Last September my husband kind of sort of "tricked" me into doing a (tiny) triathlon. In my recounting of it I talked about additive health goals, separating my body's weight from it's ability, and how much I hated running.
I really, really hated running. I was convinced that I had the "wrong" body for it. My wide hips weren't "aerodynamic enough" and my there wasn't a sports bra in existence that could tame my bounce. (More on the bra thing in a bit.)
But now, over half a year later, I find myself averaging three runs a week and able to run five miles. I recognize five miles is nothing to some of you runners out there, but it's a big deal to me and I'm not going to act like it isn't. After four years of standing on the sidelines, watching my husband rack up miles and burst through finish lines, I've somehow found myself waking up before the sun to go race in the rain, and no one is more surprised than I am. (Let's be real, I'm not exactly a beacon of healthy behavior.)
But recently, a couple of people have been asking me "how I started running" so I thought I'd share what little amount of information I've learned during my training. Developing this habit hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be.
I was not "born to run." I come from curvy, squat stock and my legs are disproportionately short compared to my torso. I will never be one of those tall, gazelle-like women with my race day braid flowing behind me. But the great thing about running is that it's not a beauty contest.
I doubt I'll ever win an age group placement. I'm not planning on doing a full marathon. This is not a guide for people who want to become elite runners or run ultras. This isn't even for intermediate runners. These are just little tips and tricks I've learned that might help people like me — people who are utterly convinced they are not "runner material" — start running for their health and well-being.
1. Set goals that have nothing to do with weight loss.
I cannot stress this enough. If you are running only to lose weight, it will be a joyless and disappointing activity. Do not think of running as a "punishment" for all of your supposed corporeal sins. Think of it as something you are doing to enhance your well-being.
Don't worry about how many calories you're burning. Instead, focus on accomplishments that are directly related to your ability to run. (I know! Crazy!) Instead of tracking the size of your body, track what your body can do. Right now I'm focusing on miles, but number of runs in a week and active minutes are also great ways to track your progress.
For me, the most motivating goal is singing up for a race. Once my money is down and I have an exact date to train for, I become more focused and determined to get up to a certain distance. (My long-term goal right now is to complete this half-marathon. I already have R2-D2 ears, so I'm halfway there.)
2. Get good gear (and stock up when you find a favorite).
Shoes, pants, sports bras, and even socks can have a huge impact on your performance and enjoyment. Running is all about consistent, repetitive motion, and "small annoyances" like itchy tags or leggings that won't stay up can become big problems on longer distances. (And may even lead to injury.)
Finding my "perfect" running ensemble has been less about looking cute and more about minimizing boob pain and chafing. My favorites so far are:
Nike Dri-FIT Running Capris -- I will never wear tiny little shorts while running. I came out of the womb with thighs that touch and the feel of Body Glide really grosses me out. It's much easier to throw on a pair of capri pants, which not only prevent chafing and literally cover my ass but don't move around. Not an inch. I can run all day without the waistband sliding down, which is more than I can say for a lot of running pants. (I mean, I can't actually run all day, but if I could those capris would stay up.)
Unfortunately, running companies seem to change their designs constantly and Nike no longer sells my favorite iteration of these running pants. I'm going to try these, but the moral of the story is that once you find your love, buy a bunch of it so you never have to say "goodbye."
Moving Comfort Juno Raceback Sports Bra -- Let's talk boobs. Back when my triathlon post went up, a few of you (very politely) told me that my several-years-old, lightly-elastic sports bra from Target wasn't cutting it in terms of support. A couple of helpful commenters and a few runner friends swore by Moving Comfort, so I went to REI and tried on every sports bra they had that was recommended for D-cups and jumped around in the dressing room. The Fiona was pretty good and the Maia was even better, but neither fully tamed the bounce. Then I tried the Juno and I was a convert, a zealot even. When I wear this bra, my chest is the least jiggly part of my body, a fact which seems to defy not only everything I know about my boobs, but physics.
