hot and humid, and you are hesitant to go for a run, just remind yourself that the race would happen rain or shine. It’s better to experience it now, figure out the best way to dress for it and fuel during it than experiencing it for the first time on race day. 

Unknown course

Compared to the rest, this is the most exciting unknown factor! 

New routes and new scenery can be fun, but they can also be stressful on a race day. The best thing that I have done to prepare for an unknown course was the “last 10k course visualization run” that I did with my team for Chicago Marathon last year. I mentioned how much it helped me when things got tough in my race recap post. However, I understand that not everyone has the privilege to run the last portion of the course before race day due to travel or time constraints. Here are some other ways to prepare for an unknown course:

  • Studying the course map/elevation map

It might seem trivial, but this is something that I had done for most of my races before and I have had success with. Knowing when to expect a turn and when a hill is coming allows me to mentally psych myself up for the miles ahead, and it also helps break down a long-distance course into smaller bite-size sections. 

  • Watch a video of the course

If you are running a big race, for example a major marathon, you can probably find video footage of the course on YouTube. Watch it, visualize it, and memorize it! Ok, maybe not exactly memorize it, but you get the idea. This could go a long way come race day! 

  • Drive the course

Not every race will have resources like a course video. And if you don’t have the time to run the last portion of the course before the race day, maybe you could drive through it, and pay close attention to the surroundings and bumps on the road. The idea is to “plant seeds of positivity” as my coach said during our course visualization run last year.

That’s all for today! 

For runners in Chicago, this weekend is the start of the race season. Whether you are tackling an unknown pace, unknown distance, unknown conditions (weather looks good for now!), or unknown course, know that you are not alone, and there are ways to fight the anxious voice in your head.

Good luck and have fun! Yeah running 🙂

Setting Smart Running Goals

Tips for setting long-term and short-term running goals.

It’s ironic that I procrastinated the most on the post about goal setting. I can blame it on the holiday travel, the dark and gloomy weather, and the holiday stress. But isn’t the whole point of setting a goal to help you stick to it even when things get hard? It is intimidating to tackle a topic when I am personally struggling with it. You see, we are on this journey of learning together. And at the very least, I am still here. And I am glad that you are here. 

The holiday season is officially here. I can smell the gingerbread cookies, pumpkin spice, and pinewood in the grocery stores. It’s the time of the year when people start to wrap up this year, and set goals for the new year ahead. I was one of those people who would write down shiny new year’s resolutions, but never stick to them for more than 2 months. After a couple of years, I decided to take a moment to pause and ask myself about the “why” – why I never follow through, and more importantly, why I set those specific goals. I actually did the exact same exercise today hoping to get back on my running and writing schedule. Understanding the “why” helped me to reevaluate some of the fancy grand goals, and adjust them to smart goals that are tangible, actionable, and motivational. And when I say motivational, I am not talking about things like those “inspirational” posts that you see on social media. I meant things that get YOU going. Everyone finds motivation in different things. I will go into this more later. 

When it comes to setting goals for running, it is twofold. The long-term goals, and the short-term goals. Coming up with these two sets of goals will require you to take some time to think and even write down your thoughts, so you can properly process and understand your goals, and set your mind to filter out any distractions or obstacles that may come in the way of you chasing after your goals. 


Long-term goals can be anywhere between a year to a decade. These goals do not need to tie to a race distance or a goal time. This is where you get to dream a little bigger and figure out what kind of role you would like running to play in your life. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  • What’s your “why”? 

Everyone gets into running at different times in their lives, and everyone runs for different reasons. It could be for mental health, physical health, social interaction with running friends, getting to places, the ability to eat another donut guilt-free, the love for type 2 fun…etc. Your “why” could change during different periods of your life, therefore reassessing your goals every once in a while is necessary. Understanding why you chose this sport, what you get out of this sport, and what this sport means to you would allow you to see what kind of role you would like running to play in your life.

