So you want to start running?
Overheated race face as I crossed the line in one of my first competitive races: the Rothman 8K in 2012. After this, I learned that unless you’re racing in Siberia, you should wear shorts and a singlet, not tights and a hoodie. #RunnerNewbieOops
I attended a conference for my job last week. During our lunch break, I chatted with an old friend and a new colleague. Naturally, the subject of running came up. Both of them said, “I would like to be a runner BUT…”
Upon probing, I found they liked the idea of being a runner and of running. The new colleague felt she was simply not cut out to be a runner: She had no stamina. It hurt too much. She just couldn’t do it. My friend said she feared running because she had “weak ankles.” I’ve heard other people say that they do not have a “runner’s body,” they lack discipline, or that they feel uncoordinated.
These are all valid concerns. The fact is, with consistent running, almost all of these things change. Ankles get stronger with use. Stamina and discipline develop. You lean down.
Not everyone is meant to be a runner
First, I’m going to say something you’d not expect to read on a running blog: not everyone is meant to be a runner.
It’s okay if you don’t like to run. Really!
Countless other activities and sports will keep you fit. The most important thing about exercise is to find something you truly enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. Pretty simple stuff. If, for example, fitness was predicated on playing basketball, I would be the flabbiest, most unfit person around because:
- I think basketball is boring to play or watch
- I have zero hand-eye coordination
- I am 5’3″
I am in love with running. So of course, I want everyone to elicit the same joy from it that I do.
I’d like to be a runner BUT….
When a person says “I would like to be a runner BUT…”, to me, it’s a telltale sign there’s a passionate runner lurking inside, just waiting to burst out and run joyfully. All wannabe runners need is a little nurturing and good information to get started.
I say this with certainty this because I was once that person. I used to say, “I would like to be a runner BUT.” I thought of myself as a jogger, not a runner. So that’s what I was. And that’s what I did.
My 4th Broad Street Run in 2013. At this point, I was no longer a running newbie, but I still had – and have – a lot to learn. Looking at this photo, I can see how my form has improved since then. (The heart stickers were in honor of the Boston Marathon victims.)
“I could never run a marathon.”
When I first started running after my divorce, I became friends with a woman in my building who ran marathons. I had such a girl-crush on Ally; I was so in awe of her accomplishments and felt intimidated whenever I was running and saw her on the trails. In the back of my head, I knew I’d probably run a half marathon one day, but not a full. “I could never run a marathon,” I thought.
Never is a long time.
I ran my first marathon in 2014. So far, I’ve run 3: Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and I’m planning my 4th. I easily qualified for Boston in each one by almost 20 minutes, as well as for the New York Marathon (which most people do not realize, requires a faster qualifying time than Boston).
Running a marathon was nowhere nearly as daunting as I’d imagined it would be. In fact, it was fun. Yes, it required work, knowledge and preparation. More importantly, however, it involved changing my inner dialogue from “I could never do run a marathon” to “I am running a marathon.”
Had I continued to believe my initial message, I never would have run a marathon.
Want to start running, but can’t quite get started?
Consider these 10 tips for wannabe runners from a girl who’s been there:
1. Pay attention to the messages you send yourself. Words are powerful. Thoughts are powerful. Stay in the present and take it one step at a time, literally. Instead of saying, for example, “I’ll never run a mile without stopping” (future tense/negative/an absolute), remind yourself “I’m working on a running a mile without stopping” (present tense/statement).
2. “Embrace the suck.” If you are new to running or are returning to running after an injury or a break, you have to face reality and accept the fact that, at first, it’s not going to feel easy. It’s going to suck for a little while. And then it will pass. I say, “Embrace the suck.”
The first week is the undoubtedly the worst – especially the first 3 or 4 runs. But think back to other difficult things you learned to do that are now second nature: knitting, driving a car, speaking a second language, cooking a recipe, changing a diaper, using a tool. If you could master these skills, you can master running – because you’re awesome and also because every two- and four-legged mammal innately knows how to run. If a hungry tiger were chasing you, believe me, you would run. Fast.
