So You Wanna Be a Runner

by Kim on August 14, 2012

If you ever go watch a road race, you might be surprised by who you see out there running.


It’s not just tall, super skinny people with ripped abs and massive calves. I mean, there might be some of those…but they are a vast minority. There are also greying men, middle-aged moms, heavy-set teenagers, and sub-5-foot-tall women. Honestly, I feel like there’s rarely an age group or body type that isn’t represented (unless we’re talking about the Ironman or a 100K or something…but even there, you might be surprised).

The running community is actually very diverse, and extremely welcoming to newcomers. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, how far you go, or how fast you get there. You run? You’re a Runner. You’re in the secret society.


So if you’ve ever thought about taking up running, you’re just getting started now, or you’re thinking about getting back on the horse after a hiatus, I totally understand the draw. Something about the words “I’m going for a run” are just so simple and powerful. They demand respect. And they deserve respect, because no matter what people say (“I love running! Running is so fun! Weee!”), running is hard.

Sometimes, it’s really hard. Like when it’s 90 degrees and you’re out of water, or it’s 10 degrees and you have wind burn on your face.

But that’s part of why we love it. Because if it was easy, anyone could do it, and what would be the fun in that?

So, you wanna be a runner.


You can find a thousand running how-to’s online-for example, I found this one to be extremely well thought-out. But here are my tips for getting started, based on my experiences.

–Make sure running is best for you. You don’t have to be a runner. There are plenty of other awesome fitness avenues you could explore and other places you could find your niche. Maybe you’re a closet yoga, Zumba, or CrossFit junkie. There are so many fancy new ways to sweat these days that you probably haven’t even heard of some of them-and, who knows, one of them could be your calling.

Lots of people seem to want to try running as the default option. But running can be very hard on your body, and it’s not even the easiest route to any fitness goal (except ones that involve running, obviously). Want to lose weight? Do HIIT (high intensity interval training). Want to look leaner? Lift weights (women too!). If you have bad knees, you might want to consider something lower-impact, like swimming or fast walking.

–Be realistic about your goals and expectations for yourself. When you’re excited about starting something new, it’s tempting to charge into it full-boar. You think “I’m going to do 1 mile today-how hard could that be??” and then you’re panting and walking two minutes into it and wondering what the hell people see in running. Don’t sabotage yourself by pushing yourself too hard in the beginning. Resting is critical for improvement-embrace it!

Create realistic goals for yourself and tell others about them to keep yourself accountable.

–Study proper form. I know this sounds like just something you have to say, but ever since I learned about form, I find myself thinking about it all the time when I run. And it really does help!

As with any exercise, there’s a way to position your body to run most successfully. Just because running comes naturally (technically speaking) to humans doesn’t mean we’re born knowing how to do it optimally. The basics: keep your head up, shoulders loose, and hands unclenched. Run on the middle of your foot, not toes or heels. (Check out the graphic below for more dets.)

When it comes to form, the thing I think about most often (and that helps me the most when I think of it) is my center of gravity. You’re supposed to run with your arms at a 90-degree angle, which gives you a lower center of gravity and helps keep your stride long and relaxed. When I first started doing this, it felt really weird. I also noticed that as I got tired, I started bringing my hands up. Pushing them back down to 90 degrees made an immediate, noticeable difference to me.

running form

–Run when it’s best for you. Do you feel more energized in the morning or evening? Where can you best sneak running into your schedule without setting yourself up for failure? If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to force yourself to be a morning runner, at least when you’re getting started. Also, time your eating well so that you’re not running on either a full or empty stomach. If I had to pick one, I’d rather be a little bit hungry (although being ravenous can be more dangerous, while being full is just uncomfortable).

