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17 Steps to Set Up Your Freelance Business

11.13.13

After getting your first client, the business and finance side of setting up your freelance work can be tricky. As I began my self-employment journey I had a lot of questions. Questions about finances, and how to set up my business, like: Did I need to be a LLC? What should I do about insurance? Are there any business checking accounts that are free? Why do state and federal government make simple things so difficult and convoluted? And so much more! So here are a few things I’ve learned in the last month if you’re getting ready to go freelance, or have been for a while but still haven’t set up the automation and finance side.

And one giant WTF! HELP ME! outstanding question about taxes and the IRS at the end of this post.

17 things you need to do first:

#1. Decide if you’ll be [Your Name], a “DBA”, or a LLC
state and federal website sadness

In the state of Oregon a “doing business as” (DBA) is called an “Assumed Business Name” and is only $50 for two years ($25/year), while an LLC in Oregon was $99 through Legalzoom & $100 Oregon filing fee (annually). If I was doing business as my first and last name I wouldn’t even need a DBA as well. I decided to go the DBA route and in the future if I want to LLC something I can do that then. Now let’s just pause and take a minute to reflect on how poorly designed government websites are. And don’t even get me started on the website copy! Ok, moving on…

#2. Get a Tax EIN #
One of the downsides of being a sole-proprietor is having your social security # out there (on W9s for clients, bank accounts etc). But one thing I learned is that you can file with the IRS to get a Employee ID number that is linked with your social security #. It’s free and it takes a few minutes to fill out online.

#3. Open a Business Checking account
Most major banks offer a “free” business checking account, meaning that they require a minimum balance for it to be free. I decided one of my requirements was to find a FREE free one, as I wanted to keep most of my balances in a business savings account and I didn’t want to have to engineer a system around remembering to keep a specific amount in it. Especially as I started out, I didn’t want to be transferring over “personal” money to my business account. So you have a few options:

Major Banks & Credit Unions:

-US Bank – it was kind of a hassle to set up, but once it was done and all linked up with my Savings account it’s on auto-pilot. You have to go in to a location (with your DBA or LLC proof, TAX EIN (not required, you can just use your social security #, ID, and $100 cash or check). Expect it to take about an hour. The first time I went in their system crashed and I also found out they wouldn’t take my non-US Bank debit card or my non-US bank routing #/account # for the $100. Since their ATM would have charged me a fee (seriously?!), I walked a few blocks to an ATM to get $100. Thankfully, the second time I went in, they had most of the info saved in the system so I didn’t have to start from scratch.
-Credit Unions – many local credit unions also offer free business checking too. Here in Portland, that includes Advantis Credit Union, Unitus Community, and OnPoint.

#4. Sign up for a [miles earning] Business Credit Card
so smug because she's getting miles
I was a little excited for this step! I’m into miles and a bit of a “travel hacker”, so I jumped on the CitiBusiness AAdvantage World MasterCard offer. 30,000 bonus American Airlines miles for meeting the $1,000 minimum spend within three months. I don’t have a lot of business expenses, but I’ll make sure I spend that within three months even if I need to pre-pay some things (like next year’s hosting costs, my health insurance etc). I should be covered though with other startup costs like my second monitor, business cards, health insurance, and some software over the next couple months etc.

#5. Open a Business Savings account (optional)
Having a business savings account isn’t a required step. It’s not like interest rates are going to give you much return (at the moment), but I may as well have my money sitting in a savings account, and that’s an extra layer between the required checking account. I went with ING Direct Savings (errr Capital One 360 Business Savings). Honestly, it’s been a pain in the ass with the back and forth of them needing all this documentation that I’ve sent over and over. C’est le vie, it’s done now. And after I finally got it opened, they informed me that I can’t transfer money to my personal account (when I’m “paying” myself) even though it’s under the same login. And I also can’t add my personal account as an External Account to transfer it either, so I’ll be using my US Bank checking account as the go-between when I need to pay myself.

#6. Set up all recurring expenses to charge to your business credit card
So after my card arrived, I switched any recurring expenses that were previously on a personal card that I had to figure out at tax time previously (like hosting costs), and also made sure my “default” card for anything else like software products etc had the business card saved instead of a personal card.

#7. Order business cards
moooooooo
I placed an order with Moo (with the new business credit card remember!). If I could change anything about this step of my process I would have done this sooner! Well I did want to wait until my business credit card came through, to meet the minimum spend for my bonus miles, but I went to a few networking events and meetups the two weeks after my “1st day” and I didn’t have cards, which was fine because it ended up being something to talk about, but it would have been nice to have a few to give out. :) Also, I found out after I ordered that if you use someone’s referral link, you get 10% off your order and they get $7.50 in credit. Oh well, next time!

