Phil Dumontet - Humans have run since the first bear jostled a drowsy caveman from his den. But escaping danger is no longer why most of us chase down miles.
For some, running is a hard-won battle to better health. In fact, just 50 minutes of running each week has been shown to cut all-cause mortality by 30 percent and boost life expectancy by three years. For others, running is a social pursuit. More than 17 million people cross finish lines each year, particularly in 5Ks. The running community is alive and well across the globe.
No matter the reason you run or your ability level, there's always room to grow. From zero to 26.2 and beyond, I've learned seven lessons along the way:
1. Shed your old shoes.
About to strap on those sneakers that have lived through everything from bachelor parties to pond-wading? Your feet will hate you.
Go to a specialty running store — not a big-box retailer where salespeople couldn't tell a Brooks from a Ryka — and try on several shoes. Don't have a heart attack at the prices; serious runners should expect to spend at least $100 per pair.
Before you drop a Benjamin, be sure the shoe fits. Test it out by running around the store or parking lot. Some shops even suggest routes around nearby neighborhoods to give you a true road feel. Replace your running shoes every 250-500 miles, depending on how badly you beat them up.
2. Eat lean — but not too lean.
Unless you plan to quit at the two-mile mark, start fueling up like a runner. We all know what it's like when your body needs energy: Your brain gets foggy, your limbs feel water-logged, and all you want to do is creep under the covers.
The best way to prevent a crash is to eat high-energy foods throughout the day. Going out on a long run? Eat something small and nutritionally dense about an hour before hitting the trail. A banana and/or some lightweight toast is my go-to. KIND bars can work, but avoid overly sugary options. Healthy eating is the best way to keep your blood flowing, stomach busy, and feet moving forward.
3. Fight runner’s ennui.
Routine leads to boredom. With all the fun places to go and things to see, why go back the the same trough again and again? Switch things up so you don't forget what made you love the sport so much to start with.
I'm challenging myself to run a dozen marathons all over the world. Not only do I hope to set a personal record, but I'm also excited for all the exploration and sight-seeing I can do along the way.
You don’t have to grab a plane ticket to Paris or Antarctica to refresh your run. Even running your normal route backward — yes, you're going to have to tackle that hill from hell — can offer a new perspective.
4. Try out online tools.
Free and paid resources are everywhere for runners. New York Road Runners offers a virtual training program based on your goals and distances — and it even adapts to your ability as you progress, taking into account a new race result or if you had a setback and had to miss a day. Everyone from new runners to veteran marathoners can use it to reach that next rung.
But runners' technology isn't just for training. Nothing stinks as much as having to add three miles mid-run because you missed a turn (well, except maybe your shoes). Use tools like Strava and MapMyRun to verify routes before you run. It syncs effortlessly with iOS and Android phones, helping you accumulate all the data you need to analyze your progress.
5. Be ambitious.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with running for fun. But how cool would it be to move from 5Ks to 10Ks and even into marathon territory? Push yourself, but be realistic. Training for a marathon takes a minimum of three months, and even then, you never know what will happen on race day.
Personally, I always run with tiered goals. Before a race, I'll set a reach goal, a realistic goal, and a safety goal. I always go for the big goal, of course, but I keep my realistic and safety goals in mind in case of a torrential downpour or pulled hamstring.
Need some inspiration? Look no further than Meb Keflezighi, the first American to win the Boston Marathon in more than three decades. He's a tough racer with an indomitable spirit. I'll bet he envisions every step of the race before he runs it — and you should, too.
6. Analyze those splits.
In running, a split is a measure of time spent between distances. What matters isn't how you track them; what matters is that one way or another, you do.
On most runs, you want to have negative splits, which means each mile is faster than the last. Don't worry about counting the seconds yourself. Apps like Strava and RunKeeper will do it for you. Look back later and take notes. Did mile five go poorly because you hit a wall? Was that uphill climb tougher than you expected?
Don't feel guilty if your splits aren't where you want them to be. Instead, dig into the "whys" behind them. The more insights you gather, the better you can plan for the next time around.
7. Celebrate every run.
After finishing that Rome Marathon, I broke down and yelled, "We did it!" Who was the "we" I spoke of? It was everyone — the community, my family, the togetherness of it all. Later, a plate of pasta and bottle of Chianti with family and friends sealed the feeling.
Never push those triumphant feelings away. Every race you run is one step closer to your next goal. Be gracious — some people are not lucky enough to experience the rush of running at all.
Those laces aren't going to tighten themselves. Get some fresh air with a morning, midday, or dusky adventure. Let each footfall be a reminder of how lucky we are to call ourselves runners.
Phil Dumontet is the founder and CEO of Dashed, a leading restaurant delivery service in the Northeast. Consistently recognized year after year as one of the fastest-growing companies in its space, Dashed is known for its industry-leading delivery times.
In 2016, Forbes named Phil to its fifth annual “30 Under 30” list of the most influential American entrepreneurs. An ardent supporter of fitness nonprofit New York Road Runners, Phil finishes in the top 25 runners in his age group in New York races.