Thursday, October 4, 2007

How to Become a Runner: A Guide for Non-Runners

In advance let me say this post is more about my experience than any true expertise. Having said that, I was 110% a non-athletic person prior to training for my first race. I have always said, and truly believe, that if I can do it, anyone can! And just to prove the point, some of my best friends from high school thought I was joking about having run 26.2 miles. They didn't believe I had actually run a marathon until they saw my race results online! Hopefully sharing my experience can help spur someone to go for their goal as well, be it running around the block, a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or full!

One more thing before beginning...why running? Why not another sport? Here are my reasons:

1. Running is one of the cheapest forms of exercise out there-good running shoes (non-optional to avoid strain and injury) and some performance apparel (optional but highly recommended) and you're set.

2. It is good to be outside - even with Houston's bugs and humidity!

3. Cardio! We all need cardio (getting up to your target heart-rate for at least 20 minutes a minimum of 3x per week) and strength-training exercises in our workout regimen. Not many exercises have the heart benefit that running does. Cross-country skiing, swimming and the elliptical trainer are a few others, but I don't have access to mountain or a pool and an elliptical trainer is expensive.

4. Nothing will help you lose weight, change your body and make you lean like running.

5. Ever heard of a runner's high? Let me just say, it's awesome! (The blog linked here is a little salty but it's truly the best explanation of this phenomenon I found.)

Here is how I became a runner. It worked for me and hopefully it will work for you, too. First pick out a three mile path and start walking. Depending on your current level of fitness you may want to walk for a month or more trying to increase your speed as the month progresses. Once you can walk the path with ease it's time to start running. At first just don't worry about running the entire path. Don't worry about running even a mile. Just run for a few minutes until you are out of breath. Then walk until you feel like running again. Each time you run push yourself just a tiny bit more. If you do this for another month or so, you'll be able to run the entire course in another four to six weeks. Believe me!

Too many people just try to go out there and run. No wonder they get discouraged. Running to a body that is hardly used to any form of exercise is like giving Red Bull to a body that has never tasted caffeine. Talk about a jolt! You need to give your heart time to build the endurance to run, your muscles the time to tone and strengthen to support that run and (this is especially true for me) your knees and hips the time to acclimate to pounding on the pavement.

I am suggesting giving yourself eight to twelve weeks (again, depending on your current level of fitness it may take more or less time) to run three miles. That may seem like a lot of time to our "I want it now!" culture where we get frustrated if we have to wait more than two minutes for anything. Here's the reality though - if you are like me, it took you awhile to get to your current level of "unfitness" and it's going to take some time to become fit. It's not automatic and the sooner we Americans accept that, the better off we'll be IMHO.

Then, from there you build. Once you run can three miles four times a week for a month or more you can start training for a race. Again, this is all my opinion so you may want to consult some "real" experts before beginning. Now you're ready; pick a race and pay for it! There's nothing more motivating that the thought if you don't get out there, you're throwing away $25 or $50 (or more). Start with a 5K (3.1 miles) then move up to a 10K (6.2 miles) and so on. Bring some friends along and have fun!

Four more thoughts before closing this marathon (pun intended) post...

First, do not (and I repeat do not) worry about how fast you run. It doesn't matter. Just keep moving. In almost every article that addresses this issue they will tell you that a long slow run does more to burn fat reserves, get you in shape and change your body than a quicker run of the same distance. Go slow and if you feel like stopping just slow your pace. My rule is that I don't stop - ever - I just plod along as slow as a snail but I keep moving all the time. It is too hard for me to start back once I've stopped and I know many runners who feel the same.

Second, listen to your body. If you've never done any endurance-type exercise this can take some getting used to for sure. Learn the difference between your body saying, "Hey, I don't like this because you're making me work too hard. I'd rather go home and chill on the couch!" and , "Hey, I am in true pain here!" For the former you push on and for the latter you stop and possibly even seek medical attention. In training for my first marathon I had to go to a sport's medicine doc for IT Band Syndrome. If you listen to your body when it's trying to convince you to go home, you'll never reach your goal. If you don't listen to your body when you are experiencing pain, you'll never reach your goal because an injury will sideline you. Don't let either scenario happen to you. One more thing, if you do experience some pain or a mild injury, don't get discouraged. It happens to almost all runners at some point. Cross-train while you are healing if you are able and then get right back to running!

Third, try to find a group of more experienced runners to join. I was absolutely terrified the first time I ran with what I considered to be "real runners". I knew I would be too slow, not have the right shoes, the right stride, hold my arms properly...but you know what I learned? The running community is amazing. They are just waiting to help newbies experience the same success and triumph they have (Kinda sounds like the homeschooling community, doesn't it?!) Jump in and go for it!

Fourth, hydrate! It will make a huge difference in how you feel during and even after your run. I have found that if I drink 8-8oz glasses of water plus decaffeinated coffee/tea in the morning and decaffeinated green tea during the day I stay properly hydrated. Remember too that for every one cup of caffeinated beverage you drink you must subtract one glass from your drink total for the day (ex. if you drink 10 cups of water in the day but also 2 cups of coffee and 2 diet cokes then your total beverage intake is only 6 cups of fluid.) If you feel crummy during your run, it may be your body telling you it needs more H20!

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Alane said...

Thanks for posting this! It is encouraging, and I need to have a reasonable plan for taking up exercise. My dh took up running a year+ ago, and with three boys myself, I need to get active so I can keep up with them!

kindredspirit said...