#8. Get your desk and office area in order
ikeeeeeea
Remember, I was already a remote worker for my previous company. When I had first started there we had an office and then a few months later we all went home to work. So my computer equipment had belonged to my employer, but since I didn’t want to take a giant bulky ugly desk home to my studio I opted to purchase my own desk at IKEA. It’s just a simple and small saw-horse/2-leg/slab top combo. Plus, one of their small $10 round rugs to go under a chair, and then I bought a desk chair finally this last year! So in the “office” department I was all set.

While I can work from anywhere, like when I’m traveling, and I do go to coffee shops some afternoons, I’ve found it helps that when I am home, I have a corner of the house that is my work space even though it’s not a dedicated office.

#9. Get any extra computer equipment you’ll need (like a 2nd monitor)
monitor

I already have a MacBook Air, and a VGA-out monitor cord that I’ve used when I worked while traveling previously, so I pretty much just needed a second monitor. I’ve found that having a second monitor is pretty essential when I’m analyzing something or even writing if I need to compare things. It’s a huge time saver, I don’t necessarily “need” it every day, but for the projects that I do need it I am ever so thankful for it. I ended up buying this 23″ monitor on Amazon for $150 and it had a $20 rebate too! You could spend a lot more, but this is perfect for what I’m using it for.

#10. Find Health Insurance
ehealth
I had Kaiser Permanente (an HMO) insurance with my previous employer. It’s not awesome insurance, but the price/value is great if you are healthy. Tip: If you’re leaving a job, check when your insurance ends and how much it would be to extend it through them. The whole “COBRA” thing only applies to companies that have 20 or more employees, so if you work for a small company all that great legislation that was put in place for equality and fairness or whatever, doesn’t apply to you! Yay! How interesting! So after you find out how much it will be, get some online quotes (eHealth is great for this) too. I ended up calling Kaiser and they asked how much my previous employer was going to charge if I continued through them for a few months and she informed me not to do that because the same coverage solo was actually cheaper! Remember a lot of insurance will let you set up auto-pay from a credit card. A great way to get mileage points!

#11. Use your new business credit card for ALL business related expenses
Then link it up to auto-pay the full statement balance on the due date from your business savings account. This will give you at least a month of float on your expenses. Example: I bought my monitor for $150 on October 4 with my CitiBusiness card, the statement date for that expense will be Oct 31, the due date will be Nov 21 and it will auto-deduct from my bank account. This also allows you to earn miles or rewards for all your business purchases and keep your money in your savings account for longer. Win/win.

#12. When you get paid, deposit it into your business checking
From there move it to savings or just deposit in savings. (Since I’m starting with client freelance work, I won’t be getting lots of checks. It will usually be large and infrequent, compared to if I was selling a product) so really I just wanted a Business Savings account until I found out that you can’t get a business savings account unless you already have a business checking account. Ha! From talking to a few other freelancers, they just deposit all incoming checks into one account (personal) and then have learned to deal with the feast/famine of invoicing and payment delay. While it doesn’t really matter where the money is “sitting” (it is all my money) I know for my own personality that I need the consistency of paying myself. So even if I make more money from one month to the next, I’ll be keeping it in business savings account and “paying” myself a consistent amount every month. I’m hoping this will also make it easier at tax time.

#13. Set up accounting software
Wave Accounting app
A few freelancers that I know use Quickbooks online. I won’t be having tons of transactions, so paying $13/mo or $156/year is not a necessary business expense for me. Originally I thought I would use a few categories and labels in Mint.com in combo with a Google spreadsheet or the Expensify app. But then I found Wave accounting software which is free! It’s kind of like Mint for small business. It’s absolutely the perfect solution for me.

I ended up adding my ‘business’ accounts to Mint and then deleting them to just keep business stuff in Wave and personal stuff in Mint. Then, I will try to pay myself on a monthly basis by transferring money from business to personal. At least that’s the plan right now.

 

#14. Use Time Tracking software
harvest example screenshot
Harvest app has a free plan. I use that. Maybe if I get big and fancy I’ll upgrade but really for now I don’t see myself paying for this service. And I don’t need to invoice through it (and Wave appears to have an invoicing option). I have used Google Docs to track time previously as well. TenXer is another data tracking option that I love (for more than just working). But overall, I’m using Harvest right now, as I like the ability to track time easily to specific tasks groups and have it automatically fall under billable/non-billable in a weekly report.

#15. Decide on a task/project planning service
trello-screenshot
Whatever your task management system of choice is, figure out what you’re going to use and put a system in place. I use Asana for personal tasks and recurring items, so although I tried it at first for client project management type work, and it felt a little jumbled. So I’ve been using Trello for planning out client projects and of course Google Docs for the actual content  (documents, spreadsheets).