–Walk to run. The Couch to 5K program is great for getting started with running. It shows you exactly how to alternate waking with short bursts of running to slowly build up your body’s tolerance of running. If you’re running free, set mini goals for yourself like “I’m going to run to the end of this street.” Then walk for awhile. I remember being in middle school and teaching myself how to run 3 driveways at a time. :)

–Learn when to listen to pain vs. fight through it. The only real way to do this is to know your body. Sharp pains that get worse with each run should probably be dealt with, possibly with a doc visit. For dull, occasional pains, like shin splints, you might just need rest and a bag of frozen peas.

When I first started running, I always got hoooorrible side cramps. I tried to fight through them and keep going, but it was tough. Since then, I’ve learned that side cramps are usually caused by air trapped under the diaphragm (which happens when you take the quick, shallow breaths you’re probably taking when you’re trying to run for the first time). The best cure is to alter your breathing in some way-holding your breath for a few seconds and releasing, or taking long, deep breaths.

–Tap into your mind. You’ve probably heard that running is 90% mental. One thing that’s gotten me through a lot of tough runs is focusing my attention away from the tired parts of my body.


If I’m going up a huge hill and my legs are burning, I pump my arms more and really focus on them. It sort of tricks me into thinking that my arms are doing all the work, and my legs are just dragging along with them. Similarly, if I’m gasping for breath, I ignore my lungs and think about my legs instead. Like they’re just cycling under me and my upper body is along for the ride.

Might sound crazy but I swear it works!

(There’s probably a name for this kind of thing, but I don’t know it…anyone?)

–Praise yourself, no matter what. You could only run for 2 minutes without walking? It’s 2 more than none. You were supposed to run 5 miles but you only did 2? At least you ran! It’s good to challenge yourself and be tough on yourself sometimes, but if you start out with a negative inner dialogue, it’s hard to shake it later.

–Know that with each run, it will NOT get easier. What I mean by this is: every run won’t always be better than the last. Don’t expect to always be on an upswing, as hard as that is to accept. You will have a great run followed by a terrible one. That’s just how it is. As long as you’re still running, you’re making progress.

–Don’t freak out if the first few minutes of every single run suck. This still happens to me almost every time. On mile 1, I’ll be thinking “ok, I’m pretty tired/sore/lazy, maybe I’ll just go 4 miles instead of 5…” and then by the end of mile 3, I’m all “let’s make it 6!”

It just takes awhile to warm up and hit your stride. So if you start out and 20 feet in you’re huffing and puffing, going “I can barely do 20 feet, much less 2 miles! Screw this! @%#$ gaaahh!”…just hang in there. Put Chariots of Fire on your iPod and bear down.

–Get invested. Buy yourself some fun running clothes/gear, and of course, nice shoes. I’ve discovered that it’s usually best to go up a size or even two. You want plenty of toe room for running (I’m not a fan of the numb toe thing).

–Get involved in races! Like I said, the running community is very accepting and supportive, and signing up for races gives you great goals to work for. Plus, there are runs for everybody-seriously. Short runs, long runs, relay races, Color Runs, Mud Runs, Food Challenge Runs

–Just run. Don’t worry about speed or distance at first. Skip the treadmill and run outside. Don’t worry about the neighbors-if they’re paying attention (which they aren’t) it’s because they’re jealous, or feeling guilty because they’re lounging on their porches and can’t fathom going for a run.

My last tip might sound stupid, but it’s an important one to keep in mind:

Be honest: are you hating it? If you’re really, truly just not feeling it, there’s no shame in quitting. Some people who want to enjoy running just don’t. That’s ok.



Any other running tips you can think of?

If you’re a runner, what helps you through tough runs?

Something to read:

9 Examples of How Negative Thinking Can Be Positive (Well+Good)

A few examples from the article:

  • Jealousy can spur you to accomplish.
  • Reciting affirmations that you don’t really believe make you feel worse about yourself. Better to acknowledge a bad trait or situation and do something about it.
  • Saying no can free up your time and spirit.
  • Acute stress is actually good for you as it makes your immune system more vigilant and sparks you to perform better.

I tend to respond really well to a nice dose of stress now and then. How about you?


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