Hi! I am a lurker on the Well Trained Mind boards and from there discovered your blog. I really have enjoyed reading what you have to say over the last month or so. You seem like a really nice person. Anyway, I enjoyed your post about running. It is something I really need to take up, but just don't seem to have the time. I guess I just need to take the time. I also wanted to mention (not that you need it)that there is a website called that has a couch to 5k plan where you can run a 5k in 2 months. There are also podcasts to go with it, although I believe that is on a different website.

Bye for now.


Heidi said...

I needed this encouragement, Jennefer. Thank you. I've really been wanting to start walking/running. The hardest part is finding a time that I can run without kids. :)

It is nice to know that a non-athletic person can work their way up to running a marathon!

Life With My 3 Boybarians said...

Hey Jen.

You are one rockin' Momma. I wanted to ask. *When* do you run? Does your husband watch the boys when you do?

I'm a practical person, and I can only see this working if I hit the trails in the dark. I think I need a treadmill. It would be ultimately cheaper than hiring a sitter so I could go for a walk.

Thanks for getting the wheels turning! Great food for thought.

Jennefer said...


My plan was to run every morning at 5am. I have been unable to make that happen consistently because it's just so stinkin' hard for me to run first thing in the morning (even though every article says you get the most "bang for your buck" if you work out first thing).

I much prefer to run in the evenings. Dh does watch the boys while I run although I do try to take them with me once a week - pushing the younger 2 in a double jogging stroller (talk about a work out!)and Thatcher on his scooter/bike. I like for them to see what I do and to experience "running" in this tiny dose at least. Lol!

If you get a treadmill research carefully because they can be hard on your knees, hip and joints. I want a treadmill and/or an elliptical trainer *so* much!

I am cheering for you!

PS When I am training for a distance race (half or full marathon) I force myself to do my long runs in the morning since that's when races begin.

LisaWA said...

Ok Jennifer.... I plan on walking tomorrow! Baby steps...

Monday... after Bible study.... I think we ( my girls included) will begin a morning routine with walking first!

Wish us luck!


PS. I have a treadmill. Guess what? Its now a clothes hanger! How can I make a disgruntled face... I only know smiley ones!

LH said...

Great comments on running. Nice to read them!
I ran for years. Well, actually a decade . . .well, two decades. . . (where did the time go!)

Great reminisci

my5wolfcubs said...

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to share all this! I don't want to be a runner, but my oldest dd loves to run. Perhaps...perhaps, it is something we could do together.

Wendy said...

I finished my 2nd marathon this fall. I ran my 1st one before kids and it was SOO much easier to train, but it can be done w/having kids in the mix too. Great job on your marathon and some good tips here! :)

BanginFood said...

If it wasn't so late, I would go out and run right now! Thanks for the motivational post.


Anonymous said...

I really love this post/article! I've been doing strength training but wanted to kick it up a notch for weight loss and found this article. I've done weight training since mid-march and Ive lost about 18 pounds, im off my blood pressure and diabetes meds, which is great, but Ive hit a plateau weight-wise. Im gonna pick this up, but as you suggest, with the walking FIRST.

By the way, I was voted in high school and college "person most UNLIKELY to do ANYTHING physical...EVER"

I was looking for something simple and basic to get me started. This is it!!! Very encouraging!!!!


Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing! I hadn't run a mile since high school and ran my first one two weeks ago... since then i'm hooked and try to run that 1 mile two times a week (in addition to walking, eliptical trainer, etc.). I decided yesterday I wanted to do a 3K this year! So I went online and stumbled across this. Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to start alternating my running with walking and hopefully get to my 3 miles.... and then some! Thanks!

Suman said...

I have tried this prog, which is the same as the "couch to 5k" program from, mentioned in a previous comment. It really helped me and I managed to be able to run upto 40 minutes without stopping. Then I participated in a 7K race. The max I had ever run was 4k but managed to run 7K that one time. I gradually stopped running thereafter but have recently started again. Of course, I am using the same prog and it's really helping.
My question to you is: if you have run a marathon or half marathon, after how many months of training was it possible... Also, how many kms/hours per week do you run?

Makita said...

I'm a lurker on the WTM forums and found you via someone else's blog. I'm a runner too so this post caught my attention. Very well written & excellent advice.

I'll be checking back and I hope you post more about your running! :D

Kerri said...

I can't thank you enough for such an encouraging story! This is really my first time 'blogging' and I have been looking for means of encouragement from becoming a complete non-runner to a well balanced, happy and healthy runner!
Your comment about "I want it now!!" made me realize we are starting off on the same foot...and it sounds as if you can do it so can I!!
Great job, keep up the great work and enjoy your beautiful family!!

wannabe_fit! said...

Hey! I am completely new to any kind of endurance physical activity. I was wondering if you could help me out with a structured plan or idea in order to make myself fit enough to run marathons. Just to let you know I have tried to take it up once but gave up thanks to my low level of endurance. Please help! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mom of three 8, 6, and 4 and used to be an athlete in school and now just so out of shape and no excuses except that it's all MY OWN FAULT and nobody else's :(

I'm committing to two major things this year: 1 to read the Bible all the way through and now #2: to get in shape for God and I want to become a runner.....

I love this article...please pray for me that I get the conviction each day to get my body in the shape it needs to be in..for no other reason then the fact that it would be pleasing to God.

sinuse jill said...

Great piece of writing, I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points. Thanks.

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