#16. Set up a blog/hosting
blog
I already had hosting service, so I just bought a domain name and hosted through my current service, using WordPress. I also found a great responsive theme on Creative Market’s weekly freebie area a few months ago that I thought maybe I’d find a use for at some point. My business website serves as a “home” for my consulting offerings (like email marketing strategy and implementation, analytics, etc.) and as a place where I can blog about marketing/small business.  

#17. Figure out Taxes
From the looks of it, it appears that I have started my business too late in the year to have to worry about the next quarterly tax payment so I’ll be filing my 2013 taxes as usual in February and then doing the quarterly estimate taxes next year. I am still 85% confused on this topic so if anyone has any tips that would be great! From reading the IRS site it sounds like they “suggest” you file quarterly, but then if you do it and estimate wrong then they’ll fine you? Huh? I am so confused on this still! Help!?!

Did I miss anything? And any help on the taxes question? (Other than the standard “ask a tax professional” response).

30 Day Yoga Challenge & New Beginnings

10.10.13

When I started practicing yoga five years ago, it took me a while to get into the language of yoga. I giggled. I squirmed. When I think about it now, the giggles were coming from two areas. First, it was simply new. Everything was new. And if I were to only listen to a complete yoga class now (while thinking of it from a beginner perspective), I could still hear how silly some of it sounds. The rest of the giggles were coming from a place of uncomfortable new-ness. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I didn’t know what they were referring to 95% of the time. I would watch them and try to replicate it. Five years later, yoga has become a part of my life. I’ve gone through phases of more/less yoga – ranging from monthly, to weekly, to daily. But yoga is always there waiting.

Like most goals that seem impossible, (well not impossible, but almost unattainable) beginning is the most important step. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be the best. You just have to start. Just like when I started running this year. And then life happens, and days, weeks, months, years go by. Then you overhear a friend mention to another friend, “Olivia is really into yoga, so ask her”. You realize “yeah, I guess I am a yogi”. When did that happen? Slowly. Over five years time. As long as I continue to practice I will be a lifelong yogi. Fancy that.

sunrise

My last 30 day yoga challenge was in 2010. I’d been thinking of doing another 30 day challenge this year. After I hurt my IT band and finished my half marathon, I took some time off from running. It was the perfect time to replace all that running with yoga. I had been doing a lot of short practices while half training anyway, for cross training and recovery. I ended my yoga challenge in Hawaii while visiting my sister. It was so fun to be able to practice with her again. As my first foray into yoga was also with her back in 2008! It’s also great to see how amazing the human body is. My sister just had her first child and so she hadn’t done much yoga since before the baby arrived. So six weeks post-baby she was up for some yoga again. She also loved the classes on yogaglo and the ability to search/filter based on area: (neck and back is where it’s at being a new mama).

Being in Hawaii for 10 days was a great time to finish out my yoga challenge. I didn’t work while I was there. I had a lot of time to think about life and where I’m going and what I’m doing with this one wild and precious life. I got to spend the most uninterrupted time with my sister since she moved to Hawaii a couple years ago. And I got to fall in love with my new baby niece! She’s going to grow up so quickly. Thankfully, I have another trip planned soon to meet her four month-old self.

I could get used to my Hawaii morning routine. Maybe this why I’m feeling a little reluctant with fall back in Portland. Morning yoga out on the balcony with 180 degree view of the ocean and Kailua bay (yes, I also have a little house envy). Followed by morning coffee while reading. Getting ready for the day and then a little quality time and ridiculous grins with baby Vi while her mama got ready. Oh, Hawaii.

In closing, one of my favorite phrases I have heard over and over in some of my classes is “Yoga is not your sport.” It’s so true – in life and sport we challenge ourselves and over-stretch. Those of us with a competitive nature might be even more terrible at this. So more recently in yoga, I’ve been learning to not over-stretch. To feel the stretch in less of a stretch. Meta! To relax into it instead of being caught in this tension of trying to hold a stretch you’re not quite into – simply because you can.

PS. While in Hawaii, I also made the decision to take the leap into self-employment! So I left my job at BootsnAll Travel and this was my first week being self-employed! I’m doing marketing consulting and digital strategy and my company name is Early Bird Strategy. I struggled a little with deciding how to split up my work and personal online presence and decided I wanted to keep Powered by Tofu as my personal blog. So I’ll still be focused on travel, life, fitness, things I’m learning, food etc over here. Then I’ll be blogging about marketing, social media, and fun productivity and process tips over at my new blog. Can’t wait to share a bit more about my decision to go freelance and some lessons I’ve learned already, but for now if you’re interested in streamlining your marketing check out the latest posts, including 5 Things You Should Be Doing in Gmail, and 8 Ways to Promote the Same Blog Post on Twitter (Without Sounding Like a Broken Record), and sign up for my free monthly-ish newsletter to keep up on the latest from Early Bird.

