Those of you who know me (or have read my previous post on the subject) know that I am a big proponent of running. Maintaining my health has always been a priority for me, but I also have come to love the character-building aspect of this sport and the community I’ve found through doing it over the last few years.
With all its challenge and intensity, I really enjoy and appreciate running. And I say this to you not as someone who’s been doing it her whole life, not as someone who was ever a natural at it, but as someone who long thought of herself as a “non-runner”. It’s unfortunate that so many people identify with this label. After all, beliefs about what we are not tend to be self-fulfilling. My old swim coach used to tell us that “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” And it’s absolutely true; if you’ve created the story in your mind that you can’t do something, most of the time, you won’t do it. Not unless you’re open to changing that story.
Perhaps you, too, feel like you are “not a runner”, and yet you are curious about how people get into it — and that’s what drew you to this article. Perhaps there is some small, crazy voice within you that asks — what if I could do it? Well, what if I told you that it’s absolutely possible? Even if you’ve never run before in your life, it can be done. I didn’t start running seriously until I was almost 30 years old, and I’ve known other people who started even later. It’s never too late. And if you’re in good health and take care to avoid injuries, you can keep it up well into old age; I have a friend whose 80-something-year-old mother still runs marathons. It’s pretty incredible, really, what the human body and mind are capable of.
My partner, an ultramarathoner and coach, likes to say that our bodies already know how to run. There is an innate wisdom in our bodies that knows how to execute the necessary movements without having to think about it. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning our form and harnessing natural momentum to carry us forward so that we are efficient and light on our feet. Remembering how to run this way, actually, is a joy; it doesn’t have to be purely “hard work”, and if you think of it as something that can be fun, it will be.
So, where do you begin with this sport? Here are just a few of the many ways you can get started as a runner.
Create a positive mindset around running.
When you think of running, what comes to mind? For me, for most of my life, the answer was pain. I truly, for the life of me, couldn’t understand the appeal of this sport because anytime I tried it, it would kick my butt. Even in my swim-team days, when I was swimming (literally) miles each week and in excellent cardio shape, I struggled to run more than half a mile. So I got it in my head that I was a “non-runner”, and it was years before I dropped my negative attitude about it and finally gave it a fair shot.
If you want to become a runner — or anything else in life — you have to at least be open to the idea that you are capable of it. You don’t have to know that you are yet, but you must be willing to entertain the possibility. If you dismiss the mere idea of it out of hand, you won’t try — and you won’t come to know your full potential.
Decide what your goals are and start small.
Becoming a runner does not mean you have to run ultramarathons. If running a 100-mile race is on your bucket list, by all means, go for it. But there are many different levels of runners, from pro athletes to race runners to recreational “weekend warrior” types who just do it for fun — it’s totally up to you to decide how far you want to take it and how serious you want to get. When you’re just starting out, you might try a 5K. Once you’ve done that, you could work your way up to a 10K or half marathon. If you still like running after you’ve done those distances, you might just be hooked for life.
Try a running app.
If you’re new to running and aren’t sure where to start, I highly suggest trying a running app. Couch to 5K (C25K) is the one that I used when I was first starting out, and I have sung its praises to anyone who’s ever asked me about it. What’s great about C25K is that it assumes you are starting from zero running experience and gives you structured workouts that gradually increase in difficulty. So you’re not going to go out and run a mile in your first workout; you’ll start by alternating, say, one minute of walking with one minute of jogging for 20 minutes.
New runners can get intimidated by thinking that they have to immediately start running long distances, but that’s not really how it works. You work your way up to the longer distances. With C25K, you’ll start with jogging for one minute at a time, and over a few weeks’ time, you’ll gradually increase your ratio of jogging to walking until you are able to jog for 10, 15, and eventually 20 minutes at a time. The workouts are challenging but doable, and you can complete them at your own pace. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can progress.
Join a (real or virtual) running group.
Joining a running group can be a great way to get into running, especially if you’d like to meet some new runner friends. Running is a great social activity, and there are so many groups out there — if you’re looking for an in-person group, you can find anything from serious running clubs to laid-back social groups who meet up once a week to jog around the park and then grab beers at the neighborhood bar. Virtual groups and apps like Zwift allow you to run with people from around the world. Regardless, many of these groups welcome runners of all levels (including newbies), and having some running buddies just makes it all the more fun.
Commit to doing a race with a friend or family member.
Signing up for a race can be a powerful motivator to keep up with your workouts. My mom was actually the one who decided she was going to commit to doing her first 5K; I just decided to jump on her bandwagon and do it with her. And honestly, I loved it. There was something beautiful and life-affirming about being surrounded by throngs of people who were all out there, running alongside me, challenging themselves and being part of something positive. And when I saw the finish line coming up ahead of me, when I fully grasped that I was about to achieve something I’d never done before and didn’t think I could do, it was a very emotionally powerful moment.
Now, granted, this was a few years ago, before the time of COVID-19. There are fewer in-person options for races at the time of this writing, but there are still virtual races and other creative events being offered for those who would like to participate.
“Racing” can have a negative connotation for some people who don’t consider themselves competitive by nature, but the truth is, a running race doesn’t have to be a competition at all. There will always be the elite athletes striving to be at the front of the pack, but in most races, most of the runners are just out having fun. If anything, they might be racing against themselves, trying to beat their best time from before. But a lot of people don’t even pay attention to their times, and there’s no rule saying you have to.
Keep after it.
When you first start running, it will probably feel hard. It might feel like a slog. There is an initial hurdle you have to clear as your body adjusts to the exertion. But once you do adjust, it starts to get a little easier. In my case, once I could run 15-20 minutes without stopping, I felt a noticeable shift; my body seemed suddenly able to tolerate running better than ever before, and I started enjoying the whole experience a lot more.
Even if you’ve never considered yourself a runner, you might be surprised at what you can do. Sometimes, the hardest part of doing a new thing is just getting started with it — and if you start running and stick with it, you’ll add a great new mode of activity to your repertoire that can keep you healthy for years to come.
What about you? Are you curious about running? Or, if you already are a runner, how’d you get your start? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.