A few days ago in an email from this hottie:
My best friend, Dominique. She’s trying to get into running, and she not-so-subtly demanded:
WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT HOW TO GO FROM COUCH POTATO TO RUNNER.
Ok then, Nini! This post is all for you 😉
For most of my life, I hated running. The mile run in phys ed made me more anxious and apprehensive than final exams. Running laps or sprints in field hockey/lacrosse practice (way back in my middle school days!) made me want to keel over and die. I rarely made it to the gym, but you would certainly never see me on the treadmill! To me, running was a painful, soul-sucking experience that I avoided like a nasty enemy. But my freshman year in college, things changed.
You can do whatever you want.
Dominique confessed that, “I just really hate it, so it is kind of mental,” so I want to start off by saying that you will never become a runner unless you really want to. Though I hated the actual running, I loved the idea of becoming a “runner,” and I had clear reasons why. I loved how easy and convenient running was; you could literally tie on your shoes and just run, anytime, anyplace, for however long. When running, you are absolutely free. The fact that running allows you to zone out, have some “me” time, think things over, and release stress, all while nourishing your body, sounded like a pretty good deal to me. I realized it wasn’t the running I dreaded. What I really feared was confronting the absence of fitness in my life.
So my first step for someone who wants to become a runner would be to write down specifically why you want to run. Here are some reasons:
- Relive stress
- Spend some time outdoors
- Improve my cardiovascular fitness
- Learn an insanely user-friendly way to exercise
- Have some alone time to think
- Feeling powerful, invincible, and confident.
- See how strong I could become.
- Get more energy
- I want feel (and look!) my best (NOT: “I want to get skinny”)
Hopefully, seeing a plethora of enticing benefits will make you think, “Heck yes, I want to do this! Let me go get my sneakers!” **Note: If you only want to run to burn calories and lose weight, then you need to find other, more meaningful reasons to motivate you to get moving. That will only result in over-exercising and low self-esteem.**
In addition, I would write down exactly why you don’t want to run. Be honest! Here were mine:
- Running sucks. It’s too hard. I’m tired. [Over time, running will improve your strength, energy, and endurance, thus solving that very problem.]
- I don’t have time. [Straight-up lie. Running is ideal for someone with a busy schedule. I can spare 30 minutes, any three days per week, any time of day!]
- I’m embarrassed. [No one is looking at you. If they are, they are impressed that you are out there, putting your best efforts into improving yourself.]
Hopefully, you’ll realize that the reasons you hate running aren’t valid. At all. You will see that there is no reason not to give it a try!
Get pumped up!
Now that you are mentally prepared for running, make yourself excited to do it! One of the best motivations for me to start running was that I would run in the most beautiful place I knew. My first runs were in the perfectly cool, crisp Vermont autumn air and among the brilliantly hued foliage. Why wouldn’t I want to spend time outside?! So find the most enjoyable environment you can find for your first runs (like Lake Galena!) so that you have a beautiful setting to enjoy.
Another way I look forward to my runs by buying some new “running” clothes. Don’t spend a lot of money (go to Marshal’s!) but buying some spiffy new workout outfits will motivate you to put them on and hit the pavement. This worked for me! It’s no fun wearing baggy shorts and old t-shirts on my runs. If you look good, you feel good!
Also, when I need an extra boost, I make a killer playlist that I just can’t wait to listen to! Download some new music if you have to. Make it a trashy dance party with songs like “Bass Down Low” by Dev. Make it full of captivating songs that draw you into the moment like “Sweet Disposition” by Temper Trap. I set a rule that I could only listen to music while I ran, which made me look forward to some quality iPod time, since I love music so much.
As you may know, I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan, and honestly, one of the reasons I got into running was so that I could have time to listen to the audiobooks! The Harry Potter audiobooks are so engaging that they distract you from your fatigue, so exciting that they will pump you up, and so addicting that you don’t want to stop! I’m sure other good, “page-turner” type audiobooks would be fun to listen to, like a mystery or love story.
I also have a history of listening to musical soundtracks during my runs: it’s like listening to a movie! Wicked is the best since it is so upbeat and the story is told very well through the music. I bet others like Hairspray would be fun, too!
Take Baby Steps.