For me, mental health is the main reason I run, especially in the winters. Everyone knows that winters in the midwest are brutal. They are dark, gloomy, windy, and snowy. Every year I can feel my mood change along with the seasonal change. And I have come to realize that if I stop running during this time of the year, I would soon find myself curled up in a ball on my couch for days. Running helps. It helps lift the cloud in my head and makes me feel alive. As much as I dislike the idea of running in the cold, I know I will feel better if I just get myself out of the door and start moving. Therefore, although I am competitive and I love racing, the top priority of my long-term running goals is to avoid burnout so that I can enjoy running as a sport and keep my mental health in check. 

  • What keeps you motivated?

Everyone is motivated by different things. It could be a time goal for a specific distance, a distance goal (like running a marathon), a race goal for the number of races you run (one of my friend’s mom had a goal of running one marathon in each state in the U.S! So inspirational.), a social goal to stay connected with running friends or make new friends…etc. Whatever it is, use it to put together your long-term goals. 

  • How to have a long and enjoyable running career/hobby?

If you are here thinking about long-term goals, you probably want to be able to enjoy the sports for as long as you can! Although long-term goals are where you can dream big, it’s important to be realistic about it so you can (hopefully!) avoid injury. For example, if you are about 30 mins away from BQ/NYQ, and you want to get that qualifying time, maybe give yourself 1-3 years to get there. We are here for the long haul. To avoid injury, increase your pace by a small percentage at a time, and slowly increase the distance of the peak week of your marathon training (like moving from 38miles/week to 42miles/week, that’s a little over 10% increase).


This is for the next few months, next season, or your next training cycle. If you have specific time goals or distance goals, make sure that they are not overly aggressive for this short amount of time. And although the timeframe is much shorter, you can still go back to evaluate and adjust the goals in the process. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Again, what’s your “why”?

This is the key that would keep you motivated. Your “why” could change from race to race, and from season to season. So always start with the “why” when you are getting into a new training cycle or stepping into the off-season. Yes, it is helpful to have a goal for your off-season as well. I learned that the hard way by going into a high-mileage marathon training with only 10 mile/week running, and my joints were in pain for weeks (I am still shocked that I didn’t get injured!). 

To give some examples, my “why” for the winter half marathon training in 2019 was to keep hanging out with my running group. Therefore, I didn’t have a time goal. During the whole training, my goal was to have fun! Did I still try hard on race day? You bet I did! It’s actually my standing half marathon PR. And I also PR’d running friends, who are now some of my closest friends. 

Had so much fun that we became the poster kids for our training group! If you are in the Chicagoland area, highly recommend checking out Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) Winter Warriors and Summer training programs
  • What keeps you accountable?

Knowing what keeps you accountable could help you figure out how to structure your goals. This is where you need to be very honest with yourself. Make sure that the goals are framed in a way that works for YOU. For example, I need to have very specific goals to keep myself accountable. Keeping myself in shape in the off-season is a goal that may work for some, but it’s not specific enough for me. I need to tie it to a specific weekly mileage and a specific number of active days/week. 

  • How does this fit with your long-term goals?

Short-term goals are generally the stepping stones for long-term goals. However, it’s not necessary. You can totally set goals that are for fun (like doing a beer mile! I did it once. And I am very proud that I didn’t puke until I crossed the finish line!). But understanding the relationship between them would help you prioritize your short-term goals. Are they tied to a long-term performance goal? If yes, those goals may need to be moved to the top of the list.

If anyone needs some examples to brainstorm ideas, I am going to share my goals here. I want to preface this by saying, as I mentioned in the beginning, I am not great at setting goals. This is also a learning process for me. I don’t necessarily have an order of setting long-term and short-term goals. Since the marathon is my distance, and I am motivated by my competitiveness with myself, I tend to always have a moving target for my short-term race goal time. And to be very honest, this is the first time I am putting my long-term goals in words. I always have a general idea of what I want out of this sport, but I never actually attempted to write them down. 

