I started running just under a year ago. Here some of the things I’ve realised so far:
Start small and slowly.
Many people think that they could never be a runner but, unless there is a physical reason that makes it genuinely impossible, that’s just not true. I never thought I could run more than 300m. I did try a few years ago but ended up getting three severe migraines within two weeks, and so I put the idea aside. The reality is that these things often take more time, work and patience than we’re prepared to put in. I went from doing no exercise at all to expecting instant results and that isn’t realistic. So, start by alternately walking 100 paces and running 20 paces, and don’t go far. Push yourself slightly, but not to the point where you’ll burn out and give up. Do it two or three times a week, but don’t worry if you miss a run – if you have a day when you feel all wrong then it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a sign that your plan’s failing. Begin to walk less and run more, and slowly increase your distance, because that way you will make progress that is sustainable. Yes, you can be a runner, if you put in the effort. The concept of ‘scaling’ a workout at Crossfit has made me realise that there’s no excuse – we are always working around our limitations and focusing on what we can do. The real question is: will our pride let us start small in order to make our goals a reality?
Don’t always plan your distance – just aim to get out of the door.
If you get nervous at even the thought of running then one of the worst things you can do is plan exactly how far you’re going to run. I’m a planner, so yes, there are times when you should plan your distance, like when you want to beat your Personal Best. If I plan to do a long-distance run (which is what I call anything over 2k!) then I can hardly sleep the night before, I wake up feeling anxious, and the next thing you know I’m going through all the arguments as to why I shouldn’t bother. So I change my aim. Instead of planning a distance, I plan something more fundamental: to put on my running gear and get out of the door. Some days you’ll find you end up running 400m and then walking 600m. Other times you might find you’re getting into you stride and run 3k. Or sometimes you might amaze yourself and end up doing ‘just another km’ until you find you’ve doubled your distance and run/walked 10k for the first time – which happened to me. Whatever the distance you actually manage the important thing is to get out there.
Focus on what you’re doing.
For me the idea of going outside and doing something I find difficult in front of other humans is intimidating. If you feel like a complete weirdo when you run then you’ll know what I mean! Strangely I don’t have the same trouble with walking, even quick walking, but as soon as I do even a slow run I feel self-conscious. The solution is relatively straightforward: override those feelings until you barely notice them. Go and do it anyway and focus completely on what you’re doing. Some people like to put earphones in and zone out. I prefer to run quietly, focusing on my stride and my breathing. Either way, you’re putting yourself into ‘the zone’, where by-standing strangers have no place. If they’re runners themselves they’ll probably appreciate that you’re trying your best – and every runner I’ve met has been lovely and supportive – but if they aren’t runners their opinions are irrelevant.
Rally your team.
I regularly ask my friend to run with me and it gives me extra motivation, particularly as she’s a more experienced runner. Running doesn’t have to be a lonely business and if you’re very sociable you’ll probably benefit from having someone else around to encourage you – or if you have a friend who’s starting out then you can be an encouragement to them. I love competing in races, even though I finish near the back, because it’s so exciting taking part in an event with hundreds of people all doing the same thing! There are plenty of running clubs that welcome novices so if you want an even bigger network of support then that might be the way to go. The important thing is that you understand your own character and motivation – put yourself in situations where you have your best chance to thrive. Do other people inspire you to do your best? Then run with others. Do people distract and intimidate you? Then run mostly by yourself. I feel both emotions at different times, but if my self-motivation takes a dip then I know I have support. It always amazes me how much encouragement I get from friends at The Crossfit Place for my running and for other aspects of my life too. This is a community that goes beyond the gym.
Love your tiny goals and use them to reach your big one.
It’s a romantic idea to train hard and then run a marathon, but the reality is it’s not such a linear process. Don’t wait months or years before you feel like you’ve achieved something, because the chances are you will have given up by that point. It takes a long time and the final goal may not be alluring enough to sustain you when the tiredness, self-doubt or distractions kick in. Aim for 1km to begin with, then 2km, and then start setting your sights on 5km. I built up to a 5k race because it gave me something solid to work towards and a deadline for running that distance. Completing that race was a huge achievement for me and I loved it! It was so much fun and I felt amazing both during and afterwards. I’ve now done a 10k race. The feeling was great – but it was exactly the same emotion as managing to run round the block for the first time: it was something that at one point was impossible.
Find a trigger.
This one may sound a little strange but sometimes we need something more subtle to get us in the right frame of mind. I have a shower gel that I only use when I shower after a run. Now when I smell it I remember all the times I achieved my aims – it smells of ‘5km race’, it smells of ‘10km race’ and I’m hoping that it will soon have the aroma of ‘half marathon’ about it! Scents hold a lot of memories for me and a single sniff can take me back years. I also have songs that put me in the mood for physical exertion when I hear them, particularly Don’t Stop me Now! Then there are my race t-shirts – on occasions when I have to force my reluctant body out for a run they remind me of what I can do. Maybe try to find the things that make you feel epic every time you smell/hear/look at them.
Rubbish days are okay.
You can’t have the ups without the downs. If you’re trying to achieve something in the long-term then you will have days when you don’t want to get out of bed, when your legs say ‘Are you kidding?’, when you’d much rather curl up and watch a film, or stick forks in your eyes, than exert yourself. That’s okay. It’s more than okay. Bad days are not a sign of weakness. Healthy eating habits aren’t wrecked by stuffing your face with three jammy doughnuts – they’re wrecked when you decide to give up completely and do that all the time. It’s a big achievement when you manage to beat your bad mood and go for a run anyway – that’s when you know that your mental strength is improving as much as, or possibly more than, your physical strength. But human beings can’t always be strong, so don’t give yourself hell if you have a bad day – you probably need a rest. Recharge your batteries and then come back fighting.
It gets easier.
The constant variety of Crossfit has helped sustain my interest in ‘exercise’ generally, but it has also given me focus and confidence to achieve specific things in other areas of my life. Everyone who knows me knows how hard I find running – that hasn’t changed a huge amount because I obviously give myself bigger challenges as time goes on and I need to sort out my technique too! But distances I used to find impossible I can do without too much difficulty. I thought that reaching 10k would be as hard as reaching 5k; it wasn’t. I’ve read several times that the first 5k is the hardest and I’ve found that to be true, so don’t look at the longer distances as something unattainable. 5k won’t always seem like a marathon. Keep training, take one step at a time, and, whether it comes naturally to you or not, you’ll get there in the end!