Learning to Run

A recent caucus of this blog’s readership reveals that approximately 30 percent of you love running, 40 percent of you hate running, 20 percent of you have never tried running and 10 percent of you are my mom. Does that add up to 100 percent? Because there might be another 10 percent that got stuck here after googling “picture of dinosaur chasing man” to pad out their Creationist newsletters. But at the risk of alienating that fine demographic, this post is more aimed at the aforementioned 20 percent.

Most of the comments I get about this blog are from non-runners, which stands to reason since I probably spend more time here talking about popcorn tins and Jurassic Park continuity than the actual experience of being a runner. But every once in awhile, I’ll get a real running-related comment from someone who wants to try running. They want to run but don’t know where to start. And I don’t blame them—running is a great way to get places slowly for free. Occasionally it improves your heath, reduces stress and increases energy, but mostly it’s just a free way to noodle around town without the bothersome fetter that comes with biking.

Well, relax, would-be runners, I’m here to help you get started.

The first thing you should know is that you don’t need any equipment. You don’t even necessarily need shoes. This is probably the number-one thing that elevates running above all other sports—the minimalism, and the ability to train anywhere short of a warzone.

Second, anyone can be a runner. It might not be easy, but it can certainly be done. When I first experimented with running I couldn’t make it farther than a mile or two, despite being a Pilates DVD enthusiast and full-time bike messenger. I would get these weird jabbing pains in my side, and I felt like I was in that scene from Total Recall where the bad guy gets sucked out of the space station’s airlock and asphyxiates.

But I was persistent, and over time, something changed. After more than a year of side stitches and struggle, one day running six miles felt as comfortable and effortless as doing a Monday New York Times crossword. There was no conscious thought. My limbs just locked onto the same frequency and started 10-4ing back and forth like they had their own CB channel. It felt better than anything has a right to. My first runner’s high—I almost couldn’t believe it was actually good for me.

So, essentially what I’m saying is that if I can do it, anyone who wants to probably can too. And now is as good a time as any to learn how. But I know the prospect of just launching yourself out the door without a foreseeable game plan can seem daunting, so here are a few tricks to get you started. Other sites might instruct you on proper shoe choice or training plans, but I’m just here to help motivate you, mitigate the initial boredom, and promise you that It Gets Better.

Invest in some gear. When the “Feels Like” index reads “Life on the ice planet Hoth,” it’s going to take something extra to get you out into the cold, even if that something extra is just a new thermal hoodie. Minimalism has its time and place, but there’s something to be said for feeling like a hot ticket in flashy, new swag. Plus, once you pump even five bones into something, the shame factor of not getting your money’s worth increases tenfold. Just don’t feel like you have to buy the really expensive compression gear: Target, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx have plenty of fancy wicking wear on clearance.

Try a Couch to 5k. My sister told me about this program, and it sounds awesome. Try this if you want to ease slowly into running and not overwhelm your system right away.

Alternate walking and running. A less structured version of the Couch to 5K plan. After all, there’s really no shame in stopping to walk if your breathing gets too rapid or you simply need a rest from running. Hey, you’re still ticking off miles, right? The trick is to only slow down for the walking part when no one attractive is looking.

Register for something before you’re ready. Consider some of the dubious life lessons I’ve fired at friends and family over the past year from pseudo-intellectual, point-blank range. “You have to jump into the deep end, and then rise up to meet the water.” (Er. Or something like that—sometimes my platitude cannon gets jammed up with awkwardness.) Anyway, I signed up for a marathon for my first race, and though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone follow suit, believe me when I say that a looming deadline will terrify you into diligent training. If you’re just lacing up running shoes for the first time, try registering for a 5K or 10K in a couple months.

Run to a coffee shop. Get zorched on caffeine. Run home. This works like gangbusters in getting you out the door, and half the battle is just getting out the door. The key to pulling this off is getting used to hanging out in running clothes in hipster settings, which, depending on your peer group, may or may not draw a generous helping of guff. Just get over it—you look good in those Lulemon knockoffs, hot stuff.

Distract yourself with stuff. Music, podcasts, brain games, thoughts of your own personal triumphs and crippling failures . The best way to pass those first few miles is to think about anything but the running. Personally, I like to replay all my favorite movies with cats in the leading roles.

Have a partner drop you off when you’re a couple miles from home. You’re two miles from home without a cell phone. The season premiere of Your Favorite Show starts in 20 minutes, and in this dystopian hypothetical scenario, there are no Tivo’s or VCRs. It’s like you’re Sandra Bullock in a particularly low-stakes version of Speed. Better start running!

This is but a sampling of ways to make your beginning miles feel a little less daunting. I honestly believe the trick to becoming a runner is just incorporating running into your everyday life and building up stamina from there. Instead of driving, try running to the library next time. Or over to a friend’s house. Or to the bar. Within weeks, you could be hopelessly addicted, and then you’ll have even more reason to keep reading this blog (which I promise to start updating more regularly).