Short-term goals:

  • Strength training twice a week 
  • Running 4-5 times per week with at least 25 weekly miles before Boston training starts
  • Run one 8-10 mile long run per week before Boston training starts
  • Aiming for the higher mileage in the marathon training plan
  • Run easy days easy (1:30-2 mins off my marathon pace)
  • Qualify for the NYC marathon (I am currently 2 minutes 38 seconds away from the marathon qualifying time)
  • Break my own half marathon PR (I am planning on doing a half during my next marathon training cycle)

Long-term goals:

  • Break 3:00 marathon (in the next 3-5 years)
  • Run a 5k under 20 minutes
  • Run all six major marathons
  • Have fun! (If it ever gets to the point that’s adding stress in my life, I will re-evaluate my short-term goals.)

Let me know if you try these tips and how do you like them! Yeah Running.

Running in Different Weather

A dummy guide for running outfits in different weather.

I grew up in a southern city in China where it was sunny and warm most of the year. The trees were always green, and snow was a distant dream. Because of all this, it’s also a city that doesn’t have heat. I remember poking my nose out from the comforter in the mornings to figure out the temperature. Why am I telling you this? Because after living in the U.S for over 10 years, my brain still only clicks with Celsius. And for the sake of easy conversion, I am going to use my nose as the scale for the temperature here! 

This is a dummy guide for running outfits in different weather. Since I now live in a place that has four seasons, and I started running all year round two years ago, I figured I would share my experience of dressing for different temperatures and weather conditions. 

(For those who are normal and use weather apps instead of their noses to tell the temperature, don’t worry, I included a nose to Celsius to Fahrenheit chart at the end.)


The world is an oven. But you are likely in the middle of your training plan for all of those fall races. There is nothing much I can tell you about how to dress in this kind of weather. This is my hot girl summer time, aka. sports bra running weather. Find something light, breathable, and as little coverage as acceptable for society and your comfort level. Avoid cotton, which soaks up your sweat, and the smells sometimes linger around even after laundry. 

Hydration and electrolytes are the keys in this weather. Be mindful of your water intake during the entire training cycle, especially on the days when you know you have a tough workout. And a magical thing that I started using during this past training cycle was salt tablets. It not only helped me during my workouts to keep electrolytes balanced and retain more fluid (bye side stitches), but it also made me feel less drained and recover faster after the workouts.


The perfect weather for chilling outdoors, but a bit too hot for running. I mostly run in shorts and tank in this weather, and walk straight into the shower with all the clothes on because I don’t want my sweat-soaked clothes sitting in the laundry bin, and also I just go through my running clothes too quickly. 

This is the time of the year when rain could become a frequent guest. Some people may skip the runs when it’s raining, but it’s honestly my favorite running weather. The raindrops cool you down so that you never overheat. And there is just something about running in the rain that makes me feel joyful and stress-free. Here are some tips I learned over the years about running in the rain: wear a hat to avoid water getting into your eyes, wear body-fitting clothes such as leggings and compression shorts, use an anti-chafing balm on areas that may chafe (feet, nipples, sports bra seam…etc), stuff your wet shoes with newspapers or paper towel. 


My nose gets tickly during seasonal changes between winter and spring, and summer and fall. Growing up, the first thing I would do when I woke up was a sneeze. The sneezing somehow got better over the years, but the tickly feeling in my nose never went away during seasonal changes. Tickly nose weather is the kind of weather that’s too cold to sit outside, but it’s heaven for runners. 

Shorts are still my go-to in this weather, and this is the only time when all of my free race t-shirts get to see the sunlight. I dislike running in t-shirts in sweaty nose weather because I want to avoid sleeve tan lines. But the sun is normally pretty gentle during this time of the year. I know I warm up relatively quickly, and I tend to run hot. But if that’s not you, this is the kind of weather in which you may consider a light long-sleeved shirt or light leggings. 