Nike Free Training Shoes -- When I tried to start running a few years ago, I went to one of those fancy shoe stores with the treadmill cameras and got my gait analyzed. I was fitted with a pair of very supportive, somewhat clunky shoes and I hated them. They made my feet feel heavy. These shoes are nice and light and have been supportive enough so far. (Note: Shoes are an extremely personal issue. Try on as many pairs as you can until you find the perfect fit; these are just what works for me. Also I just read Born to Run so I'm all about minimalist foot-ware right now.)
I'm still looking for a good pair of headphones (no ear bud will stay in my tiny ear-holes, even when I'm stationary) and shirts that I don't feel compelled to tug on (currently rocking worn-out cotton tees; may stick to those). I also haven't found an armband that doesn't drive me insane, so I just carry my phone (for music).
3. Determine if you're a pack animal or a lone wolf.
I prefer running by myself, which is weird because I love being around people. Running is one of the few times that I am completely disconnected from the Internet and social media and adding another person kind of robs me of that blissful silence.
For me, running is not something that I can do on auto-pilot. It is a mindful activity during which I am constantly making tiny adjustments to my speed, stride, and posture. Running with someone else, even a silent someone else, distracts me from this mindfulness.
That being said, you may not be like me. I have friends who vastly prefer to run with others and love chatting while they run. The good news is that you get to decide what kind of runner you are because it's your activity and you don't have to share it with anyone else.
4. Start smaller than you think you need to.
Once you decide that running is about building your ability and not about "burning off that cheeseburger," you are free to build that ability by taking the babiest of steps. The best tip my marathon-running husbro gave me was "just do something three times a week, for at least 12 weeks, then worry about how far you're running." That something can be walk-running half a mile. Eventually it will become a habit. After two months of running three times a week, I started to crave the activity and felt antsy if I didn't run every couple of days. That's when I knew I was "in trouble."
Truthfully -- and this is going to sound like bad news -- I didn't start enjoying my runs until I got past two and a half miles. I didn't experience runner's high until I hit four. Even now, the first two miles are always my least favorite; it seems to take at least that long for me to properly warm up. But once I'm warmed up it feels good. It's also worth noting that I have never regretted a run. I always come back in a better mood.
5. Don't do it if you don't want to.
I have some friends who run every day. One dude is on his five hundredth day of his streak or something insane like that. That's great for him and I am very impressed, but that would never work for me because that sounds like a chore and the moment running becomes a chore I'll probably quit.
As someone who can lean toward obsessive behavior, it's important that running not become a compulsion, and that I only do it as much as I want to. Does that mean that I gleefully bound out the door for every run? No. But I've learned to tell the difference between "not wanting to because of inertia" and "not wanting to because today is just not my day." I know that sounds vague, but it's all part of listening to your body and knowing what kind of running schedule works best for you.
6. It's OK to be proud of yourself.
I know we all complain about Facebook friends who clog up our feed by posting mundane details of their daily (or not so daily) workouts. I'm not suggesting you become "that person," but sharing big accomplishments with your family and friends (and even Internet friends) more often than not is met with words of warm and sincere encouragement, and those things help more than you think. (In addition to encouragement, my mom keeps saying things like "What have you done with my daughter?!" because we, as a family, have a hard time with "feelings" and "sincerity.")
Take pride in your abilities, and try your very hardest to not compare yourself to others. There will always be someone who is better and faster than you, but that has nothing to do with your running. In the wise and wonderful words of Baz Luhrmann:
Don't waste your time on jealousy
Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind
The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself
(Sorry to quote lyrics at you but I was deeply affected by that song as a pre-teen.)
Anyway. Those are my tips for becoming a "runner." I'm still not totally comfortable calling myself that and I still feel a little bit like an impostor, but I also feel a small, cautious amount of pride. This is something I'm capable of, and it's still pretty surprising.