We’ve all heard how great running is for your mind, body, and spirit. I never really believed it until I took up running a couple of years ago. I was stunned by the transformation created in every aspect of my life.
After about a year of running, I was fitter, cuter, more confident, and more energetic than I’d ever imagined possible. I was calmer, a better mother, wife, friend, and employee. The change was dramatic.
But it took me 34 years to get there. I’d always been a wannabe runner. I would see these lithe, energetic people bounding down the street and wish I was one of them. But I wrote it off, deciding I was too fat or not athletic enough to run. Plus, the few times I’d gotten over myself and did run, I wound up panting, exhausted and hurt. I decided I was not born to run.
But then, a beautiful friend helped me get started the right way, and her beautiful husband introduced me to the book No Need for Speed by John Bingham. With their support and encouragement, I learned a few things that will help you go from wannabe to runner, too.
Invest in a good pair of running shoes
I heard this for years and ignored it for years, and I wore my regular old shoes every time I started an ultimately-failed running program.
But this time, I went to a running store (I know, I know. It’s embarrassing and intimidating to step foot into a place you obviously don’t belong. But I’ve found that runners love other runners, and veteran runners love helping new runners. You will be surprised and heartened by how helpful and non-judgmental they are). They figured out what kind of stride I have and whether or not I pronate or overpronate (I do one of them, but I can never remember which one.)
They got me the right shoes, and I cannot tell you what a difference it made. You’re going to be sore when you start a running program. There is no getting around that. But you shouldn’t be in pain. The time I finally broke down and got the running shoes was the first time I was able to run without pain.
Take it s…l…o…w…
This is important for everybody, but it’s especially important if you’ve ignored step number one and don’t have good shoes. Starting out slowly will decrease your chances of getting hurt, and increase your enjoyment of the process.
As complete beginners, we try to run the way we’ve seen people running: quickly and efficiently. We race out of the gate, trying to run as far as we can, as fast as we can. We end up at the ends of our driveways, panting, flushed, knees hurting, and hoping our neighbors will buy the story that we were being chased by a killer hornet.
When I say go slow, I don’t mean pretty slow. I mean painstakingly, little-old-ladies-in-walkers-are-passing-you slow. I mean molasses. I mean you are running so slowly that you could easily get where you’re going faster by walking. Slowly. If you think you’re running so slowly you couldn’t possibly go any slower, slow down just a little.
My friends call it trudging. Because when you’re first starting out, how fast you’re going or how far you can run aren’t important. What is important is getting your body used to the motion of running. It feels like you’re going nowhere. It feels stupid and silly. You already feel dumb running in front of your neighbor’s house, and then, if you’re trudging, it takes you five minutes to get past it.
It feels dumb now, but it will save your knees and your lungs and your pride in the long run. You can take off sprinting today and spend the next week discouraged and unable to walk, or you can trudge today and the day after tomorrow, and then again two days after that. (You shouldn’t run every day—your body needs time to recover.)
Not only should you run slowly, you should not run the whole time. When I was just starting out, I would walk for about two minutes and run for 30 seconds to a minute. If you’re trudging, this shouldn’t be too painful. If you are gasping for breath at the end of your minute, you are going too fast. At the end of your minute, you should feel like you could do it for another minute. You can. Just not today.
Over a period of weeks, you will be able to slowly decrease the amount of time you spend walking and increase the amount of time you spend running.
Run your own race
My mantra for the first six months of running was “It’s not about them. It’s about me.” I was worried about what the neighbors were thinking, or what the guy on the treadmill next to me was thinking. I was worried that they thought it was stupid of me, this little overweight drama club girl, to be trying to run.
When these thoughts started taking over, I’d look straight ahead and repeat my mantra.
There is always going to be someone faster or slower than you are. There will always be somebody with better or worse form. There will always be someone with cuter running clothes. There will always be the girl who looks like she knows exactly what she is doing, and you will feel stupid.
But it doesn’t matter. You are here to run your own race, live your own life. Put on your blinders and go for it full-on.
Celebrate little accomplishments
Soon, your body will get more used to the motion of trudging, and you will be able to do it a little faster. And a little farther. Before you know it, you’ll be doing two minutes of running and thirty seconds of walking.
I live just a few blocks away from a park and I used to think to myself, “Someday, I will run from my house to here.” It is not an impressive distance by any means (I’ve never actually measured it, but I know it’s less than a mile. Probably less than half a mile). But the day I ran all the way from my house to the park, I stopped and cried. I’d always wanted it, but I never thought it would happen for me. It wasn’t a world record, I didn’t do it quickly, but it was my personal achievement, and I celebrated it.
Don’t wait to call yourself a runner
I thought I wasn’t a real runner because I was too slow. Then, I got a little faster and decided I wasn’t a real runner because I didn’t do races. Then, I entered a race but thought I was too overweight to be a “real” runner. I finished a half-marathon, but then I decided that real runners run full marathons. Who knows what will happen if I ever lose my mind and decide to do a full marathon?
But after the half-marathon, I realized that a runner isn’t someone who runs races, or runs a certain speed or distance. A runner is someone who makes the decision every day to put on their shoes and go out there and put one foot in front of the other.
A runner is someone who fights those demons in her head, heart and soul and does it anyway.
A runner is someone who runs.
I promise you, if you get out there with some good shoes, take it slowly, run your own race and celebrate yourself along the way, you will be a runner, too.
When Amy isn’t trudging or pretending to be Diego with her kids, she is learning to embrace who she really is at her blog, ActualAmy.com.