Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to become a runner in 4 easy steps

This year, I have two running goals - complete my second half marathon with a personal record time (check!) and complete my first marathon. When I first started running about 8 years ago, that would have seemed like a ridiculous pair of goals. Heck, it STILL seems kind of ridiculous when I stop to really think about it.

After the 2014 Mercedes Half - with Diana staring at my medal!
Part of my training program is to keep track of my runs - so, I've been doing that with an app called RunKeeper, which posts to social media when I log a run. Doing that keeps me motivated and accountable, and I need all the help I can get!
I guess since I've been so obnoxious about posting my runs this year, I've started to get a lot of questions from friends about "how to become a runner". This always strikes me as funny, because truth be told, when I started 8 years ago, I couldn't run 100 yards without literally thinking I was going to P-A-S-S O-U-T!

True story - when I started training for my first 5k, I went to a reservoir in West Hartford that had a running trail around it about that distance. On day one, the person helping me get started suggested that I pick a landmark up ahead and just focus on running towards it, and then, once I got there, I could decide if I wanted to pick another landmark, and so on. Well, by the time my out-of-shape butt got to that first landmark, an oak tree, I was so out of breath that I felt like I had a hood coming up over the top of my head trying to black me out. I know this may be shocking to some, but I was kind of a drama queen about it, too. I would shout to him, as we approached the oak tree, "HOOD! HOOD!", and once we got to the tree, I would make a grand show of slowing down and walking the rest of the distance around the reservoir in my weakened and exhausted state.

Over time, as the weeks rolled on, I would get past that oak tree, and then, the next, and then, the next, until finally, I was slowly jogging the whole distance around the reservoir. I wasn't going quickly, but I was GOING! It wasn't pretty, it wasn't graceful, it wasn't athletic - it was just motion in the right direction for long enough to achieve the goal. All I wanted that first year was to be able to run a full 5k in memory of my mom - and I did!
Race for the Cure 2008 (with my friend Barb on my back!)
My point is this: if I can do it, YOU can do it. I wasn't an athlete in high school - as a matter of fact, I was so unathletic that the basketball coach (despite his high hopes for my Amazonian height) kindly guided me towards trying out for the theatre program after floundering around on the basketball court for a few weeks. So, if I can do it, YOU can do it.

Me and Steven with friends at the Jingle Bell Run in Birmingham

Step 1: Pick a goal. Pick a real one, one that you can achieve, so that you don't get upset and quit before you even give yourself a chance to get started. If you have never run, a 5k is a great goal to start. Give yourself lots of time leading up to it to get trained. (Remember the curse of the HOOD!)

Step 2: Pick a plan. Just thinking that you'll go out and run a few days a week isn't tangible enough to feel like a plan. I really like Hal Higdon's website (www.halhigdon.com) for training plans of all kinds of races, for all kinds of fitness levels. They have some built in to apps like my RunKeeper app, too. Find one that works for the distance you want to go, and map it out. I literally have a calendar of all the runs I am going to do between now and my marathon in November. It took some time to plan it out, but now, I don't even have to think about it, I just get up each day and GO!

Step 3: Pick a buddy. One of the best things I can recommend is have a friend that can act as an accountability partner. For me, it's my friend Donna. We are both training for different races right now, but we check in with each other after we run. Heck, we don't even live in the same state anymore! For us, it's not about running right next to each other, it's about offering moral support and accountability. We offer encouragement to each other when we run...and when we don't, too. When one of us is too busy or doesn't feel well or is nursing an injury, we are honest about that too, and offer encouragement then, as well. One of the best feelings in the world is when I send my daily report and get hers back!

Step 4: Pick up your feet. GO! If you are like me, you can worry about getting all the right stuff (the shoes, the outfits, the temperature, etc.) in place before you start, and if you are like me, it'll all have to be perfect before you can take even one step. WRONG! Just go. GO! GOOOOOOO! Pick up your feet and run 100 yards. Done? That's 100 yards that you didn't run yesterday. How cool is that?? You can make progress each day, just by picking yourself up off the chair you are sitting in and heading out the door or onto the treadmill!

One last thing: be gentle with yourself. None of us are perfect. None of us run the perfect race, or follow the training plan perfectly. It just doesn't happen. Don't push too hard if you start to feel pain either! Don't be too hard on yourself if you hit a slump or feel sluggish, just do the best you can, and incrementally, day by day (or as in my case, year by year!), you'll get to where you want to be.

Talladega Half with two of the coolest sisters I know: Kristen and B!

If I can do it, ANYONE can do it. I would LOVE to hear from you, if you are trying to run. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help encourage you along the way! The running community is an incredible group of people - I've met some amazing people and had fantastic experience. The feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is second only to the sense of camraderie and community you feel with the folks that are running along beside you. Don't miss out on this awesome experience!

Mercedes Half 2014 - at the starting line with my friend Scott, who pushed me to get a 2:07!


  1. Thank-you so much for this post! At not even five feet I'm certainly not very athletic. Growing up I went to private schools with no sports programs and only occasional half assed pe. It wasn't until I wanted to join the army at 19 years old that I started to work out at all. And than only for army standards! Thank-you for sharing your wisdom for us recovering non athletic people! You are an inspiration!

    1. Brook - you are sweet to say so, but I gotta say, YOU inspire ME!