If you way out of shape, I would recommend starting with walking. When I was started running, I walked EVERYWHERE (at least 2 miles a day) since I had a long walk to class/work every day. Since Vermont is very mountainous and I like to be early for things, I always walked really fast on challenging terrain, which left me sweaty and panting all the time, but it helped to build up some endurance. I hate how people discredit walking as a lazy form of exercise, because any activity is better than none. You will never, ever regret a workout, however intense it was. Find hills to challenge yourself (the more hills you do, the more flats will seem like a breeze!) and move as fast as your little legs can carry you!
Start with 30 minutes (because everyone should have at least 30 minutes of activity a day!) and gradually start adding in some running. Pick a magic number. Seriously, I did this and I think it is what worked for me! For my first run, I had it in my mind that if I could run for seven minutes straight without stopping, then I would feel really accomplished. I would walk for a bit to warm myself up, then I just listened to my ipod, looked at the beautiful leaves on the groud, and ran, one step at a time, for seven whole minutes. I walked the remaining 15 or so minutes, and I felt amazing! The next time, I shot for 10 whole minutes of running. Check! I slowly added a few minutes each day if I could handle it, and before I knew it, I was running for 25 minutes! It took me a while to get past 30 without feeling too exhausted, but now I can run for up to 1 hour! I just listen to my heartbeat: that tells me when I am actually not working hard enough, or working too hard.
Write out a Game Plan.
The best way to stay focused and not give up is to write out goals and a plan to reach them. Making a schedule will hold you accountable, and make it easy on your time management! Set up achievable goals, and stay away from planning runs every day. That’s an easy way to burn yourself out. This may look like designating 30 minutes, twice a week to the task, or planning each time, distance, and pace. Whatever works for you! Here’s what worked for me:
- Devote 30 minutes after class each Tues. and Wed. to “running”
- Goal for Week 1: Run 7 full minutes without stopping
- Goal Week 2: Run 10 minutes
- Goal Week 3: Run 15 minutes
- Goal Week 4: Run 20 minutes
- Goal Week 5: Run 25 minutes
- Goal Week 6: Run 30 minutes
I was so happy when I was able to reach my goal ahead of schedule! One day I was just like, I think I can keep going! Then, I changed my goals to make them distance-related (using Google Maps). I don’t think you’ll feel the physical benefits of running (which are HEAVENLY!) until a few weeks of dedicated practice, but I was just so proud of what I could done and did do. That was enough of a reinforcement.
F is for “Friends” who do stuff together…
Another thing that might work for you is to find a running buddy! I suggest someone who is already pretty good at running so that they motivate you, but but who been in your situation so they don’t scare you (…ME!) Or, it could be really awesome to find someone in the same situation to work on it with you. Chatting with a friend is way more fun and makes the time go by really fast (just make sure to be brave and tell them if you need a break! Don’t let them accidentally kill ya!). I would stick to Buddy Runs only once a week, because it should be a personal practice. You need plan your goals and workouts according to your own needs.
Even if you want to become a “runner,” I would still suggest doing other cardiovascular workouts so that a) you don’t run yourself into a bored place, and b) it helps build endurance in an “easier” way. I cross-trained mostly with the elliptical, which has always been “easy” for me, but I like spin bikes, too. And Zumba! Just make sure you are working hard! Good thing those machines have (if shotty) heart-rate monitors.
Protect and respect yourself.
If you are serious about becoming a life-long runner, then start a good habit early: strength train! Having strong legs will make running easier and prevent injuries, so do lower-body moves like lunges and squats. You might be sore at first, which could make runs more of a pain, but the benefits to your future runs will outweigh a few harder ones at first! Learn from my mistakes: I really wish I had been doing this all along! You’ll be able to go faster, longer…and safer.
Here comes my inevitable yoga-ends-all-evil rant. Do yoga, it’s what’s good for you. Runners really need to stretch since running takes such a tole on your hamstrings and knees, not to mention everything else it stresses. Strength is one things, but what will really prevent injury is limber muscles. Here are some good knee stretches, but I can also put together a post about yoga for runners in the near future! Focus on your joints (ankles, knees, and hips) but also your entire lower body (hamstrings, calves, quads, and lower back). Yoga is a good habit everyone should become addicted to.
Take it to the next level.
Once you get pretty comfortable with a set of time (for me it was 25 minutes), challenge yourself with a few hills or intervals of sprints. Challenging yourself is really the only way that you will improve your fitness, just like anything in life. Progress only results from effort.
But on that note, you need to learn what works for you. Buy a pretty journal to write about how your runs went: what you did and how you feel. Or email your bffl about it. Or write a blog 😉 Becoming your healthiest you is also about learning what your body needs to be working at its best.
How did you become “a runner”?