exercise-16-300x200What does the term “runner” mean to you? Do you imagine a marathoner crossing the finish line, a devoted athlete lacing up in the early morning or even someone on a treadmill at your local gym? It can be easy to think of running—of becoming a runner—as something only “certain people” do. And it can be even easier to assume those certain people have more time, more energy, more something than the rest of us.

But I’d like to offer a different definition: A runner is someone who runs. It doesn’t matter how fast, how far or how long.

As simple as this definition sounds, some people find it difficult to believe they could become a runner. I can relate because I’ve been there. Just a little over 10 years ago, the thought of running a 5K seemed almost laughable. Yet, I did what every other runner does: I worked my way into the sport. I started slowly with short distances, took walking breaks when I needed to and gradually increased my mileage.

At the age 62, I ran my very first marathon. It was such an incredible feeling!

Do you want to start running? Whether your goal is to run for 10 minutes or to compete in ultramarathons, now is the perfect time to start. Here are a few tips to get you going:

 

  1. Get the gear. Running is a fairly inexpensive sport, but the one thing you really need is a good pair of shoes. Not only are they important for helping your body use energy efficiently, but good shoes are also critical to injury prevention. Complementing your purchase with running socks—which you can find for around $10—can help you avoid blisters and other issues. As you build your miles, be sure to replace your shoes regularly. Visit your local running shop for help and advice.
  2. Start slowly, build slowly. If you haven’t been exercising, don’t jump off your couch and attempt to run a 5K. Not only will you be sore and tired, you might also end up with an injury. Instead, take it slowly. You have your whole life to run; let your body and mind gradually adjust to this new form of activity. Remember, too, that even if you’ve been doing other activities, like riding your bicycle, for example, running engages different muscles—which means you can’t necessarily expect to run with the same intensity and for the same amount of time as you’re used to with other activities.
  3. Follow a plan. Search for a running plan online, preferably one that will guide you from your current activity level to your running goal. There are several great apps available on your smartphone, too, many of which have a motivational feature that helps keep you moving.
  4. Find a friend. A running partner or group can be one of the most important aspects to your success as a new runner. But where do you find one? Colleagues, friends or family members can make great running partners, or try fitness-based social media sites to connect with other people just getting started in the sport. Even established runners can make good partners—join them on one of their shorter runs. My wife, Sharon, is my workout partner, and one of the most important motivators for me as an athlete. (For more on finding a running partner, read Samantha Clayton’s article, “Why you need to join a fitness team… today!”)
  5. Pay attention to your body. Push yourself, but don’t injure yourself. You know what you can handle and what is too much for your body. If you feel like you need to take a walking break, then walk.
  6. Stretch. Coaches and athletes used to believe that static stretching (the kind you do with minimal movement) was good to do before running. Now, we know it’s better to warm up with walking, light jogging or dynamic stretching (the kind that involves more movement). After you run, stretch; in this case, static stretching is a good option. If you’re feeling sore, roll out your muscles with a foam roller (available for around $20).
  7. Stick with it. Like anything else, becoming a runner requires continued commitment. But here’s one of the most wonderful bonuses of sticking with it: You start to crave it. The more you run, the more you’ll want to run. If you’ve never enjoyed running, it may seem odd to envision yourself looking forward to it, but I can testify that it’s true. Just keep at it.

 

Remember: A mile is a mile, no matter how slow you run it. Pace, time and distance shouldn’t be the focus in the beginning; what is important is that you get moving and keep going. Becoming a runner was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I hope it will be in yours, too.

 

Tell us: What running tips would you add?