81 Things To Love About Fall

09.22.13

This week we welcome another autumn into our lives. As a thoroughly predictable human being, every September I fight the changing season, and then start warming up to the idea after reminding myself of all the things to love about fall. I finally give in (short of relocating, what’s a Portlander to do?). This years autumnal equinox is September 22, so as the rains arrive, I’ll be re-reading my annual fall list.

I started this proper list of things that I love about fall a few years ago, just to remind myself… So here’s the 2013 updated, with 81 things this year. Epic!

  1. leather boots
  2. crunchy leaves
  3. scarves (a serious weakness)
  4. cozy striped socks (and argyle!)
  5. English tea w/milk
  6. apple orchards
  7. Hulu
  8. rain boots (& wearing my Converse-style rainboots! & bees!)
  9. coffee
  10. Powell’s bookstore
  11. reading
  12. cooking over-elaborate meals (this 3 hour soup comes to mind)
  13. snuggling (kittehs or boys)
  14. hikes
  15. tights & skirts (cable knit!)
  16. live music/Doug Fir
  17. soup
  18. fall-ish tunes
  19. change/fresh starts
  20. duvets
  21. yellow
  22. baking
  23. chai lattes
  24. plaid
  25. wine
  26. shooting guns (Don’t judge. I’m from the country.)
  27. movies/beer/pizza/Cajun tots at McMenamins (tasty!)
  28. home goods stores
  29. pretending to love shopping
  30. argyle (see #4)
  31. learning
  32. pumpkin everything, (including pumpkin spice lattes)
  33. apple sauce (planning a canning party. I’m so in my 30s)
  34. hoodies (cozy)
  35. Thai food
  36. cities
  37. cinnamon
  38. whiskey
  39. planning winter trips (last year Iceland. This year Japan & South Korea)
  40. planning 1 winter escape (somewhere warm & cheap! February? March? Hawaii?)
  41. skinny jeans tucked into boots
  42. pretty maps (yet another serious weakness)
  43. layering
  44. that means more dark chocolate
  45. dreaming of Barcelona
  46. popcorn
  47. the air
  48. food carts with heated seating areas
  49. baths
  50. colors
  51. crying to Sigur Ros or Beck’s Sea Change (no explanation. It’s not 2 hrs and 14 min/week worth though, clearly I need to listen to more Sigur Ros)
  52. corduroy
  53. massive breakfasts
  54. geocaching
  55. making out in the cold
  56. trains
  57. watching people be excited about college football
  58. trying new cocktails
  59. spin class
  60. yurt camping
  61. finding new music
  62. yoga pants
  63. long dinners
  64. storms
  65. writing
  66. flannel sheets
  67. indoor workouts (Bar Method!)
  68. even more indoor time: a new cooking class
  69. board games
  70. more time for blogging with no sunshine distraction
  71. mashed potatoes
  72. lazy weekend mornings catching up on my Google Reader in bed
  73. carbs
  74. rocking sudoku
  75. sucking at crosswords
  76. seasonal ales
  77. dark nail polish (OPI Over the Taupe)
  78. museums
  79. the words ‘crisp’ & ‘cozy’
  80. sweaters…
  81. getting obsessed with a TV show that everyone has already been watching for ages, but I just finally got into and blowing through 3 seasons immediately (last year was Downton Abbey)

photo set on flickr

What do you love about fall?

Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon – My 1st Half!

When I spontaneously signed up for Lululemon’s SeaWheeze Half Marathon back in January, I had no idea that it was going to ruin my impression of half marathons. After completing crushing (yes, that word was tossed around a lot in our training app) my first half marathon, I’m afraid that all future halfs will be compared to SeaWheeze. I already can’t wait for next year! So here’s a little recap of my half.

Best weekend ever! This video is a great look at what SeaWheeze is all about:

One of the best things about this half was the SeaWheeze team’s attention to detail. Yeah, there were some long lines, and there’s always something that could be better, but overall the event was fantastic! (Lululemon of course has some haters these days, which is fine by me – since party poopers don’t run half marathons). Price-wise, the entry was $128.72 USD (comparably Rock ‘n’ Roll is $80 if you sign up early, while runDisney Half is $175 if you sign up early) and 100% worth it.

Day 1:
Day 1
Since I had the day off, we stopped at Jam for breakfast (bowl of carbs!) before hitting the road for BC. We had decided to drive to Vancouver because the timing of BoltBus wasn’t ideal for pre-race day transportation and the train prices were a little crazy that weekend. After a bit of a delay at the border, we ended up getting into Vancouver around 4pm. When I was searching for a place earlier this summer, most of the close-in hotels had already filled up for this weekend, and I didn’t have any luck on Airbnb either. I found the The Burrard – a 50s kitsch hotel (on, you guessed it, Burrard St) that I thought sounded just my style. Although it was sold out online, I ended up calling and they had a free room still. Good reminder to call!

