Over the last decade or so, a type of running-craze seems to have swept the nation. In fact, it probably feels like everywhere you turn these days everyone and their grandmother is training for a marathon, buying some elaborate new running gizmo or sporting their latest 5k t-shirt. Everyone, that is, except you.
Sure, you’ve read an article here or seen an advertisement there, and in theory it sounds pretty good. Running is a great form of exercise. It lowers your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, strengthens your heart and lowers risks like cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoarthritis. Not to mention it’s an extremely effective calorie burners and weight loss stimulant. Why, it even puts you in a better mood by releasing endorphins and relieving stress, combating depression and clearing the mind.
You’ve contemplated it. Admired the benefits. Perhaps you’ve even gone so far as to test it out. But each time, reality never fails to reel you back into the same conclusion: Nope. I just really suck at this.
I get it. Believe me, I really do. To be perfectly transparent, I’ve had somewhat of an archenemy relationship with running too –and from an early age. I was that wheezy little butterball on the 5th-grade soccer team that couldn’t kick a ball or finish a lap to save my life. And it didn’t improve with age, as each new (usually unintentional) encounter with running felt more like a near-death experience than exercise. Trendy clothes and equipment didn’t help either, because no matter what I strapped on with the hopes of some miraculous athletic transformation, it was still only me underneath –a slightly more grown, still wheezing butterball.
Then one day I woke up, pulled on my ever-expanding elastic sweat pants, stepped on a dusty weight scale and took a long-dreaded look into the mirror. I was at the heaviest weight I had ever been. My clothes didn’t fit anymore. My self-esteem was lost somewhere in the empty bag of Cheetos I had eaten the night before and sometimes I didn’t even want to leave the house because I felt like I was lugging my most shameful secret around everywhere with me on my bones. I had hit bottom. But with that, I also hit a no-more-nonsense realization: I needed this. Badly.
There was just one problem. I didn’t know how to be a “runner”. But I figured I had nothing left to lose by trying. So I decided to give it a legitimate try this time –on my own terms. And then this crazy thing happened –I did it.
It wasn’t pretty at first. It actually sucked. Like, a lot. But I had determined not to give up this time. Even if I felt like a jiggling idiot, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Strangely enough, after a while I figured out some kind of rhythm that began to feel a little less like death on a hamster wheel. As weeks and then months crept by, I discovered I could go a little longer, farther or faster each time. Until one day, I looked around at the passing trees and whizzing pavement and utterly startled myself: I had become a runner. Then another crazy realization struck me: I didn’t hate it anymore. Crazier still, I had somehow actually started enjoying it.
Now, lest you be fooled, I am not an impressive runner. No one is ever going to hand me a medal or slap my picture onto a t-shirt. And I’m okay with that. Because I encountered something far more exciting: Results.
Not only did it contribute to my ultimately shedding 30lbs, running I also began to awaken something in me I hadn’t felt before. Confidence. Self-esteem. It was one of the first personal achievements I made where I exceeded my own negative expectations of myself. It changed the way I viewed the person in the mirror. And the best part is that the same can be true for you. You don’t have to win a marathon and you don’t have anything to lose by trying. All you have left is an opportunity to be gained by getting started.
Find your pace
This is as unique to each runner as a fingerprint. It’s your body and your workout, so you get to call the shots. I started out walking for 20 minutes every other day. I was self-conscious and uncertain of my physical capabilities –other than knowing I wasn’t capable of setting or maintaining a grueling pace. After a while, I felt confident to add short bursts of jogging intermittently during my walks. From there, I gradually transitioned to mostly jogging and brief sprints of running and eventually a consistent pace where I could push myself. Find a pace that works for you –and remember, running is a judgment-free zone. It’s just you and the road and, between the two of you, you’re the only one who can be critical. Cut yourself some slack and let your body be an ally, not an enemy.
Learn to challenge yourself
Now remember –it is going to suck at first. But don’t let that stop you. Our bodies can’t achieve new levels of physical improvement without being pushed beyond their current capabilities. You’re going to wheeze. Your muscles will tire. You’re going to get those annoying stitches in your sides. Keep going. By challenging yourself to push through the burn –push through the suck– you’re going to breathe easier, get stronger and begin to experience change.
Set goals and track your progress
Give yourself something to strive towards in your running with both short and long-term goals. My initial goals were time-oriented. I wanted to be able to go for 30 minutes instead of 20 minutes. So I timed each of my walks and logged them in a journal, then every two weeks I added five minutes. When I reached that goal, set a new one to be able to jog for 15 of the 30 minutes, and so on until I was running for an hour, covering a certain number of miles or setting new records for time. You could sign up for a 5k like the Color Run, or select new, more challenging run locations. The possibilities are infinite. Just be sure to track your progress in a journal, website or free running app on your phone and keep setting new goals.
Wear the right gear
While having a bunch of fancy running equipment doesn’t make you a good runner, it is still important to make sure you have the basic necessities covered. You don’t need to spend a bundle, but do invest in a solid pair of running shoes, wear comfortable clothing and for the ladies, a supportive sports bra.
Find your motivation for the next mile
During a run, some people can march on to nothing more than the beat of their own feet on the pavement. Others cannot. Personally, I can’t run without a couple ear buds and an MP3 player or I’m so bored I can hardly stand it. You won’t stick to something you can’t stand. Some people like music, books on tape, outdoor scenery, a brainstorming session or a chatty friend. Experiment a little and find what works for you.
Take pride in yourself when you reach a break-through or long-term goal. Announce it on Facebook. Share your success with a friend. If you can afford it, treat yourself to something special now and again. Just make sure to set sensible rewards for yourself –nothing centered around food. A pedicure or afternoon on the golf course. Sometimes the best rewards I’ve given myself have been ones that enhanced my running experience –a new pair of shoes, a running belt, sports headphones or a gadget to help track my runs. Get excited and acknowledge the awesome achievements you’re making in your life and in your health.
All writing copyright © 2013 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
Images copyright © Bigstockphoto.com and Rachel-Elise Weems Woods