How to become a runner -- even if you’ve never been that person

I’m not that person either, TBH

A runner (Tirachard Kumtanom/Pexels photo)

Even if running hasn’t been your workout of choice in the past, maybe you’ve considered it recently.

Sure, the gym is a standard place for exercise, and throwing on a YouTube workout every now and again can be fun, but let’s take your workout outdoors, and truly stretch those legs.

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And that leads us to the pavement. Ready to hit it?

I’m no professional, but I ran a lot of track and a little cross-country in high school, then kept up with the activity for years, despite the fact that I’m not a naturally gifted distance runner. Either way, I thought I’d share some personal tips and advice I’ve gained along the way.

1. If you’re just starting out, try a slower pace than whatever you were envisioning.

Maybe you’re running with a spouse or a double-stroller, or perhaps you’re solo. Either way, you should aim to run at a pace that’s so relaxed, you could have a conversation with someone next to you.

Yes, at first, this might mean you’re going dirt slow. That’s OK! You have to start somewhere.

If you go out regularly enough, your pace will pick up. For now, just worry about building that routine.

2. Walking can be controversial, but you can totally do it.

I was always told that if you start walking, it’s going to be THAT much harder to get yourself running again. I still live by that, and rarely to never walk.

But if you’re not in the best shape or you haven’t jogged in years, you might need to walk at times -- but hey, our goal is just getting ourselves out there, right? Walking is perfectly fine.

There are people who complete entire marathons doing a combination of 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off, alternating walking and running. Whatever works for your body! All of this is still better than sitting on the couch.

3. Set yourself up for success.

Make sure you’re in comfortable and appropriate clothing and shoes. I would recommend getting fitted for a running shoe at a specialty shop, which is worth the extra few dollars you’ll spend.

If you can’t do that right away or money is tight, make sure you’re at least in the very best apparel you own. Don’t head out for day one in any pinchy shoes, and make sure you’ve got your favorite tunes (if you’re into that sort of thing) and your sunblock, with plenty of water on standby.

4. Start small.

Running a mile is a great goal if you’re not very active. Some of those Couch to 5K programs look like they’ll set you off on the right foot, as well, if you’re confused about how far or long you should be running each day.

If you ARE pretty active and you’re just now getting back into running regularly, you can tweak your goals accordingly.

But if you’re truly new to the sport, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by going out every day or aiming for a 10K the first time you lace up.

Perhaps jogging two or three times a week is a good place to start. Once you’re doing that regularly, you can increase your goal. Let’s start with aiming for small victories.

5. Bring some stuff.

Music, like we mentioned, can help you through a tough final mile.

Podcasts are fun if you’d like to focus on something else or zone out.

Wear an activity tracker if you truly want to see your stats: your distance, pace, heart rate, mile 1 vs. mile 3 stats, you name it. You can buy a pretty basic one, a fancier version depending how much data you want, or even just your iPhone can help.

If I’m going out for anything longer than five or six miles, I’ll bring water, as well. Look up a runner’s belt on Amazon -- they’re very affordable, and a lot of them have mini water bottles you can attach, along with a pocket for your phone or keys.

Don’t worry about this one too much if you’re getting started. You’ll figure out what you need as time goes on.

6. Give yourself some scenery.

Do you have a river that runs through town? What about lake access? If there’s anything pretty available, go run toward that! It just makes for a more pleasant experience.

Running can be a great way to show yourself around a part of town you’re not as familiar with. Or even if you’ve lived in your city for 10 years: Change up those routes!

7. Enlist an accountability partner.

You always hear this tip in fitness magazines. But really -- it matters. Even if it’s just your mom asking, “How was your run today?” It’s nice to check in with someone or bounce around ideas on where to go next.

8. Have a goal.

Is there a race at the end of the year you’ve always wanted to try?

I’d encourage more of an “events”-type goal than a weight-loss goal. Sometimes running will build muscle and not necessarily shed pounds (especially right away), or who knows the specifics on your body type. Aim for a fitness goal or something athletic to work toward. Crossing the line of that 10-miler will feel SO rewarding.

9. Once running becomes a regular thing, play with different types.

It doesn’t have to be all monotonous, like, “Lace up the shoes, put on your playlist and head out for 3-5 miles.”

What about doing intervals? Speed work? A long run to balance out some shorter ones you did earlier in the week?

Head to a track, if you can find one that’s open. Time yourself on a 400-meter run (that’s just one lap; and it should be done as pretty close to a sprint. Give it all you have in those final 100 meters). Then try again next week: Did you get faster or slower?

Running doesn’t have to be boring or the same old thing, day in and day out. Have fun with it! Challenge yourself.

10. Relax.

If it seems hard to breathe through your runs at first, just think, “in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth.” Keep it steady. Now aim to breathe even slower. You’ll get the hang of it. Don’t panic, ever. Panic-breathing never leads to anything good.

Keep your face relaxed, as well. Tightening up your face will tighten up your body and your breath.

You should feel your face go blub-blub-blub as you jog -- and that’s how you know you’re relaxed enough.

11. Take care of your body.

Stretch, hydrate, have a recovery snack when you get home, eat well, sleep well. Take your days off.

All those things are SO important to having a good next-day’s run.

12. Don’t get competitive.

After all, you’re only competing against yourself. And it’s admirable that you’re getting out there at all, trying to maintain or kick off a healthy lifestyle! Good for you.

Even if you feel discouraged at times, just think: Six month ago, would you even be in this position, to be frustrated over your 5K times?

13. Give yourself some time to adjust to this new routine.

If you have a bad run, don’t beat yourself up about it. Maybe you went out too soon after lunch, you wore an extra layer and you were hot the whole time or you just weren’t hydrated enough.

Shake it off and try it again tomorrow or the next day. Some days I fly, and others, I’m so sluggish, I wonder what the heck even happened or why I bother. But I made it out, and that’s what matters.

It takes a while before you make a new hobby a routine.

Above all else, you’re setting a good example for your family, you’re maintaining a strong heart and improving your cardiovascular health. Incredible job!

Think of all the people who aren’t even trying.

We think you’re brave for putting yourself out there. No one’s looking at you with scrutiny or wondering why you’re out for a jog at 7 a.m. on a weekend. They’re impressed or likely admire you.

Keep pounding the pavement and know that you’re doing your best.

This story was first published in 2020. It has since been updated.

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