“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” – Zig Ziglar
There was a time in the not too distant past that I would have laughed if someone told me I would one day be a runner. Even funnier, if they were to tell me I would actually enjoy it. At one point I thought it was completely out of my reach to run because it was so strenuous and exhausting on my body, I became so out of breath, and I always ended up with painful side stitches. Looking back, I now realize that my only problem was that I was out of shape and full of excuses. I had the “I can’t do it” mentality, and a little of the “I don’t have time to do it” mentality, and the switch just needed to be flipped in my mind. Over the last two years, I have been asked many times for advice and tips on how to get started, how to continue and not give up, and how to love something that seems so completely exhausting. This one is for all of you who are ready to get started, and who are ready to flip the switch. Let’s do this.
I want to start by saying that while this blog is geared specifically towards running, and the new runner, most of these guidelines can also be applied when starting any new exercise program. Physical limitations keep many people from running, but these steps can be taken even if you are trying to find the motivation to start a walking routine. Remember that it is important to know your body and discuss a new exercise regimen with your physician before beginning.
1. Do it for the Right Reasons
So here you are, you want to be a runner. You want to make a major lifestyle change, and you are ready to do this. One question first….why? Now is the time to really do some soul-searching and think about what has brought you to this point, and why you want to go down this path. I am a firm believer that when you do something for the right reasons from the very beginning, that is the moment success begins to bloom. Do you ever watch TV or read magazines and believe that you need a similar “perfect” body? Do you feel like you need to catch up to some of your family or friends who have seemingly perfect lives and figures? Do you think your partner or spouse would find you more attractive if you lost a few pounds and got into better shape? Don’t. Let’s stop there. Don’t ever think you have to look like someone else, or that you have to live up to someone else’s expectations of your own body. Do this for YOU. Want this for YOU. Make this change for your health and for a better quality of life. If you are doing this for yourself from the very beginning, to feel healthier & more alive and to build confidence in yourself, that is when the journey begins. As I mention in my blog Embrace Your Beautiful, you must realize that in this very moment, you are a beautiful person. Love yourself first, just the way you are right now. Find that moment, that moment that you take away all of the social pressure to look a certain way, and embrace your body just the way it is right now. Once you get there, you are ready to do this…for you. That is when you are ready to run down the path that will take your mental and physical health to new heights. Here’s to your health, and for doing this for all the right reasons….you.
2. Mentally Prepare
Before taking on anything new, you need to have the right mindset. Being mentally prepared for what lies before you plays a part in the making or breaking of your success. Go into it with a positive attitude, and take the words “I can’t” out of your vocabulary. Tell yourself you CAN do this, and that you WILL, and that it is only a matter of time and patience. It won’t be easy, if it was, everyone would be doing it. It is hard. It takes time. You have to be dedicated and willing to push yourself. Be prepared for the days you will want to quit, because those days are usually inevitable, and always remember why you started. Also, read, read, read! Knowledge is power, so start soaking it all in. Read as many articles, blogs posts, and tips about running before you start. The more you know, the more prepared you are, and the better off you will be when you finally hit the road.
3. Get Excited
You have made a decision that will change your life in so many positive ways; it’s time to get excited about it! Go shopping for new workout clothes and grab a new pair of tennis shoes to get you moving (this one is oh so crucial for your body – proper support prevents injury!). Start a journal to record your progress, challenges, and accomplishments, put together an awesome music playlist to keep you motivated and moving, and maybe even find a friend to join you on your new journey!
4. Set a Schedule
You are more likely to stick to your routine if you have a schedule. Pick the days and length of time you plan to exercise and stick to it as best as you can. To start, I suggest dedicating 20-30 minutes of your day to running for 3-4 days a week. It is important to be flexible with your schedule but not self-sabotaging. Life happens and we have to be able to adjust. If you miss a day, just pick it up on another day and keep on moving.
5. Set Your Goals
Setting goals is important because they fuel your motivation and keep you pushing forward. Your goals will give you something to constantly strive for and they will keep you focused and determined every step along the way. Write your goals down, look at them often, and when you finally reach one – celebrate your accomplishment and then set a new one in its place! I have found that it is extremely beneficial for me to have overall larger goals, as well as smaller, more daily-focused goals. An example of a large goal may be to lose a specific amount of weight, or to run in your first 5K race. Whatever your goals are, make them realistic but still challenging to you. Set a timeframe that you would like to reach them in order to stay on track and hold yourself accountable. In fact, if one of your goals is to run a 5K, go ahead and find one in the future and sign up now! An example of a small goal can be something as simple as sticking to your schedule, getting out the front door each day, and running at least 3 days out of the week. Something that really helped me during those first few days, weeks, and months that I started running, was to set a goal for each and every run. I would find a point to run to without stopping, and then take a walking break. Since I was running in my neighborhood, I would pick a certain mailbox to run to and then walk to another specific mailbox. Each week, I would push to a mailbox farther out and shorten the distance to the mailbox I walked to. Eventually, I could run around my entire block, which was once unimaginable to me. Lastly, log your progress. I am a visual person, so being able to look at all that I have done and accomplished has really inspired me along the way. It is a way to see those goals being met, one mile at a time. You may prefer to keep a written journal, or use an app like RunKeeper or MapMyRun. Whichever one you prefer, just keep up with your journey somehow! One day you will look back at it with thankfulness and amazement of how far you have come.
