Getting Started: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning to Love Running

From Couch Potato to First Place in my Age Group

If you had told me eight years ago that one day I would run a full marathon, a couple of half marathons and place first in my age group in a 5K, I would have seriously questioned your sanity…or wondered what kind of hallucinatory drug you were on.   At 240 pounds, I couldn’t even walk a block without huffing and puffing.  Me, run?  Not unless there was a zombie apocalypse happening- and even then I think the most out of shape of the undead wouldn’t have much difficulty catching up with me.  So how on earth did this couch potato transform into a runner?  It took a year of dieting and changing my shape to get me comfortable enough to start, as well as a great cause.  I started out with a relative BANG by signing up to train for a full marathon with Team in Training in honor of my amazing uncle who was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.  I was inspired to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I figured if I was going to start running, what better way to keep me focused on my training than by doing it for a cause close to my heart.  Once I started training, I began to wish I had started sooner…running is one of the simplest exercises and the cheapest form of therapy available!  For those of you even flirting with the idea of strapping on a pair of running shoes and putting one foot in front of the other, I urge you to stop thinking about it and start doing it.  Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.

Feeling intimidated and not sure how to start?  Here’s my best tips to get you started off on the right foot…

1.  Get the okay from your doctor.  I know this should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway- make sure you get the green light from your doctor that you’re healthy enough to get started on a running regimen.

2.  Find a race and register for it!  I can hear what you’re thinking…”hey now, I haven’t started running yet and you want me to race???”  I’m not asking you to plan on nabbing some hardware while you’re racing- I’m just asking you to race.  Even if you wind up at the very back of the pack, you’re still lapping everybody on the couch.  To keep you focused and consistently training, it’s helpful to have an event that you’re training for- this will make you less likely to skip a scheduled run when you’re so tempted.   Find a mile fun run or 5K in your area at least two months out from today.  Check out or to find races near you! If you’re feeling SUPER motivated and want to get active for a wonderful cause, sign up with Team in Training for half-marathon, marathon or triathlon training.

3.  Invest in a good pair of running shoes.  Everyone’s different so I’m not going to recommend a specific brand or model of shoe (though I must confess I’m an Asics Addict kind of girl; hubs is a Saucony man).  Find a sporting goods or running store near you, try on dozens of different shoes, don’t be afraid to look silly and run around in the store.  You’ll get a good idea of which brands fit and feel best for your feet.  If you’re frugal, write down the names of shoes you found most comfortable and comparison shop on the web to find the best deal on your sneaks of choice.  Two of my favorite online discount stores are Kelly’s Running Warehouse & Road Runner Sports.

4.  Get a training schedule together.  If you’ve followed my second tip, you’re all registered for a 5K so now you need to find a good solid training schedule.  There are a number of great Couch to 5K programs out there (aka C25K). Check out the C25K website for more information.  Calendar your scheduled runs and treat them like an important appointment- after all, you’ll be racing soon!

5.  Discover and download helpful running apps! My personal favorite is Runkeeper.  Others swear by MapMyRun.  I track my runs on Runkeeper.  It will let you know your pace and distance for outdoor runs and you can also manually enter your treadmill runs.

6. Optional: Find a running buddy.  I made this optional since running tends to be a solo endeavor and one which many enjoy their solitude.  If, however, you’re the more sociable type who craves company and would enjoy running alongside a friend or two then by all means find yourself a running buddy to chat with and keep you accountable.  Ask your friends and family if they’d be interested in joining you on training runs- and even perhaps racing with you! If you don’t know anyone who’s a runner, ask your local running store about running clubs.  You may be able to find a group of locals you can run with.

7.  Cross-train!  I can personally attest to the power of cross-training.  Make sure you mix in strength & resistance, as well as stretching/yoga sessions into  your workout schedule as a runner.  Runner’s World magazine had a great piece on cross-training options this past year.  Click here for the full article.  Some great home workout options in line with Runner’s World recommendations include Les Mills PUMP, Tai Cheng and TurboFire.  I’d also recommend P90X, Insanity  and Insanity: The Asylum as potential cross-training options.  I personally improved my half-marathon time by over 20 minutes by cross-training with Les Mills PUMP and improved my 5K times with both Insanity and Insanity: The Asylum (nabbing a personal best and a first place in my age group after cross-training with Insanity: The Asylum).

8.  Assemble a great playlist on your IPod/MP3 player.  Music will help you push harder and longer than you would without a soundtrack that moves you.  Put on whatever inspires you – be it punk, hip hop, classical or jazz.

9. Don’t skimp on the sunscreen for outdoor runs.  Protect the skin you’re in and make sure you’ve got your sunscreen on before heading outdoors for a run.

10.  Have fun!  Don’t take running or yourself too seriously.  Enjoy your runs for what they are- a wonderful opportunity to show you what you’re capable of (and it’s so much more than you ever thought possible).  Enjoy your surroundings, your company (should you be blessed with running comrades by your side), your music, the rhythm of your feet hitting the pavement and the sound of your breath as you pick up the pace, the wisps of sunlight through the trees.

Running is the simplest and most effective way to get a cardio workout in.  Embrace the challenge and savor your first ever racing experience.  I double dog dare you!




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