Here are some words I never thought I'd string together: I'm a runner.
Growing up, I considered myself anything but athletic. I was bookish and uncoordinated, happier in my black-rimmed glasses and Converse than tennis shoes and a t-shirt. Our self-image goes a long way toward determining what we think we can and cannot do; my self-image did not include running.
Then I married an athlete. He's strong, motivated, and committed to physical health—and he pulled me along with him. We've worked out and improved our eating together throughout our marriage, but I still told myself I'm just not built for running. It was an easy excuse to pretend the genetic lottery had already decided my fate.
I finally figured out that there's nothing special about people who run that separated them from me. Runners do only one thing different than non-runners: they just run.
Here's the thing: I've had a mental block my entire life that kept me from doing something I truly wanted to enjoy. I've told myself running is easier for people with longer legs or better lung capacity; running is for different kinds of people than me. But last week, I ran a 5K at my goal pace. I wasn't fast (full disclosure: a 10-minute mile is my current goal pace), but I ran the whole 3.11 miles.
Learning to run illustrated something to me that's true in many areas of life: we are rarely as limited as we think we are. This might seem ironic in light of my recent post about body image, but I thought I'd share my thoughts about running. I hope that these practical tips that have helped me are useful to you.
1. Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
Do you have an image of what a runner is in your mind? Get rid of it and insert you, wherever you are. When you run, no matter how fast it is or how far you go, you are what a runner is. Start with interval running to cut your teeth, then slowly increase the length and effort of your running intervals until you can run the entire time. This is my mantra (and yes, it's cheesy, and yes, you're welcome): No matter how slowly I run, I'm beating the pants off everybody on the couch.
2. Remove Obstacles
When it's early in the morning or you're tired or it's cold outside or there are any number of other bad reasons to skip today's run, it needs to be easy to choose to run. Here's what I mean: you'll never run out of reasons to bail out and stay in bed a littler longer. But if your running clothes are already arranged neatly, your schedule is tailored around your run, and your playlist is made, it's easy to choose to run. If you're a parent, maybe "easy" means investing in a good jogging stroller. Maybe it means choosing a beautiful route along the river that's motivation by itself. Maybe it means finding someone to run with to keep you accountable. Make calculated, regular decisions that make running easier.
3. Do Your Research
Although there's something to be said for just hitting the ground running (literally), the Internet is a wealth of information right at your fingertips. Get armed with tips from seasoned runners and research issues as they come up. Can't shake the side ache? Research it. Need new shoes? Read up before shopping. Looking for a training program? Find it online.
4. Expect Setbacks
It's self-defeating to think you'll be able to run a seven-minute mile out of the gate, or that you'll be ready for a marathon next week. (If you are, please stop reading this post and looking at me with your fit runner face. I kid. Mostly.) If you're new to running, you can expect some serious setbacks within your first few weeks, including shin splints, blisters, chaffing, and other glamorous afflictions familiar to runners. Don't stop because you're not meeting some imagined standard of perfection. You're in it for the long haul, and any progress is good.
5. Give Yourself Time
Let me tell you a secret. This is how to be a runner: run. Run slowly, run fast, run today, run tomorrow, run twice a week, run twenty-five miles a week; just run. The kindest thing I've done for myself while getting in the habit of running is committing to being a runner, no matter what that looks like for me currently. Commit the time and you will progress—in fact, you'll amaze yourself.