6. Build Your Team
Having a support system can be extremely beneficial to your success. Let your close friends and family know about your new routine, and ask for their encouragement and even their company along the way! Some days you will find yourself full of excuses and trying to convince yourself that you can skip a day. Ask your friends and family members to encourage you and hold you accountable on these days, and to remind you of your goals and accomplishments thus far. There have been plenty of times, especially in the beginning, that my husband convinced me to walk out the front door when I was trying to avoid my running days. There were even days he joined me, or offered to go on a long walk with me if that’s all I had in me that day. Additionally, it is important for your friends and family to support your plan and the time you set aside to exercise. If you have children, your partner will need to be on board with handling everything while you get in your 20-30 minutes of running. It’s an excellent example to show our kids that we must care for our bodies and dedicate time to our health.
7. Fuel Your Run
What you feed your body will affect how you feel. And trust me, what you feed your body WILL affect your runs. Having a balanced diet becomes very important because your food is your fuel. Getting the proper amount of calories and nutrients is crucial to your body being able to produce the energy it needs to keep you running, literally. Steer clear of foods that are too high in sugar or fat, and limit highly processed foods. If junk food goes in, your run will feel, well…junky. Hydration is also extremely crucial. If you aren’t already drinking your water, it is time to start now. Toss out the sugary sodas and stick with plain water, your body will thank you later. Diet and exercise go hand in hand, so now is the time to evaluate what you are eating.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is something many of us overlook, however, it is extremely important for our bodies to function at its best. Just as the food we put into our bodies affects our runs, so does the amount of sleep we get (or don’t get). Even while you are sleeping, your body is still working to repair, rebuild, and rehydrate. Those hard-working muscles and bones need you to get the proper amount of sleep in order to prevent injury and burnout. Try to get your body on a good sleeping schedule by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. Watching your caffeine intake and turning off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before heading to bed will also help out tremendously.
9. Warm Up
There are plenty of articles to read and advice to be given on the topic of warm ups and stretches, and I do suggest that you do some reading and research. For me, it has been a trial and error experiment to find what works best for my body, and my suggestion is to warm up before every run, and do light stretching afterwards. Your body needs the warm up in order to get the blood flowing and loosen up your muscles before going straight to the intensity of running. Through my own research I have found that 8-10 minutes seems to be the optimal time suggested for warming up. I usually accomplish this through butt kicks, high knee walking in place, and then brisk walking. In addition to preparing my physical body for running, I use this time to switch the gears in my mind, and mentally prepare to run the day off, to escape my reality, and have some alone time with my thoughts. After a run I do some light stretching of the hamstrings, calves, and quads. As a runner, it is hard to resist the urge sometimes to just walk out the door and go, but I have found that a good warm up is one of the major keys to injury prevention. Take the extra time, your body will thank you later!
10. Embrace Where You Are
Allow yourself to be a beginner. Remember that everyone, even the Olympic champions in the world, were all beginners at some point. Never compare yourself to others, and realize that we all have different bodies, abilities, and paces. Sometimes I miss those beginning days, and the excitement of reaching goals I never thought possible. Embrace where you are right now, for it is part of your wonderful, beautiful journey.
11. Mix it Up
Let’s be honest, one day you will find yourself in a running rut. The key here is to mix it up as much as you can in order to keep it exciting. There are many things you can do to keep from getting bored on your run, even something as simple as changing your route and having new scenery to focus on. If you usually run on a treadmill, take it outside and enjoy the fresh air, birds chirping, and flowers blooming. Change up your music playlist, or maybe listen to a book. While it is easy to walk out the front door and run throughout your neighborhood, why not find a local park or running trail to try out? The change of scenery will be refreshing, and your new route may have a rougher terrain or more inclines, so you may even have an added challenge! Want to mix it up even more? How about going for a bike ride, lifting some weights, or doing some floor exercises at home? Cross training is another important aspect of running!
12. Never Give Up
There will be hard days, and then there will be even harder days. There will be days that a little voice inside your head will tell you to stop, to give up, and it will tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t listen to that little voice, instead, stomp it. You don’t have anything to prove to others, but there is a whole lot of joy in proving to yourself that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought possible. Tell yourself you can do this and that you are worth it, and remind yourself to be patient with the process. Never give up. Remember why you started this journey, and look back on your progress often, giving yourself the credit you deserve. Great things are coming, all in good time.
Thinking back, there was a day I thought I would never run, and then I ran. There was a day I thought I would never be able to run a 5k, and then I did. There was a day I thought I would never be able to run a 10k, and I did that as well. Running has taught me a very valuable lesson, and that is to never doubt yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to as long as you put in the hard work and never give up. A 10k is the farthest distance I have ran to date, but ask me if I think I can run a half marathon. My answer will be yes, I will do that as well. You reach this point where you get tired of doubting yourself and you just do it. It is your time to shine now. What goals can you set, push towards, and finally reach? You can do it…come on and run with me!
I would love to hear about your struggles, successes, and suggestions that have helped you along the way. Please comment below and let me know how your journey is going!