How to Start Running

If you’re a new runner, the struggle is too real.

I used to think there was no pain on this earth more awful to endure than running. The slow, painful drudge of placing one foot in front of the other. Each step felt like a new form of agony. The only mile (yes, 1 actual mile) I ever jogged in my teenage years (but really, mostly walked) had felt like a hot and endless stretch around the lowest circle of hell.

Fast forward a few years. I’ve trained for and run three half marathons with little difficulty. The best part of my day is usually my run. I spend all day looking forward to it. I’m sad when it’s over. The screenshot above was my 2016 birthday run, my gift to myself since I was recovering from an injury and couldn’t do a half marathon on my birthday that year.

Somehow, I went from having a loathing, hateful fear of even having  to run 50 yards to being a runner who treats herself to a special birthday run?

I (slowly) uncovered the solutions to these common running problems that all beginner’s face, but no one seems to want to talk about. I’ll never forget what it feels like to be a beginner runner. So here are some helpful tips to leave the beginner stage behind.

Struggle #1: My feet hurt! My shins hurt! Everything hurts!

The Answer: Running Shoes.

I know this sounds basic, but running shoes are made for running. It’s not a generic term like “tennis shoes” or “sneakers.” Running shoes exist for a reason — to make running more pleasant. I had a friend who ran in old golf shoes and wondered why his legs, knees, feet and hips gave him so much pain during and after a run. Running shoes are worth every penny. Go to a local running store and have them do a gait analysis and fit you with a pair of shoes. It will change your world. Running shoes take a few runs to really break in, so don’t expect the first run out of the gate to be perfect, but it will be better. And as you wear them on more runs, it will be increasingly comfortable. I’m a huge fan of Brooks. Go buy Brooks shoes. (They did not pay me to say that)

Struggle #2: I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe when I run! 

The Answer: Do a Run/Walk Combo to Train Your Heart

Like every other muscle in your body, your heart has to be trained. It’s okay if you’re out of breath on your first run. You should be!

Here’s what you do when you feel like you can’t breathe — decrease your activity level, but don’t quit. Once you feel that tightness in your chest, slow down to a walk. Walk until you feel almost recovered, and then run again. Do that over and over. It sounds like torture (it might be torture), but these intervals have so many incredible health benefits. It’s not easy starting out. But one day, you’ll realize that the tightness and breathlessness in your chest and lungs has vanished and suddenly you don’t need to walk. You just run. And run.

Programs like Couch to 5K are a perfect way to do run/walk intervals at a beginner level that’s designed to push you, but not to kill you. Couch to 5K made a runner out of me. Read my Couch to 5K Review and Tips for more info.

But really, you should see your doctor before you take up exercise. Just to make sure you don’t have heart conditions.

Struggle #3: I’m not a runner. I’m not built for running.

The Answer: You can run. You are born to run. You just  have to start running.

Good news: All humans are born to run. It’s in our biological make up, so you’ve got that going for you. Additional good news: You can make yourself into a runner.

To be a runner, you have to run. It’s that simple. You have to be willing to train and put in hard work. You have to be willing to stick with it long enough for your body to get stronger. Unless you have severe medical problems, you can be a runner. Be the best runner you can be — and if you find that you put forth and effort, your body (with some training) will do amazing things for you.

Struggle #4: I don’t have time to run! I don’t have a place to run! I don’t have a friend to run with!

Answer: Plan time for running in your schedule, map your route, find a friend or find solace in running alone. (Spoiler: Running alone is wonderful)

Finding time: To truly find time for running, you need to make it as important as any other meeting in your calendar. You’ll constantly make excuses and find something more important than running if you’re not dedicated. Schedule a run into your calendar. Even if it’s just 20-30 minutes.

Mapping your route: Use an app like MapMyRun to plan your routes before you head out the door. The app is free and if you run with your smartphone, it will give you updates while you’re running, map your route and track your distance! If you’re willing to invest in a GPS watch, you could do that too. A GPS watch will track your time, pace, speed and distance.

Finding a running buddy or finding the joy in running alone: See if you can find a reliable, dependable friend who is new to running, or who matches your pace. Having a time, place and friend already designated for your run can be an excellent source of motivation. If you can’t find a running buddy, you can learn a lot of self-disciple and find a lot of personal peace by running alone.

Struggle #5: I’m not fast enough. I’m too slow. I look and feel stupid when I run.

The Answer: Don’t beat yourself up. Trust your body, take it slow and don’t quit.

Don’t worry about speed. At all. Speed will come. Once your heart and lungs are trained, your body is used to running and your bones and joints have strengthened — speed will come. When you’re just starting out, all that matters is that you’re moving.  Even if you’re running slow or you think you look awful when you’re running, YOU ARE RUNNING. And that’s all that matters. Keep moving. Keep going.

Bonus: 

  • Don’t run on an empty stomach. Food is fuel. If you try to go running without proper nutrition, you will crash and burn. Here’s what to eat before runs and when you should eat it.
  • Drink plenty of water. Don’t try to go out for a run in 80 degree heat when all you’ve had all day is a dixie cup of water. It will be a thoroughly unpleasant experience.
  • Avoid running during the hottest parts of the day. Try for mornings or evenings!

My Favorite Running Tools and Resources:

MapMyRun: Use this free smartphone app to record workouts and log workouts.

Runner’s World Tools & Calculators: Runner’s World has every tool you could ever need, from pace calculators to hydration calculators, what to wear when running based on weather and a running shoe finder.

Born to Run: This book changed my entire perspective on running. My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year. Definitely worth reading for anyone who thinks they can’t be a runner.

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