This is as cold as my hometown would ever get. It meant “deep winter” for me growing up. I still vividly remember when I was walking to an 8 am art history class during my first semester at the University of Minnesota, it was early September. I took a deep breath, and I saw my breath condense into a small, misty cloud. I stood there for a second, pondering my decision to transfer there. Here I am, 8 years later, still living in the midwest, still questioning my decision to live here every single winter. 

exactly cat. exactly.

Fogging nose weather is when I would start bringing out my gloves and windbreakers. I have a couple of super light windbreakers that I love to layer in different weather conditions. It can get pretty windy during this time of the year. But the temperature is still lovely once you warm up. My go-to outfit in this temperature are shorts+tank+windbreaker+gloves, or shorts+long-sleeves. If it takes your body a little longer to warm up, or you are just out there for a super short and light jog, you can try leggings+long-sleeves+light gloves. Don’t reach for your fleece yet. You will overheat once you start moving. 

This is also the time of the year when the days are getting shorter. You should start thinking about being visible in the dark. I have a couple of small Nathan StrobeLights that I would clip on my shirts. I also have a light vest that I would wear when it’s colder and darker. I love wearing my light vest during the holiday season. It makes me feel like I am a moving Christmas tree. There are a lot of different options out there, from reflective vests to ankle lights to headlamps to flashlights. Find one that works for you! 

my festive light vest


This is how I would describe the current temperature in Chicago. It’s mostly dark, gloomy, and cold. But it’s not snowing yet. When the temperature drops to shivering nose weather, I basically live in long-sleeved shirts with thumbholes all day long. It is tempting to dress warm and cozy before heading out of the door. But I guarantee you that if you are toasty before starting your run, you will overheat less than 1 mile in. The rule of thumb is to dress like it’s 10-20°F or 6-11°C warmer.

My go-to running outfit in this weather is leggings+long-sleeves shirts with thumbholes+light gloves (sometimes)+neck gaiter that I use as an earwarmer. I have some fleece headbands, but they are too warm for this weather. I find a neck gaiter to be the right level of thickness. Depending on the wind, I sometimes throw on a light windbreaker.


Tissue paper is my best friend in runny/stuffy nose weather. This is when I start reaching for my merino base layers or fleece-lined shirts. I would throw on a light windbreaker over it whether or not it’s windy because I find that extra layer helps to retain the heat. As long as my core feels warm, I can keep going! That being said, I stay with regular leggings in this weather just so that my legs still feel light.

As for accessories, this is when I would put on thicker socks, think about merino and wool materials. Gloves and headbands/hats become necessities in this weather. 


This is the kind of weather in which your eyelashes turn into tiny icicles. The key to running at this temperature is layering. Start with base layers and build from there. You can add a pullover and a thicker waterproof jacket. If it’s still cold, throw on a light puffy vest. 

When the temperature drops to snotsicles weather, it’s likely snowy and icy. It’s important to make sure that your outer layer is windproof and waterproof. I have never invested in winter running shoes so I cannot give specific recommendations here. But if you are interested, there are a handful of brands that make winter-resistant (Gore-tex) running shoes with good traction. 

Depending on the exact temperature, I sometimes put on fleece-lined leggings. I refuse to put on multiple layers on my legs because I don’t like to feel weighed down by the layers. But if you feel like the windchill is getting to your bones, tights+a pair of lightweight waterproof pants could be a good idea. 

I sometimes wear two pairs of gloves in this weather. And headbands/hats are must-haves otherwise your ears and head would hurt from the cold wind. If you have a neck gaiter, it could be nice to put it over your neck. I tend to pull it over my nose to keep my nose and mouth warm when I start my runs. And as I warm up, I pull it down. 

Hope this post inspires you to run in different weather conditions! Yeah running!

