I Never Thought I Could Be a Runner, Until I Tried These 6 Tips
I remember the first time I started running seriously. I’d catch myself parked at a street light watching runners in different sizes and shapes darting back-and-forth and thought, “Maybe I should try running too.” It wasn’t an easy beginning. I’d sprint for a quarter mile around my Houston apartment complex, pause when I lost my breath, and only move again when I thought I could push myself further up the street.
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While my desire to run came from a need to move my body that didn’t require equipment or spending tons on a gym membership, it seemed like an uphill challenge. I sensed a burning in my chest when I ran for less than 10 minutes, but I continued despite feeling uncomfortable and not certain whether I had the proper running form.
As I started running more consistently, I added more mileage. I’d build momentum based on previous runs, trying not to feel dejected when I ran slower or had to walk. When I started running, I didn’t think I had the energy or endurance to complete a mile; since then, I started running 5Ks and have even completed three half-marathons. However, slowly increasing mileage limits and moving toward bite-size goals helped me move toward running half-marathons.
If you’ve never ran before, don’t worry. Here are six tips to help you become a runner, no matter your starting point.
Start slow and stay consistent.
In the initial days of establishing a running routine, it is important to not feel discouraged and oftentimes setting unreachable goals will make you feel like you failed, when in reality, you weren’t ready to reach a particular milestone. The last thing you want to do is to set an unreachable goal on day one of your running practice.
“The most important thing is to start slow and small,” ultramarathoner Jennifer Rizzo tells Apartment Therapy. “Start with run/walk intervals. You can use a free app and set intervals for running 30 seconds, walking a minute. Then after a week or so (depending on how your body feels) work up to 1:1 minute. Then 2:1 minutes, etc. Remember that most runners walk sometimes, and you shouldn’t feel bad walking.”
When I started running, I measured it by half-mile laps, and gauged how my body felt each day before adding or adjusting how many laps I ran. I charted my progress on a paper calendar and also used a watch to log my time and try to increase my speed by a few seconds. Having a way to measure my progress helped me stay consistent with my goals.
Find a buddy.
When I started training for my half-marathon, I noticed that when I ran alone, I didn’t always meet my goals. To motivate myself, I connected with a neighbor and friend who wanted to also start running and complete a half-marathon. On days when we were set to run early in the morning, I would get out of bed because I knew she would be waiting for me. I became more accountable to both my running practice and my friend. And although I do enjoy running alone, I push myself more when I am accountable to another person in my running practice.
Some days, running in solitude is enough, while you might benefit from the collective motivation of a running group on others. “You can run independently or with others, and you just might want to take your pup,” Bonnie Frankel, an award-winning runner and coach, tells Apartment Therapy.
Listen to music or a podcast.
When I am running long distances, I frequently listen to a playlist I enjoy or find an entertaining podcast. I often become so engrossed in the podcast that running becomes secondary. Sometimes I might run longer because I gain extra momentum by listening to a song that I adore.
If you enjoy listening to music and have a few songs that help you feel energized, I recommend creating a playlist ahead of time and so you’re not fumbling midrun to find the music you enjoy. Plenty of apps like Spotify and Pandora have preset music playlists that you can also try. Pick songs with motivating lyrics and don’t forget to find the right headphones — you don’t want them to fall out just as you’re hitting the right stride.
Using running as a way to meditate.
Many people associate meditation with sitting still or being perfectly quiet, but I find moving my body helps to put me in a zen place. When I’ve had a particularly difficult day, running helps me deal with anger, sadness, and anxiety, and I often run to get a better grasp of my emotions.
Frankel agrees with the meditative aspect of running. “Running can be used as a psychological tool to meditate,” she says. “It will focus your mind, and keep it in the present moment. It takes you away from your worry loop.”
Invest in the right clothing and shoes.
When I first started running, I would simply put on a cotton t-shirt, some shorts, and tennis shoes that I had for a few years. I soon realized having the right kind of clothes and running shoes makes a difference. Once I built a rhythm in my running regime, I bought a couple of pairs of shorts and a sports bra, and invested in a quality pair of running shoes. After running consistently for six months, I went to a runner’s shop to have my gait analyzed, and purchased shoes that reflected my natural form. It was an expense, but helped me reach my running goals without injury and additional discomfort.
“Asking friends who run what they wear is ok, but know that what works for one runner won’t always work for another,” Rizzo says. She added that good running stores will “will analyze your gait, make recommendations and let you try [the shoes] out. Note that you should change your shoes every 250-300 miles.”
Find the right surface for your run.
Though it might be convenient to hit the pavement just outside your front door, mixing up surfaces can be kinder to your body overall. Initially, I ran on sidewalks and streets, but after a few months, I noticed my joints started feeling an ache. I switched to running on gravel and trails, which proved to be less strenuous on my legs and hips.
“It can be helpful to run on gravel (like a rail trail or bike path) as opposed to a road. Not only is this safer as you won’t have to worry about cars, but it’s much better on your joints and your body will recover faster,” tells Apartment Therapy.
Frankel also has a similar recommendation. “I do recommend that you run on a surface that is kind to your body: grass, dirt, sand, and a bouncy track.” When I experimented with different surfaces, I kept track of how I felt the next day to determine what my body was telling me in terms of comfort and my exercise potential. Depending on how you run, you may need to experiment to find the surface that works best for you.