Maybe you’re already a runner with a best friend or significant other who *kind of* wants to start running, but who just hasn’t seemed to make it happen. Maybe you’re the one who wants to become a runner but, after a run or two, you find yourself going back to your old routine. The number of runners in the U.S. is growing every year, but how does someone become a runner?
We found a few non-runners who grudgingly laced up, headed out and ended up falling in love with the freedom and fitness that comes from regular running — and we asked what their secrets to success were.
Common scenario: You (or a friend) decides this is the time you’re going to “get in shape.” It’s an amorphous goal at best, and it’s vague enough you’re almost definitely doomed to fail. Instead, find a more specific reason why you want to get started running regularly — whether it’s to drop X number of pounds or blood pressure points or even a more emotionally charged reason like “getting healthy so I can run around with my kids.”
For one runner, her ‘why’ moment came when she realized 30 was looming on the horizon, her years of waffling on workout plans were catching up to her and she felt terrible. Her why? She wanted to hit 30 feeling better than she did when she was 20, and she knew her pants size, her mile time and her blood pressure all needed to drop in order to get there. So, she got going.
Running is hard. Any of us who’ve been running for a long time can point to runs in the last month of training that were just plain not fun. Sure, we wax poetic about how great running is, but when we first started, we all struggled to get through mile 1. For many people hoping to get into running, the out-of-breath-is-it-over-yet feeling on the first few runs seems like it’ll never stop. But if you stick with it, it really does get easier — or at least you get stronger and faster. And you even start to enjoy — and crave — the feeling of being exhausted.
It’s a lot easier to stick to goals if you have an accountability partner, especially if it’s someone who’s excited to run with you daily. “You need a social crew,” one runner told me. He had tried running solo for years and never was able to make it a regular occurrence. Then, on one attempt, he joined a running club that met at 6:30 a.m. most mornings, and he started showing up. Having that crew — or even just one friend — waiting for you, especially when your training time is in the wee hours, can make all the difference. On the flip side, if you’re the runner in this equation, offer to run as slow as your new running buddy needs you to go, and honor that promise.
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Most people getting into running make the mistake of heading out on Run #1 and going as hard as they can for about a block, getting winded and feeling awful, then trudging back to the house. (That’s how I got started!) But smart runners started slow — if even walking isn’t a regular thing for you (or the person you’re trying to lure into running), start with just walking and maybe add short bursts of jogging to the mix. But don’t head out planning to run 3 miles right off the couch. It’s amazing how fast fitness comes on if you start with walks and slowly add in harder efforts — within a couple of weeks, a mile-long run feels fine, but not if you try to rush into it.
After starting a successful habit and dropping 20 pounds, one runner I spoke to was feeling like she was on top of the world. That is, until work got stressful and a relationship required a lot more of her free time. Suddenly, running was put on the back-burner for a full month. In the past, she would have re-gained the weight and dropped the running habit entirely, waiting another year or two to try again. But this time, she didn’t panic because she wasn’t able to run. She just tried to keep her meals healthy and her sleep dialed in as she worked through her life stressors, and when her schedule cleared up, she slowly ramped back up her mileage. The result? She’s back to regular running and kept the weight off. Moral of the story: Don’t let a bad week turn into a bad decade.
It’s easy to see running as a strictly-painful-workout versus a moving meditation. But try to take a step back and see it as something to appreciate, not something you wish would just be over already. “In respect to enjoying the outdoors, I really dug the slower motion of running as compared to riding my bike or driving,” one runner told me. “You get more detail running, the colors of flowers the sound of birds chirping, the way the changing terrain feels under your feet.”
Surprisingly, many of the recalcitrant runners I talked to cited their new pups as the reason they were finally able to stick to an outdoorsy habit of running regularly. Getting a dog meant making a commitment to getting outside and moving daily, which turned into longer walks or faster runs — plus the positive benefits of having a furry friend along for the ride. If you can’t get a dog, consider volunteering to walk one at the animal shelter or borrow a neighbor’s pup for a run a couple times a week.