Since this was my first half I was a little nervous to try “new” food pre-race, and since I know Chipotle makes my tummy happy I had a late lunch. Thankfully I’ve gotten to experience Vancouver’s awesome food scene on other trips (and after the race!) After lunch/dinner, we walked down to the Convention Centre for packet pickup. I was a little bummed to miss the nooner yoga and some of the other fun things, but arriving to a handful of people in line in front of me was a great way to kick off the weekend. I heard many a grumbly grumblerton talking about waiting in line for hours earlier in the day. After zipping through packet pickup, we chilled out in the outdoor lounge area. They had it all decorated with adirondacks etc, lines for pedicures/massages were way to long and I knew it would just make me cranky so we relaxed and then called it an early night.

I set out my race day outfit and attached my chip to my shoe and although I tried to go to sleep at 10, I don’t think I actually fell asleep for a little while, but since I don’t really remember that means at least I didn’t stay up all night.

Race Day! Saturday, August 10, 2013:
SeaWheeze Half
My alarm buzzed at 5:30 and I leapt out of bed to have my mini breakfast. I brought a banana, bread and peanut butter from home (my standard long run brekkie), and loved that The Burrard has Nespresso (loud! sorry neighbors!) machines in each room. Yes, it’s a little thing, but really makes a difference versus using a crappy mini coffee maker or wandering down to a lobby for mediocre coffee. I did my usual 10 minute yoga (Tiffany Cruikshank on Yogaglo), rolled out my leg a little bit and then we headed out to walk to the Start. The weather was perfect, a little overcast but not to cold. I usually run in a tank and shorts so I didn’t take anything with me to the checkin area. Although next time I totally will take flip flops!

Boyfriend was volunteering at the last aid station so we parted ways at the waterfront. I thought I would have been way more nervous for some reason, but maybe because I’m a novice it just felt fun and full of energy! Everyone was super excited and although I missed the warmup ‘party’ I found my pace group corral and waited. I was a little worried that I would have to use the bathroom mid-race, even though I don’t usually need to on long runs, so I lined up for the porta-potties and it felt like when you’re little “but mommy, I don’t have to go!”

My goal for my first half marathon was just to finish, but if you speak with my subconscious – I was hoping to finish in 2 hours 30 minutes. Given my long training runs, I thought 2:20 was totally doable, but since it was my first race I thought I would go with the 2:30 pace group so I didn’t have people tearing past me the whole time. Next time, I won’t be following this strategy as it seemed like 75% of the people in my pace group had no idea what their pace was. I was going to try and keep my pace around 11 min/mi for at least the first 2 miles like I tried to do in some of my training runs, but no worries about going out too fast, the fastest I could go was 11:14 and 11:02 as there were so many people packed in.

My IT band started hurting around mile 6 which was so frustrating. I had no pain while training until 2 weeks before, during my 12 mile training run. So it wasn’t a surprise during the half, but I decided that fuck it, I was here to run my first half! And I’ve put so much time into training that I tried to turn up my music and ignore the pain. The cheer sections were huge pain killers. So many hilarious signs, drag queens, mermaids, SUP, so much fun! I had gone through the course on Google Street view to look at the giant “hill” of the bridge. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad. I feel like Vancouver is pretty similar to Portland when it comes to running the waterfront and while running back up the bridge was not the most pleasant it was great compared to the last mile!

The route was gorgeous, starting in front of the Convention Centre, looping around through Chinatown, past the stadium, the sea wall and marina through False Creek, up and over the Burrard Bridge to Kits beach turnaround, back over the bridge and down to the seawall through English Bay to Stanley Park. After following the whole sea wall in the park, we cut up the last little hill to Lumberman’s Arch and the final aid station before the finish. The distance between the 2 water stations in Stanley park was a little intense combined with my IT band pain, but I powered through and hit the finish line in the 2:30 mark with one final push (literally) from the 2:30 pace beaver screaming “you can still make 2:30!”

After crossing the finish line, I was in a total daze. I was handed a cold washcloth (best thing ever), a finisher’s medal, Skull Candy earbuds, and a few other random things as I wandered away. While it would have been awesome to have someone meeting me at the finish line, seeing my biggest champion at the last aid station (when I needed it) was way better!

After the race, I slowly hobbled back to my hotel. By the late afternoon, I was feeling better and we tracked down a Japadog cart before the Sunset Festival. The Burrard has free bikes, so we cruised down to Stanley Park for pre-concert yoga with Ryan Leier. It was the perfect ending to a long day. And even though I wasn’t familiar with Passenger and Xavier Rudd (the concert), it was great background to eating dinner and going to the photo booth that I’d missed at the finish.

All in all, it was an incredible weekend and a happy way to experience my first half marathon!

