No one would have ever called me an athlete. The only times I exercised was when I had to in gym class. But I always admired runners because they seemed so dedicated and driven. I tried giving running a shot half-a-dozen times, and quit a half-a-dozen times. Finally, at 29, I realized my body wasn’t going to trend toward health, and with the encouragement of several friends I decided to buckle down and do this.
Three years later, I’m still at it. I’m slow, but I run! Learning to run was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I truly believe that if I can do it anyone can. I’ve become a running evangelist, encouraging everyone to try it.
There’s no shortage of information on the internet about running: training plans, sports nutrition, shoe reviews, etc. But I had trouble finding tips for starting COMPLETELY from scratch. Here are some things I discovered along my journey.
There’s no shame in walking
I won’t sugar-coat this: when you first start, you’ll suck. Each time I decided to try running, I ran for all of for two minutes before gasping and wanting to give up. Like other hard things in life, running takes practice. I have a friend training for a 50-mile race, and she still drops to a walk. Be realistic about the time it’ll take to get good at this. Don’t worry about being fast; start slowly and build up. The key is don’t quit. If you can’t run, walk; walk as long as you need to, then try a bit of running again when you feel you can. If you keep working at it, you WILL get better.
If you go too hard too fast you could be injured. But don’t take that as a pass to sit back — challenge yourself. Once you can run a full mile, start aiming for two. Once you can run three, try running faster. Run further. Run up a hill. Not only will it give you an amazing sense of accomplishment, but it’ll make you a better runner overall.
Figure out your poop
No, really, running is a natural laxative. This is one of those things they should put out there in huge letters so every new runner knows, but they don’t! Not only should you… er… “go” before you run, but until you learn how your body reacts, I’d recommend running in places close to a bathroom. An indoor track at a gym worked for me for the first few weeks. But then make sure you get out to explore the trails and streets your ‘hood has to offer.
Invest in some running accessories
The nice thing about running is that anyone can do it anywhere and the only thing you need is shoes. If you want to give this an honest shot, you’re going to have to invest in some running shoes. Expect to drop $100 on a decent pair, but they will help you avoid injury. Running stores are best for these because they specialize in running, just running. You can get a video gait analysis and talk to a pro who will point you to the right shoes for your body. Another thing to invest in: a good sports bra. (Don’t ask me for a price quote on those, though, from this size A.) As for shirts, shorts, and pants, cheap stuff from Target works fine.
You need folks who will support you and celebrate every little accomplishment with you throughout this whole process — whether a runner or a non-runner. I still remember the first day I completed two miles, the first time I ran a full 5K, and the first time I stumbled across the finish line of a half marathon. I don’t think I would have ever gotten that far without people to call up and squeal about my newest milestone, or share a post-race burger with, or even running beside me saying, “You can do it!”
Sign up for a race!
This is what I find the most important. Not only will this give you motivation to keep training, but race environments are incredible. There are costume races, mud races, races with your dog, and races supporting just about any cause. All matter of random people will cheer for you as you run, and you will see people to inspire you — from pro athletes smoking everyone that make you want to go faster, to geriatrics shuffling along that will make you resolve, “Wow, I want to be doing 5Ks when I’m in my seventies.” (If you’re in the US, this is a nice site to find races.)
You can find more about running online, but those are the basics that most helped me. I didn’t start running to lose weight (and I haven’t), but to feel better and learn how to take better care of my body. I feel healthier now than I’ve ever been, I’ve discovered that I’m capable of more than I thought possible, and I’m more proud of my running than probably anything else I’ve accomplished.