Whether you’re considering running for the first time or you’re trying to drum up the motivation to start running again after a long break (due to a global pandemic or any other reason), here are a few tips to help you get started.
First, what not to do. While the coach in me wants to suggest that you first connect to why you want to run, it’s all too easy to get so caught up in thinking that you don’t take action. Thinking can be a glorified procrastination tool. (Trust me, I’m a chronic overthinker!)
Get out of your head and into your body. Just get out the door and get started. Then see what you like about it. It may surprise you to learn that you actually enjoy running when you approach it gently.
So how do you approach running gently?
1) Take baby steps
The first step is the hardest. Make it as easy as possible. Walk around the block, or even half the block. Done. Yay!
Nothing sabotages us like going from not running at all to “I will run every day this week.” The first time you miss, you throw in the towel. “I’m not cut out for this,” you say. Yes, you are. You just need to start smaller. Ridiculously, embarrassingly smaller.
Designing Your Life authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans like to say, “Set the bar low and clear it often.” I love this advice! Set your bar lower than you think you can or should. Maybe you decide to walk around the block 2-3 times the first week. The next week maybe you jog for a few steps during your walk.
Up your frequency and distance very gradually. Be patient. Would you rather injure yourself by doing too much, or go slower initially and feel really good about your solid progress over time?
2) Celebrate small wins
Remember the “Yay”? Don’t skip this step. “That was great, but I should be able to run farther by now” is not celebration.
Celebrate however you want, but I recommend focusing on your self-talk. Write down your win in a gratitude journal like the ones below, or in a training journal: “I walked around the block today! I’m so proud of me!” Smile, and feel the celebration in your heart. Do a little dance if you want. The act of celebrating brings fun and play into the mix, making it more likely you’ll want to do this again.
More importantly, celebrating helps you realize that every walk/run is a win. You don’t have to wait until you finish a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, or ultra to feel like you’ve “made it” as a runner. There is no destination. You don’t ever have to enter a race. If you run, you’re a runner.
You are already amazing. Celebrate you!
3) Be kind to yourself
Woke up exhausted and went back to bed? Acknowledge it and then let it go.
If you miss a day in your plan, give yourself the gift of grace. What would you say to a friend who “fell off the wagon”? Probably something a lot nicer and more encouraging than you’re saying to yourself. Treat yourself like your own best friend. Keep practicing that, and you might actually become your own best friend. Win.
Running is not a means to an end. It’s a way of being. It’s a practice of mindfulness and presence. If you treat it like a punishment or a thing you “have” to do in order to lose weight or get your cholesterol down or whatever else, it’s going to feel like a chore. No wonder it’s hard to do!
Remember that this is a journey. It takes time and practice to integrate anything into your way of being. Every run is different. Every day is different. Every day you are different. Enjoy the process itself, and let go of the destination. Let yourself be a beginner, even if you’ve begun a hundred times before.
4) Experiment with time of day
As you’re taking your baby steps, change up the time of day and see if you can tell a difference in your energy or motivation. Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you have childcare or other commitments that steer you toward a certain time of day? When are you most likely to follow through on getting out the door?
This has been a game-changer for me. For years I ran early in the morning before going to work. I knew I’d be too exhausted at the end of the day to run. A few years ago I started working from home, and I could run when I wanted. Ironically, I didn’t run as much.
I had an ideal schedule in my mind that included journaling, meditation, and work in the morning, running at about 10am, and working some more in the afternoon. But I love my work and tend to get absorbed in it, and I never wanted to pull myself away to run—no matter how much I knew running would improve every other aspect of my life. I’ve finally realized that running first thing in the morning is my sweet spot. It’s the only time I reliably get out the door.
So don’t underestimate the power of timing. It can make or break your running experience. Discover what works for you and adjust your commitments as necessary. Prioritizing your commitment to yourself enables you to serve everyone else around you from a healthy place.
5) Play with gratitude
Make gratitude a game. Look for it everywhere. How many things can you find on your run to be grateful for? The body that allows you to run. The breath that powers you. The smell of the morning (or afternoon, or evening). The sound of birds chirping. The smile or wave of encouragement from your neighbor. The feel of the earth beneath your feet. The fact that you woke up this morning. The fact that the sun came up this morning.
There’s so much to be grateful for in this world. The more you look for it, the more you’ll find it. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of practicing gratitude. Learning to see the beauty that exists all around you creates new neural pathways in your brain that improve the health and wellbeing of your physical body and beyond.
When you see the world in a new way, you act in a new way. You radiate more love and compassion into the world. You give more love and compassion to yourself. It doesn’t mean the “bad” stuff goes away. But the more you focus on what you yourself can control (hint: the only thing you can control is how you show up), the more power you have to create real change—for yourself and for the world.