Freshman year of college, I wasn’t happy with my body. My BMI put me in the “obese” category, I didn’t feel confident with what I saw in the mirror, rarely took photos with friends, and to be candid — felt generally unhappy. Granted, people can find happiness at any size. But for me, back then, I felt lethargic, discouraged and frustrated. After braving the scale one night, I decided enough was enough. I needed to change my lifestyle and ultimately, lose some weight, to feel more at home in my body and happier overall.
The journey was long. The first part of it involved tweaking my eating habits. Making smarter decisions when it came to portion control. I never eliminated anything from my diet (including my favorite donut once a week), but rather added in smarter picks, like abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables and a whole lot of water.
About a year and 35 pounds into my weight loss, I got more serious about my activity. What started with trips to the gym four days per week shifted once summer came. Working as a programming coordinator at a summer camp, I knew I was going to have to do something I didn’t want to do if I wanted to keep moving. That something was running.
My history with running wasn’t rad. Growing up, I never felt like I was good at it. Even worse, I didn’t make the junior varsity volleyball team in high school because I failed to run a mile in less than 10 minutes. I knew if I wanted to keep losing weight, I’d have to get over the mental hurdles and give it a try again.
I’ll give you a few spoilers: I learned to love running the summer of 2008 and ultimately lost about 70 pounds total. I’m also now an 8-time marathoner with a mile PR hovering around 6:00, as well as a UESCA-certified run coach.
Here are the tricks I used to embrace running and make it a lifelong habit:
When I began running, I had one goal: to keep it going for 15 minutes. I knew I was in no shape to tackle a larger goal, like running a 5K, just yet. By setting a realistic goal, it made getting out feel doable — even if it was hard. During that 15 minutes, it didn’t matter how far I went, all that mattered was that I got out every day and did it. Imagine my surprise when the mile distance I thought I was covering in that time period was actually a half-mile. Still, I was proud of myself for not only setting a SMART goal, but executing on it.
There are a lot of ways we can complicate working out, right? Especially when you think about all of the decisions that are involved in the process: When to do it, what to wear, what to listen to, which route should I take, and so on. These questions may not seem super complicated, but if you don’t have an answer to one of them, it can result in excuse-making.
For me, I decided to run at the same time every single day. That worked for my schedule. I purchased a few different pairs of the same tights and a 10-pack of T-shirts, so I knew exactly what I’d be wearing. I also had a go-to running playlist I knew would hype me up. Plus, I would go out and back down the same beautiful, tree-lined street.
I’ll never forget the first afternoon I got in from my run and thought to myself: “I actually enjoyed that.” No, it didn’t happen within the first week. It did, however, happen by the end of the third. The amount of time it takes to actually form a habit can vary, although science shows it hovers around 66 days. I knew I loved how I felt after the effort was done, but noticing that I was enjoying myself during the run was a really big moment. That night, I celebrated the small victory by taking a drive to my favorite beach with friends.
Although I would go out on the runs by myself, I was in constant communication with friends who worked at the summer camp about how my progress was going. It helped to talk about the good and the bad, and bounce ideas off of one another about how to make this bout of activity more enjoyable day after day. Since my friends knew it was important to me, they’d ask me regularly about how things were going. This interaction held me accountable and encouraged me to keep at it.
READ MORE > KEY HABITS HIGHLY EFFECTIVE RUNNERS SHARE
Just like with any activity, it’s important not to take on too much too soon. I knew at the time that movement was a really important factor to my mental and physical health and that the 15 minutes of effort was something I could commit to day-after-day. Soon, it wasn’t a question of “am I going to run today?” Instead, it was a part of my routine, just like brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.