That’s my secret confession: I’ve never been athletic. I have no hand-eye coordination, I hate to lose, and I don’t like to depend on teammates. I wish I were healthier and a little more able to play an impromptu game of floor hockey in the gym at church without being completely winded. I think running is the best fit for my goals to gain some cardiovascular fitness, lose some stress, combat some minor nagging depression and generally feel better about my body.
I’ve been sort of running since September. I think I’m quite close to becoming the kind of runner I want to be. I’ve even set a goal for myself: Run a 5K fun run at the end of April. This is pretty impressive for the girl that could never even come close to completing the compulsory 12-minute runs for phys. ed in high school. I’m looking forward to becoming one of “those people” that can deal with stress by exercising instead of demolishing a bowl of ice cream, or at least becoming the kind of person that does both.
Becoming a runner is something that most people won’t understand. Be prepared to take a little bit of heckling for wanting to be one of those strange people in the moisture-wicking top and high-performance shoes that appears to be fleeing an unseen threat (or possibly seeking an unseen reward). At least one person is going to tell you how running will ruin your body. I don’t think running is ruining my body. I’ve been at it for months, and the worst injury I’ve had is the occasional sore muscle. Sitting on my couch watching TV was ruining my body.
If you, too, secretly wish you were a runner, I have a few tips for you:
1. Get some decent shoes. Without good shoes, you will probably hate running. You’ll end up with blisters and shin splints and generally not want to continue with something that causes you pain. The best shoes for running will come from a running store, where they check your gait and feet and pick out something just for you. I haven’t quite gotten around to doing that yet, but I did make sure I had shoes with good support that fit me well. Make sure that they’re actual “running” shoes, not just the cross trainers you’ve used for everything for the last few years.
2. Start slow. Don’t run every day. In the beginning, you should run no more than three days a week, even if you are capable of more. Running is hard on your joints and muscles in a very different way than most activities. Keeping it to only three days a week for three months or so gives your body time to adjust and strengthen the parts that need it. If you want to work out more than that, do anything but run on your other days, and take at least one day completely off.
3. Run slow. Most of the problems you’ll hit as a beginner can be fixed by running slower. If you can’t finish the interval that you’re aiming for, run slower. It’s hard to do at first, but, as you gain endurance, your speed will improve without much effort at all.
4. Commit to a program. I did a nine week Couch-to-5K training program from www.coolrunning.com that took me from someone that was winded after running 90 seconds to someone that can go for half an hour straight. There are “learn to run” training programs all over the Internet that can give you guidance as to good run/walk intervals to turn yourself into a runner. The structure of a program makes it easy to see progress from week to week, which makes it easier to keep at it. Cool Running also has great forums full of people to offer you encouragement and advice.
5. Know that from the first time you go out with the intent to run, you are a runner. Even if you run for a broken three minutes in your 20-minute workout, you are a runner. Even if you’re slow, you are a runner. All it takes for the crazy community of running to accept you is that you’re trying to run. I am a runner, and you can be a runner, too.