Beginner Running Advice From a Beginner Runner, Part 1: How to Start

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything… Mostly because I haven’t had anything new to say. But after fielding the same question from several different people, I now have a great topic. That question is: What running advice do you have for someone just starting out? When people ask me this, my reaction has four parts:

  1. Why are you asking me? I’m not a runner.
  2. I’m flattered you think I’m a runner, though!
  3. Well, when I think about it, every other post I make on social media is of me after a run, so…
  4. Maybe I do know something about running!

Now, if you just met me in the past year or so, you might think all I do is run, exercise, and wear tight, flashy activewear. Not true! Actually, for most of my life, the only running I did was to class or to the TV to catch a sports replay I missed because I was busy getting another soda (while wearing baggy cargo shorts, or, for a while, baggy jean shorts). As such, I feel particularly qualified to speak to those of you who have little to no experience with doing anything physical for “leisure.” I am no former amateur athlete (though I did play two semesters worth of IM basketball in college) or someone who even enjoyed running until recently, so I’m here to say, “Yes, no matter your experience, you can get into running (or any other physical activity) and grow to embrace it.”

Full disclosure: I am no running coach. Everything I’m about to share is based on my own running experience. I don’t belong to any running clubs, I don’t know what the best running form is (right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot works well for me), and I couldn’t even tell you a famous runner unless his name rhymes with Insane Colt. I’m just a dude who had one goal in mind when he started running about two years ago: I just don’t want to walk.

With that, I will break this topic into (at least) three parts:

  1. How to Start
  2. How to Stay Occupied
  3. How to Equip Yourself

Let’s begin!

How to Start

To answer this point, I will share a story. My running journey started in June 2013. I signed up for the SF Giants 5K (3.1 miles) with my buddy, scheduled in late August. In June, it hit me–this run is coming up, and I don’t think I can run a block without dying, let alone 3.1 miles. So I gave myself this modest goal: Don’t walk or stop during any part of the 5K. I didn’t care about time or pace. I simply wanted to not walk.

How does one prepare to not walk? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t glamorous: I went to the local track twice a week, endeavoring to run/jog 3.1 miles. For the first month, I probably stopped at the 0.75-1.5 mile mark each time. I simply couldn’t go further. My lungs burned, my feet hurt, I felt dizzy–not fun. I was also much heavier at that time, which made running even more difficult. However, I also knew that if I let the pain get to me and I stopped, there was no way I would achieve my goal. Thus, I kept at it–twice a week, plodding along the track, thinking about how much running sucks and how being overweight sucks and other self-pitying pejoratives. It’s part of it, and it’s OK to be angry and hate it. What’s important is not losing sight of your goal–whatever it is–and trusting the process. For me, I knew that if I kept running, eventually, my legs would get used to it and it wouldn’t be as painful–human beings are wonderfully adaptable creatures in that way.

And one day in late July, it finally happened. When I approached the stretch I normally stopped at, my brain urged me to keep going–that I had this, don’t stop now. That new confidence boosted me, and I ended up finally making it through my 3.1 mile run. I was the only person at the track that early Saturday morning, but as far as I was concerned, I just won Olympic gold. I overcame a huge mental barrier, which was probably the toughest hurdle of all. (I’ll write about the actual 5K some other day, but spoiler: I ran the whole thing.) Once you know you can do something once–and that you worked for it and earned it–nobody can take that from you.

When you think about it, the act of running is pretty simple: You’re moving your legs at an accelerated pace for as long as you can. There really aren’t any shortcuts around it. Just like with anything else, you get better by actually doing it. Reading blogs or asking for advice about training for a 5K wasn’t necessary from my perspective. I knew how to run. It was just a matter of doing it for 3.1 miles.

Quick side note on race training in particular: I’ve heard some training programs say you don’t even have to run the length of the race (e.g. 13.1 miles for a half marathon) before race day itself–that you build up to it and your adrenaline will carry you through the rest of it. While I understand the logic (and now that I run regularly, I have a much better gauge of what I need to do to prepare for a race), I think that if you’re a new runner, you should try reaching that distance before race day or whatever your deadline is. Knowing you can do something is most of the battle, and contrary to what Allen Iverson believes, practice is how you discover what you can and cannot do.

So, the primary lesson: Don’t let the early struggles knock you off your path. Fight through them and trust that you can overcome a tough day, or week, or month. Running doesn’t necessarily become easier; you simply get stronger.

Keep pushing the pile, friends!

– SS

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One thought on “Beginner Running Advice From a Beginner Runner, Part 1: How to Start

  1. Pingback: Beginner Running Advice From a Beginner Runner, Part 2: Equipping Yourself | Onward and Upward

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