Getting Into Running

Beginner Q&A answered

I started running when I was 12. Before that, I don’t think I had run anything over 50m, which was the PE test distance in our school. It was a coincidence that I found out I am a decent runner. When I was in 5th Grade, no one in my class signed up for the 400m and 800m races for our school’s annual Sports Day. Our teacher walked into the classroom one afternoon, looked around, pointed at me, and said, “you look like you can run.” The next thing I knew, I was standing at the starting line of my very first 400m race. I walked away with gold (800m) and silver (400m). I gave my dad all the credits for this. He used to take me to the mountains on weekends, and had me bike all the way to the top without stopping. “You can zigzag on steep areas, but you cannot get off the bike,” he said (in the most loving way…for an Asian dad. He is a cool dad who likes to challenge me). These biking adventures likely strengthened my cardiovascular system and built muscles on my legs, which gave me a leg up on the runs.

But for many reasons, running didn’t stick with me. I ran a couple more 400, 800 races in middle school and high school, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college when I picked up jogging. And from there, I slowly started racing 10k, marathon, and half marathon (yep, I never raced a 5k, and I ran my first marathon without running a half… it was, let’s say, an interesting challenge). Without a coach or even a running club to start with, I went through a steep learning curve and made a lot of mistakes. Through a lot of time spent on Google, podcasts, books, and asking friends and eventually coaches, slowly but surely, I figured out what works for me and what doesn’t. 

In the past year or so, I started getting questions from friends and acquaintances about running. It made me feel very honored and happy that you guys came to me. I still have so much to learn, but I am here to share my insights on some of the “getting started” questions that I have received, in the hope that you can avoid the mistakes that I have made. I hope this could welcome more people into the running community and invite you all to experience the beauty of this sport.

Running is Whale-y FUN

Tips for beginners on how to get started?

  • Find the right pair of running shoes, lace up, and run. 

Running is a sport that has a relatively low barrier to entry and has the potential to be very inclusive. You don’t need fancy clothes, headphones, hats, or a watch. All you really need is a pair of shoes. But make sure that you are not running on old shoes or shoes that have been worn out. Shoes with beaten-up soles could hurt your joints and feet, and cause damage to your body. 

  • Start with something small. 

Maybe it’s 1 mile every other day, or maybe it’s 2 miles twice a week. Find a goal that’s approachable, and commit to it. If you don’t have a watch, you can use apps (I personally use Strava and really enjoy it). Try to stick to the goal, and don’t overdo it to burn your motivation or dial up your self-doubt. It will likely not be fun in the beginning. It always takes my body a little time to get back into running after a break as well. Just like how it takes more than 2 months to form a new habit, getting your body to learn to enjoy running could take some time. 

You could run without headphones to fully take in your surroundings or meditate, you could put together a hyped playlist and run to the beats, you could listen to podcasts to distract yourself from checking your pace, or you could run with friends to catch up on life. You can run on a treadmill, a track, a running path, a road, or a trail. Change it up. Figure out what your mind and body like! 

Tips for beginners on how to run for longer distances? 

  • Find your pace

Try to run at a pace at which you can have a conversation with someone. If you are alone, try to sing to yourself. If you can’t do that, slow down. This might feel silly in the beginning, but you will feel much better when you realize you can slowly add on more miles without gasping.

Try not to compare your pace with other people’s pace. I will get into gaining speed through speed training in another post. The point of running at a conversational pace is that you could develop muscles and your cardiovascular system without putting too much strain on your body. 

  • Track your distance

Knowing your distance will allow you to track your progress, and adjust your training goal/plan accordingly. You could get a fitness watch. But it’s not necessary. I actually trained and ran my first 10k, half, and full marathon without a watch. I used an app to track my run and turned on the feedback in the app so that it would tell me my average pace, and pace for the previous mile. However, most of the apps are not as accurate as the watches. I have tried MapMyRun, Nike+ Running, and Strava. Strava is by far the most accurate one. 

All of these apps also tell you your weekly mileage. Pay attention to that number and gradually increase it over time. Your joints and muscles need some time to get used to the volume. In order to avoid injury, build up slowly so that your body can be strong enough to conquer the miles. 