My pace
Since the race was in Canada, I left my phone in Airplane mode, had my Spotify playlist set to Available Offline (I signed up for a trial), and used my Nike+ app in “indoor” mode so I could still keep tabs on my pacing. Here are my miles/splits:

  • Mile 1 – 11:14
  • Mile 2 – 11:02
  • Mile 3 – 10:55
  • Mile 4 – 11:05
  • Mile 5 – 10:55
  • Mile 6 – 11:08 - IT band started hurting
  • Mile 7 – 11:28
  • Mile 8 – 11:23
  • Mile 9 – 10:50
  • Mile 10 – 11:16
  • Mile 11 – 10:48
  • Mile 12 – 11:42
  • Mile 13 – 10:47 [Fastest]
  • Mile 13.6?!

SeaWheeze Race Swag {& perks}:

  • Lululemon Speed shorts – plaid and amazing (they also had a choice of a longer pair, but I already had a pair of these that I love)
  • Seawheeze cinch-tote bag
  • Skull Candy Finisher earbuds – I had been using my standard iPhone earbuds, so these were such a sweet treat at the finish!
  • wooden locket “medal”
  • Sunset Festival – yoga, concert (food and beer for sale)
  • a cold washcloth at the finish line – amazing! details, people, they matter!
  • photobooth pics
  • Runners “brunch” (I was a little hungry and didn’t want to wait in line so I went back to the hotel, next year I will not be so silly)
  • Friday events: nail painting, massage, yoga etc.
  • (boyfriend volunteered which got him a free Lulu shirt, entrance to the Sunset Festival and a super fun way to participate while I ran!)

What should my next fitness goal be?!

How to Begin Running: 43 Tips from My First 200 Miles

07.21.13

I am a runner. There, I said it.

I’ve been running for about four months now, and with my half marathon three weeks away, I’ve been thinking about how far I’ve come. I’ve put in over 200 miles – that’s more than the distance from Portland to Seattle! I’ve also grown to love the challenge of running (something that didn’t happen the first time I gave running a go in 2006). Running is hard. It’s not like any other physical activity that I’ve experienced. Sometimes I feel like I’m not built to run, and the rest of the time I feel incredibly grateful to have a body that can carry me so far.

Running Portland

So here are some things I’ve learned in my recent foray into running:

