For most of my life, I found runners incredibly intimidating. Not professional Olympic runners (although, yes, obviously, they are very intimidating athletes), but the people I saw running the same route every single day with fierce looks of determination on their faces, jogging by in bright tank tops and cool sneakers, ponytails bobbing. As someone who could barely get through gym class, I felt envious of these athletes who could run for miles almost every day. I always wanted to become a runner, but I never felt like I could be that person who woke up early, laced up her sneakers, and made jogging look effortless. That is, until I tried it, loved it, and managed to become a runner, despite being completely non-athletic.
Sports and fitness have never come easy to me. I was the quintessential non-athletic girl in my group of friends growing up — I was always picked last for our neighborhood games of kickball and softball, I skipped out on gym class as often as possible, and I refused to do anything involving goals or balls or games. Running the mile in high school was nothing short of torture for me, and when I got through it, I wondered how anyone did that every day.
But after high school, I got more into exercise. I did weight-lifting at the gym and learned about form with various personal trainers, hung out on the elliptical a lot, and got into classes like yoga, pilates, and step. After college, I started doing fun workout classes for my job, like anti-gravity fitness, Surfset yoga, and SoulCycle. I got more and more into fitness, and as I did, I felt like maybe, one day, I too could be a ~cool runner.~
After years of weird anxiety about it, I finally decided to try going for a run one day a little over a year ago. I put my fears aside, went out, and did a little jog... and it felt amazing. I won't say I did an incredible job, because I didn't (it wasn't like a movie where my inner athlete was released and bystanders gasped as I flew by, displaying graceful strides and a beautiful ponytail), but I was hooked anyway. Now I'm committed to shattering the stereotype that you have to be a *certain way* to run regularly. If I can do it, you can too. Here are 11 steps to becoming a runner when you're not an athletic person:
1. Start Slow
If you can run fast, that's awesome! I cannot run fast. I used to try to fight that by trying to run as fast as possible... until I realized that it doesn't matter how fast you're going because everyone is different. So, if running fast is hard for you, then go slower. You should of course push yourself as you get more adjusted, but don't push yourself into doing something you can't do. Going at a slow pace helps me get through longer runs, and keeps me from feeling exhausted too soon into things. Start out at a pace that feels right for you.
2. Start Slow With Intervals
Sometimes I feel like a fraud when I say I'm a runner, because to be honest, I do a lot of running/walking intervals throughout my route. I am still not at a point where I can run five miles without pausing to walk. In fact, I struggle with getting past 20 full minutes of running without slowing down. But doing intervals makes running work for me, and if you're not very athletic, it will probably help you too — plus, it makes the whole thing less intimidating.
What do I mean by intervals? I go from running for a certain amount of time to walking for a certain amount of time. When I first started, I started slow. I ran for five minutes (because that was all I could handle), and walked for two minutes. As time went on, I was able to increase my running time. I went slowly, listening and paying attention to my body the whole time. After about a month, I could do seven to eight minutes of running, then three minutes of walking. Time went by, and I got up to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. Now for a typical run, I'll do 20 minutes of running, five minutes of fast walking, another 20 minutes of running, and then finish out with walking. Find the intervals that work for you, and you'll notice your body changing.
3. Pick A Route You Love
I think your route is really important when it comes to finding inspiration to run on the days you're not in the mood. Running alongside beautiful scenery is totally different than running up and down a boring neighborhood — and it's certainly nicer than being on a treadmill in a gym. My normal route involves running down to the docks at my town so I can see the Great South Bay. On some nights, I get to watch the sunset, which makes my run about a thousand times better. Pick something that makes you feel comfortable and happy. I also suggest switching it up a bit sometimes, which will make things exciting. I like to find popular nature walking or bike trails and go to those whenever I have the extra time.
4. Make It A Routine
In order to make any kind of exercise (or really any kind of change) into something regular, you have to make a routine out of it so that it eventually feels like a habit more than a necessary appointment. My personal routine involves running for 45 minutes to an hour right after work three days a week. Maybe yours is running in the morning before work, or running every other day with a friend. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you stick to it.
5. Find The Music That Inspires You
Music is such an important part of running, especially for someone who needs the extra motivation and isn't 100 percent sure of what they're doing. You can find tons of running playlists on streaming services. I switch between those and making my own. If I'm not listening to the right music, I find it can be hard to get fully into the experience. I love dance/hip-hop, but maybe you run best to Adele.
6. Buy Cute Workout Outfits
This sounds lame and superficial, but buying clothes you're excited to wear really does make working out more fun. It's inspiring in a weird way. The good news is that you don't need to blow your whole paycheck. You don't have to spend $100 on see-through designer leggings if you don't want to (although if you do, go for it!). Cheaper stores offer lots of options, and you can find plenty of tanks and bras for less than $20.
7. Make Running More Comfortable
Running outside is intimidating to a lot of people because it can be rough. It's not easy to jog down the street and have to deal with outdoor conditions as well as your own body screaming in pain. It's also hard to handle a phone (for music and general safety), earbuds, and a water bottle. And depending on the temperature, it's hard to stay warm, although it's mainly hard to stay cool. Find accessories and ways to make yourself feel as comfortable as possible.
My personal suggestions? I carry my phone in a fitness belt that looks like a little fanny pack, but is way more comfortable and so easy to manage. Unlike an arm band, it can also hold a key and money as well. I use sports earbuds because regular ones fall out. Lastly, I always start out chilly in terms of clothing. Running makes you hot, and trust me: you'd rather be a little cold than sweating everything out.
8. Listen To Your Body
Beginning runners (I still consider myself a beginner) and anyone who doesn't feel super sure on their feet need to listen to their body the whole time. There's a difference between pushing yourself and over-exerting yourself, and you have to be careful. I generally know when my body can keep going and when I have to pause. Sometimes you might make a goal of running for 10 straight minutes, but then you get to minute six, and you feel like you're going to pass out. If the pain is bad, it's OK to pause and walk for a bit until you feel better. Pushing yourself too hard isn't fun.
9. Do Other Exercises Throughout The Week That Aren't Running
It's easy to get bored of running so much after a while. This is the reason you should supplement your running with other kinds of workouts. I like to do yoga most mornings, spin once a week, and strength training when I have time. It makes me feel more inspired and keeps running fresh. You can choose to maybe run once or twice a week, hit the gym two days a week, or choose anything else that strikes your fancy.
10. Give Yourself Goals
As someone who doesn't feel like an athletic person, I know how simple it can be to psych yourself out. But instead of comparing yourself to your friend who has been running since she was 12-years-old and can lap you easily, make your own goals. Your goals can be really tiny: for example, whenever I'm feeling extra tired, I push myself to at least make it to the end of the song I'm listening to, and if I'm still feeling exhausted, I can start walking then. Whatever it is, it feels really good when you make that goal — and that will keep you coming back for more.
11. Remember You Are Not An Expert, So Stop Being Hard On Yourself
It's important to remember that you are not an expert or a world-class runner. Having expectations that are too high will lead you to feel disappointed in yourself. Instead, embrace small victories, like the fact that you ran even just once in a week. Don't be so hard on yourself! The minute you start taking this too seriously is when it becomes more of a boring chore than something enjoyable.
Images: lechatnoir/E+/Getty Images; Giphy