  • Find running buddies / Join a running club

Having someone to run with could distract you from checking the distance. You could talk about cool podcasts that you discovered, share good books that you just finished, get into an amazing dinner recipe that you made last night, and next thing you know, you already ran 5 miles! Running buddies also keep you accountable. I can’t remember how many times that I laced up after I was about to skip a run, and I got a text from friends saying “see you at training tonight”.

You might not have a friend who shares a similar schedule, or lives close enough for you to run together all the time. And I totally understand that it could be intimidating to join a running club. But it can really help! You can check out the local running clubs’ websites and social media profiles to see if they have any social runs, or simply show up at the beginning of the season when there are a lot of new faces in the group. 

What kind of running shoes should I get?

This is the question that I get A LOT. I know you guys are probably looking for recommendations for specific shoes. However, everyone’s feet are different, everyone moves differently, and everyone has different preferences. To add to the confusion, different brands, and even different lines within the same brand fit a little differently. I am talking about toe box room, midsole fit, heel lock…etc. 

That being said, Fleet Feet has a list of running shoe suggestions for beginners (I am technically sponsored by FF racing team, but I am not sponsored for this link). It’s a good place to start. I personally have run in 3 of the shoes on the list. And I can give you some suggestions on things to look for when you are trying on different running shoes: 

  • Do your feet feel secured? 

I have relatively narrow feet. I have tried on shoes that are so roomy that I felt like my feet can swing side to side. Some breathing room in shoes can be nice, but you don’t want your feet to move around too much while you are running. 

  • Do your toes have room to move around? 

Trust me this is V important. I lost 3 toenails before I learned my lesson. After you put on the shoes, move your toes, spread them out, do a little toe yoga! Your toes should have enough room to spread wide without feeling constricted. 

  • Do you like the way the shoes hug your feet? 

This is a personal preference. I love bootie feeling shoes (Nike Flyknit line, NB FuelCell Rebel line), but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Try on 3-5 pairs of shoes with different fits to see which one feels best for you.

  • Does the sole feel supportive, or is it too firm/cushiony for you? 

If you don’t know what you want your running shoes to feel like, I would recommend going to a running store to try on different running shoes. When you put them on, do a 5 min run on the treadmill (many running stores have treadmills in the shop), or go for a lap around the block to get a sense of how the shoes feel on your feet. Fleet Feet has different locations in many different cities, and if you are in the Twin Cities, Mill City Running is a great running store as well. 

What do you listen to on your run?

This is a hard question to answer because it really depends. 

When I was training for my first marathon, I was doing all of my runs solo. I had an old pair of Beats, and I was only listening to electropop music on my runs. This is not a genre that I listen to outside of running. So every time I put on the playlist, it put me in the mindset of running. And since I didn’t know the lyrics to most of the songs, I was able to zone out and meditate during long runs. 

After moving to Chicago, I joined a couple of running clubs. For every group run, I would leave my headphones at home so I could chat with people. I gradually started doing some solo runs without headphones as well. It allowed me to pay attention to and enjoy all the little details of my surroundings. I went on doing a couple of half marathons and marathons without headphones. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I started listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my runs. It’s not the best for pace, and I found myself zoning out and missing bits of information here and there. But that was what got me out of the door to run, and the voice of the audiobooks made me feel less lonely during that uncertain time.

Recently, I have been running my speed works with a mix of punk rock, hip hop, and electronic pop music. For my easy runs, I would either put on a podcast or simply run headphones-free.  

This is a pretty personal question. What I like may not work for you. As you can see, I tried a variety of things, and I listen to different things for different workouts. I recommend trying different things to see which one you would prefer. However, if you plan on bringing your headphones on your runs, always make sure that you are aware of your surroundings. Try running with one earbud or lowering the volume. I personally use a pair of bone structured AfterShokz (not sponsored. I just really enjoy their products!). The open-ear design allows me to be alert to everything around me, and the sound quality is good enough for calls.  

And if any of you become elite runners in the future (I am rooting for y’all!), just keep in mind that elite runners cannot wear headphones during races. 

That’s all for this week. I hope you find it helpful! Yeah running!