  1. F&$# “conversational pace”. Everything always says to run at a “conversational pace”. I’m the person asking you questions so that I hopefully won’t have to talk as much. This one has gotten easier in the last month though – there may be hope for me yet.
  2. Start slow. I did the Couch to 5k program to start. That’s 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week for 8 weeks. Not very much when you think about it! Since I don’t identify much with a couch, I felt a little silly starting out with that program, but I felt even more silly terrified that I would get hurt again by ramping up too quickly. So I endured 8 weeks of C25k, and found it was a great way to get in the habit of running. And it made me feel like I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone and that I had a “finish” point every day. Like “check, I’m done.” Vs “I could run more.” It was nice having a limit. There are some free apps for this one, I used one called C25K Free.
  3. Everyone has an opinion on shoes, but we’re all different. Yay! So what worked for me were low profile “barefoot” type style and since I’d been wearing Merrell Pace Gloves traveling and hiking a bit already, I found the transition over 8 weeks of run/walking to be a totally fine intro into ‘barefoot’ without all the pain everyone talks about. I have pretty high arches, for what it’s worth. When my C25k program ended and my other training program started, I did experience foot pain around the 4 mile mark, so…
  4. Get new shoes – or don’t. Some theorize that if you shell out for expensive shoes you’ll shame yourself into using your investment. Maybe you’re not that kind of person though. It also might be more of a motivator to say you’ll get them as a treat after you finish 2-3 months. Whatever floats your boat. I splurged on a pair of Merrell Bare Access Arc 2s three months in and I love them! Tip: if you get your shoes at REI you can return them if they don’t work. I was a little nervous about getting shoes that might not work out, so it felt really great to know I could take them back if they gave me blisters etc. So much better than being stuck with shoes from other running stores or buying online – how it should be!
  5. [Almost] everyone will run faster and farther. And sometimes it’s all in their head (hey, boys!). So when people tell you their pace is x, that doesn’t mean they run like that every day.
  6. Do your own thing. You don’t have to keep up.
  7. Assemble your support team! If you’re adding running into your routine, it’s helpful for those close to you (your partner, roommate, friends etc) to know what you’re working towards and be onboard. Having someone be understanding that you need to make it an early night or remind you that you have to run in the morning is way easier than being around people who are four drinks in and want to know why you don’t want a second beer.
  8. Run/walk as needed. Even after I finished the c25k program, I would add in some walking at about a 10:1 ratio, or whenever I felt like I needed it. I wondered if I’d ever be able to not feel the need to walk. Two months later, I don’t feel the need! I “walk” past drinking fountains instead.
  9. Warmup. The whole time I did C25k I warmed up and cooled down with 5 min walking (warmup and then cool down), and then went home and stretched. I was a little strict about this but I figured – better to “waste” a little time than hurt myself and not get to do my half marathon. Now I do a really quick warmup, or if it’s my long run day I do a 10 min yoga warmup.
  10. Music. It makes you faster. It makes you not want to just go home. Podcasts are also great, but they make me go very slow (yes, that’s possible!).
  11. Pandora and Spotify – I use both of these (spotify’s radio function, not the paid version). I’ve found that not being able to predict the next song, and not always recognizing it because it’s not “my” music, helps keep me motivated and not bored.
  12. Treat yo self. But don’t mess with too much “fancy” running gear until you’ve been sticking with it a few months. I ended up buying new Merrell running shoes 3 months after I started running; I needed to ramp up my mileage and my old running shoes made my knee hurt and gave me blisters. My other super minimalist shoes made my feet ache after 4 miles. The following other items I’ve acquired along the way or had already:
  13. Socks. Apparently some people are more blister-prone than others. I found that for my 20-40 min runs I can wear pretty much any sock, but after that I need my “fancy” ones or it’ll be blister city. (I got some WrightSock ones on sale at REI that are my favs so far)
  14. Hat. I bought a running hat six weeks into my C25k program, because I was in Florida and the heat starts early. Totally worth it. Having a hat (I bought the Nike Daybreak) also helped me feel better about running in the morning. Now I like it so I can roll right out of bed and into a run. Yes, I am one of those people who feels like I want to shower before a morning run, but that’s a waste of time. Having a hat and washing my face makes me feel totally ready.
  15. Foam roller. I have had one for a while, and it’s perfect for self-massage and to relax the muscles, especially after my weekend long run. Lactic acid builds up in your muscles when you work out really strenuously. So using a foam roller can help break it down and makes your legs less achy/cramps after. I bought the GoFit one ages ago and it’s still in decent shape. Looks like Gaiam has one for a bit cheaper now too.
  16. Yoga. Yoga is the prefect way to stretch out my muscles after a run and on my cross-training days. We subscribe to Yogaglo ($18/mo), which when split for 2 people, that’s less than a drop-in class would be at most places. And it’s so convenient that there’s really no excuse not to do a 5-60 minute practice! My favorite are the classes by Tiffany Cruikshank. So many great classes! And they do a free 30 day trial as well.
  17. Yoga gear. I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for five years. My only “prop” has always just been a yoga mat. After starting my running routine though I found that if I over-stretched I reaaaally felt it on my next run. So I bought a strap and block (came as a 2-pack!) which has really helped me feel like I’m not pushing myself too much on my cross-training days, so I’ll use my block to feel the stretch I need vs just getting into the pose because “hey look, I can!”
  18. Moleskin. Blisters! Yay! So originally I thought maybe I should just not run when I had blisters but then I realized that would limit me to running like once a week while they healed. So Moleskin means you can keep running and you don’t get a blister on your blister. I just picked up a pre-cut pack from REI, which was way easier than having to cut pieces to fit.
