I know I’m biased, but I think running is a great activity. It is simple, straightforward, and as Oprah said: “You get out of it exactly what you put into it.”
What To Remember As You Become A Runner
It is hard to be a beginner – at anything.
Everyone around you seems so much better, faster, and thinner than you. You look at what you are doing and you know how much better you can and should be.
But the only way to get better is to keep going.
A few things to remember as you begin your running journey:
You Are A Runner
Some new runners fret over if they can call themselves a runner.
They look at their slow pace or their walk breaks and fear that they are not worthy of the title of ‘runner’. Or they look to the pages of Runners World or on Instagram and think they look too different from the thin, toned bodies they see.
Being a runner is a state of mind, not a pace.
There are no prerequisites to be a runner. You don’t have to do races or run a certain pace to be a runner.
You are a runner when you say you are a runner, when you think of yourself as a runner.
Repeat after me: I am a runner.
From day 1: Know you are a runner.
Maybe you can’t (yet!) run more than a block without walking. You are still a runner.
Maybe you can’t (yet!) run a 5K, you are still a runner.
Think of yourself as a runner, identify as a runner. Then go and do the things that runners do.
Build Habits First
As you start running, your first priority should be building exercise habits. Getting used to heading out the door (or hitting the treadmill) on a regular basis, even if it is only to walk.
To make this easier as you start:
Walk as much as you need to. Walk 100% of the time if you have to.
There are some snobs who say if you ever take a walk break, you can’t call yourself a runner. This is ridiculous, elitist and not true.
I’ve been running for 20 years and have run 27 marathons, and it’s rare that I go for a run that doesn’t involve some walking. Many of the top coaches in the world (including Jeff Galloway and Hal Higdon) encourage walk breaks for all runners.
Run until fatigued, walk until recovered.
When you start running, run at a conversational pace (a pace where you can still carry on a conversation with your running partners).
Build habits and increase your strength. Going too fast, too soon, will only lead to burn out, injury, and leave you discouraged.
Don’t worry about being fast. Getting faster can come later when you’ve built a running habit.
For now: Walk fast, run slow.
Have A Goal
Set a goal (or two) when you start running.
Maybe it is a goal race, a distance to run without stopping, or a goal pace.
Knowing that you are working towards a goal can give you something to focus on, or provide inspiration when you don’t want to head out for a run.
Personally, I’m terrible about heading out for a run for its own sake. If I’m not training for something, every run can be a challenge. I’ll have a million excuses not to run. But if I am training for a goal event, sticking with the program is so much easier!
Nothing good ever comes from comparison.
Don’t compare where you are or the progress you are making to… well… anything. Not to your running partners, not to elite runners, not Facebook friends, not to where you were in college, not to where you are in your daydreams.
Everyone is on their own journey. We all face unique challenges and benefit from unique strengths.
Have the courage to be where you are.
Make progress at the rate you are making it.
Beware of Social Media
Beware of running-related social media consumption as you start running.
There are vast and active Instagram and Facebook running communities. Many runners post amazing pictures of their running successes (‘what an easy 7 mile run at my leisurely 7:00/ mile pace! And look, I didn’t even break a sweat!’).
Some runners are inspired by those posts, but it can be a fine line to those same posts becoming discouraging and disheartening.
Find people who will support you and encourage you on your running journey. People who will have your back when you struggle, when you doubt yourself, when you need a burst of support and enthusiasm.
These people can be real-life friends or virtual ones – whatever works for you and the community you need.
Try a few different running communities if you don’t respond to the first one you try. Running communities can vary greatly on how welcoming they are to slower/beginner/run-walk runners.
Consider Where You May Struggle
As you begin, consider where you may struggle.
I hope you don’t think I’m jinxing you by acknowledging potential struggles before you start, but it is important that you know you will occasionally struggle.
It’s not just you. You aren’t doing anything wrong. All runners occasionally struggle and have bad runs.
If you’ve tried running before and the habit didn’t stick, where did you lose momentum? When (and why) did you give up on your New Year’s Resolution to go to the gym regularly?
Consider where you were, mentally and physically, when you’ve struggled.
What can you do to minimize the impact (if not entirely remove) those stumbling blocks before you reach them? For example, set up accountability calls with running friends. Create plan B (non-running) workouts if you think travel or weather may prevent you from going out for a run, so you can at least stay active.
Create Rewards Or Accountability
Use your support network to help keep you on track by creating rewards or accountability.
Consider if you respond better to positive or negative reinforcement. It is more straightforward to set up rewards for positive actions (for example: I will buy a new running outfit after my first 5K), but some people respond better when trying to avoid negative consequences.
I have a friend who I bugged for years to quit smoking. When she was finally ready to quit, she enlisted me for accountability. But she didn’t want my positive reinforcement – not smoking was all the positive reward she needed. She wanted me to check in regularly and ‘harass her’ (her words) if she slipped. She knew she’d respond best when trying to avoid my harassment (again, her words). I’m happy to report she’s been smoke-free for years!
If you take this kind of negative approach, it is imperative that those you enlist to help are trusted and supportive (you don’t want active hostility), but work with what works for you.
Good Luck and Happy Running!
What did you need to be reminded of as when you began running?