There comes a freedom in acceptance which I’ll illustrate through a non-running example: I love drinking fresh juice but hated cleaning my juicer. Dealing with the daily mass of slimy green pulp was so overwhelmingly messy and onerous. One day while scrubbing the mesh basket, I thought of one my closest friends who takes exceptional care of her possessions. She actually enjoys waxing her car (Don’t think I’ve ever waxed mine!) and she methodically washes and sharpens her cooking knives with a Zen-like reverence. In the spirit of faking it ’til you make it, I told myself, “I love cleaning my juicer.” And you know what? Now, I really do love it, years after employing this mental trick.
I embraced the suck. And then it no longer sucked.
Cherry Blossom 5K, 2013. That’s me in green.This race was pivotal in developing my confidence to run faster. I finally ditched the tights and worked up enough courage to line up with the fast boys & girls. Finished 5th female, 1st age group.
3. Start where you are. Take it one step at a time, literally. Be patient with yourself and stay in the moment. You’re not going to be ready to run your first 5K in 2 weeks, so just relax and enjoy the process.
Algonquin Round Table writer Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I like to have written.” You may feel the same way about running until you get into the groove. But eventually, once you get fitter, you are going to like it present tense, too.
4. Run/walk. There is no shame in the run/walk approach. In 2011, I had 2 significant surgeries, and had to take 6 months off from running. It broke my heart, because I was just starting to improve. When my doctor finally gave me the green light, my first day back was a combination of joy at being able to run again, and horror at how my 7-something mile had slowed to a 10-minute mile. I ran-walked for a few weeks, felt elephant-like and ungraceful, and embraced the suck. It only represented a detour in my running journey. My fitness eventually returned. Yours will, too.
5. Run with a friend. Most of the time, I prefer running solo. It’s meditative quiet time. But when I have a long run or track intervals, nothing beats having company. With long runs, chatting makes the miles fly by. You build friendships as you build stamina. For track intervals, it’s more motivating to power through with a pack. You feed off each others’ energy, motivate each other, and help each other.
6. Think of yourself as a Runner, with a capital R. At first, it may feel weird to call yourself a Runner – as if it is a coveted degree like a PhD or MD. Don’t overthink it. If you run, you are a Runner.
7. Set yourself up for success. Since the first few weeks are the most difficult, make running as easy on yourself as possible. Plan out your route ahead of time. Lay out your clothes before bed – or sleep in them so you wake ready to go. Keep a running journal to record your mileage and keep track of how each workout feels.
8. Create a vision board. Research shows that positive images can influence us. Tina Muir wrote a great post on how to create a running vision board.
9. Set realistic goals. Goals should be achievable but a stretch. Make both short-term and long-term goals. If you are new to running, an appropriate goal might be to be able to run a mile without stopping in one month, or to run your first 5K in 14 weeks. An unrealistic goal might be to run a 7:00 mile without stopping in one month, or to win your age group in your first 5K. I’m not saying to aim low. Your goals should always be a reach and even scare you a little bit – because that develops character as well as fitness. But understand that in running, progress comes with consistency, and it takes time.
10. Enjoy the very human experience of moving your body. Children and animals delight in movement. Watch kids at play. They laugh and giggle as they dash off at top speed without any self consciousness. Spend a few minutes at the dog park, and observe how the canines race, frolic and chase each other. My cats joyfully sprint “laps” each day back and forth in my loft and make me laugh when they do it.
Our bodies were built to move. Somehow, age and society erode that innate joy. But the ability to run remains.
Ask a roomful of kindergartners, “Who can run?” and everyone will raise their hand. Ask a roomful of 50-year-olds the same question, and you won’t see so many hands. Don’t be that person. Moving feels good, Think about this when you run.