  19. Make appointments for running. Running won’t just assimilate into your current schedule. You have to make time for it. I add all my runs and cross training to my Google Calendar on Sunday nights. Then, I can estimate pretty well what’s coming up this week, like dinner out or an event, and even a general weather estimation. Since I’ve been doing this, my “oops, I missed my workout… because it was too hot, or I had to go to dinner, or I had a meeting” has dropped to pretty much zero. It’s Sunday and I can estimate that all this week it’s going to be too hot (IMO) to run at lunch or in the evening, guess what? That means I have to schedule it during the morning. Guess what else? I have a daily morning meeting at 7:42am. So that means 2 days a week I need to wake up at 5:30 or 6 to get out and back and ready in time. It’s basic, but if I don’t calendar it’s not as likely to just happen.
  20. Sign up for a race  - something that requires you to train for it. A 5 or 10k you can probably slog through, so sign up for something that if you don’t put the training and miles in you’ll either not make it or feel like you’re going to die. Motivating!
  21. One step at a time. When I first started the C25k program and was feeling wheezy after 20 min, the thought of running 13.1 miles seemed silly. Now that I completed my 10 mile training run this weekend, it seems tiring, but reasonable.
  22. Your pace doesn’t matter. Sometimes I begin to feel discouraged about how darn slow I am, but when I look at it over months, I feel pretty proud of the time I’ve invested, and how much I’ve improved each month.
  23. Small victories! Yeah, yeah, pace doesn’t matter, but when you’re such a beginner every week seems like more miles and a faster pace than the last. The beauty of being a little tank.
  24. Ignore those that are speedy. Sometimes when I’m running around the waterfront, some speed demon goes flying by me and I feel a twinge of contempt? maybe. or jealousy? probably. But my running isn’t about them. And if they’re crazy fast, good on them, they probably have put a hell of a lot more energy into running thus far in their life than me, and maybe also they have better running genes.
  25. Speaking of pace. Pace yourself. I read somewhere that in a 1/2 or full marathon (when your goal is just to finish) you should start out slow and then take it down a notch. I do this on my long training runs, and it’s helped me to speed up half way through and towards the end sometimes vs getting all tired in the first few miles.
  26. Find a running buddy. Some of us need more external motivation than others. I was born with a pretty strong will, adding things to a calendar and knowing that if I don’t put in the miles I’ll be a sad panda in BC, at my half, is generally enough to get me out the door, but yes, it’s nice to have a running buddy, so long as they’re not super fast. Running with people too fast, and I’ve found it builds a mini rage within.
  27. Drink lots of water. In the day(s) before your runs too.
  28. Drink less [beer] + Track things. I’ve found knowing that I have to run in the morning has cut my drinking way down. On that note, I’m super into quantified self, so I downloaded Tenxer and I track my daily drinking (#s), running (hours), yoga (hours), water (cups) etc. It’s helped me realize that when I say I have a few drinks per week, I really mean that I have 4.4 drinks per week.
  29. Sleep, glorious sleep. I also manually enter my approx hours of sleep into the Tenxer app. Sleep allows your body to repair itself. I’m a morning person, but running has turned me into more of a morning a person and also gets me to bed earlier. Yay, thirty-something life!
  30. Alphabet is your friend. Even now if I’m doing another little warmup routine, I still do my A>Z alphabet routine of tracing all the letters of the alphabet quickly with one foot and then the other. This helps me not to get shin splints. Someone told me this tip ages ago, whoever you were, thanks!
  31. Hydration strategy. Plan your route around drinking fountains if needed. I don’t like to carry a water thing, so this is what I do.
  32. Coffee. Unless I’m rolling out of bed to just run 40-50 min, I have a morning cup of coffee.
  33. Peanut butter and banana is my go-to pre-run combo. If I’m going for a longer run I’ll have some toast too.
  34. Running “fuel”. People get super serious about their training run fuel. I don’t like the idea of buying specific running “food” like Gu. Maybe if I was doing a full marathon. For my long runs I’ve just been folding up one of my fav fruit snacks (Stretch Island Fruit Co) in my back waist pocket.
  35. Post-run noms. They say you should refuel within 15 min of a hard run. I usually make a banana peanut butter smoothie with coconut milk and chocolate greens.
  36. Starting is the hardest part. If you don’t feel like going out, just tell yourself that you’ll give it a try and then if you still feel like crap or whatever that you’ll stop. Usually after you start moving you feel better.
  37. Off day. I like to have my off day as a Friday or a Saturday. Sometimes it’s something to look forward to and other times I feel a little restless. Now if my off day was the day after my long run I would feel no remorse. ever!
  38. Leave the shades open. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, congrats it’s summer! By leaving the blinds behind our curtains open slightly it helps more light get in the room so I am more in sync with natural sunlight rhythms. then I can just hibernate in winter, like a bear.
  39. Apps ahoy! I use Lululemon’s 1/2 marathon training app. It’s great to be able to check things off every day. I also use Nike+ to track my runs. If I’m planning a new route, I also use MilerMeter to map it out.
  40. Library books! I really enjoyed Born to Run and Complete Book of Women’s Running. I also read Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness (Jurek was featured in Born to Run. I was interested to read his book since he’s a vegan ultramarathoner. I felt like he left a big chunk out of this bio though since he wrote this book after his divorce. Still an interesting read though.) Tip: did you know lots of libraries let you check out Kindle books? It’s awesome.
  41. Run distractions – while music is a great way to pass the time, some days you might be lost in your own thoughts and the scenery, and others you feel bored. When I’m struggling, I do silly things like say “I’ll run to the next light pole”, and then the next, or I’ll count my steps for a while, and then it passes.
  42. Some runs suck - if I scroll through my Nike+ activity, I see plenty of frowny or half smile faces that I entered for it feeling so-so or tired. Yes, there are days that I marked as awesome, but the things they share in common is that after running you usually feel great regardless.
  43. If you run, you are a runner! People sometimes say things like “oh, are you a runner?”, or “Cool, what PR are you going for” In the beginning, I left most of those conversations thinking, “no, I’m not a runner yet, but I will be”, “PR? I just want to finish!” Running is many things to many people, but all it takes to be a runner is to get outside and begin – whether you’re slowly trying to finish your first mile or knocking out ultra marathons.

Are you a runner? Any tips to add?

Olivia Raymer
Things I ♥: travel, food (I'm a pescatarian), the Pacific Northwest, bikes (I ride an orange mixte), beer (IPAs), summer, coffee, lists, and kitties. Travel enthusiast, former product manager, dabbler, and currently helping small businesses with digital strategy at Early Bird Strategy.

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