I was never an athlete growing up and shied away from most physical activities. I didn’t think I was coordinated or strong enough. I doubted my mental ability to stay focused and work through physical discomfort.
But now, at almost 40, I have made peace with my doubts and fears. I’ve learned to love my body and trust its strength and endurance. Most of all, I am amazed at how much my mental state has improved in the process. I feel bold and brave. I feel in control. The cadence of my life is more intentional.
When I first started running, I assumed the trick was just to run. What I have learned over the last year, is that it is all about preparation, building endurance, and community.
Preparation: You don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets. The only thing that truly matters is a good pair of shoes. I would definitely invest in shoes that are made for your stride, size and situation. Take the time to go to a true running store where they will “fit” you. My favorite stores have been Elite Feet, Tortoise and Hare and Running Fit. Their knowledgeable staff are runners themselves and will take the time to talk to you about stride length, how your foot hits the ground, what kind of arch support you need and terrain. And don’t let the price tag deter you; most quality running stores will let you try a pair of running shoes for up to 30 days. If you aren’t satisfied with the fit, then bring them back and they will fit you with a different pair.
Building endurance: Starting slow is key. Foolishly, I thought if I ran a little each day, pushing myself further each time, that I would eventually become an avid runner. That didn’t work for me, all it did was cause muscle fatigue, injury and burnout. What did work, was learning how to interval train and schedule rest days. I started with the Couch-t0-5k program. I focused building endurance rather than speed, and eventually each run got easier and easier. After I finished that program, I moved on to the book “Marathon and Half Marathon, The Beginner’s Guide” by Marnie Caron. The 26-week interval training schedule is incredibly easy to follow. I am now able to run 6 – 7 miles at a time with this method and still feel energized by the end of the run. If you aren’t a big reader, and prefer using your smart phone or iPod, there are several great free apps focusing on interval training. It is also helpful to have some sort of interval timer to help you complete each session. Again, they don’t have to be extremely high-tech or costly. I use the Timex Ironman Midsize Watch and a free app on my phone called Run/Walk Intervals. By training this way, I have been able to not only build my endurance, but slowly increase my time. I used to run 12:30 minute miles and now I average around 11 minute miles.
Community: Having a running buddy has definitely helped keep me motivated. Although I don’t actually “run” with my friend, we keep each other accountable and make sure we take our walks together on our non-running days. On the days I don’t really feel like running, I still muster up the drive because I don’t want to tell my friend, “Oh, I just didn’t feel like it today.” I’d rather be able to tell her I ran at least 3 miles than nothing. My next goal is to join a running club. I’m definitely more efficient running with others. The 5K runs that I ran alone felt long and tiring, but the ones I ran with a friend flew by effortlessly. Plus, I learn a lot by partnering with more experienced athletes. The best place to start when looking for a running club are the same stores that will fit you for shoes. They usually sponsor a club, participate in a club or facilitate running clinics. (Here is a link to a list of some Michigan Running Clubs.)
And above all else, don’t give up too soon. It takes time to train your body and your mind for any type of physical activity. But believe me, the first time you are able to put on those jeans that didn’t fit a year ago, it will all be worth the effort.