How to Become a Runner

I love to run. I know that may sound peculiar to some of you—but I know where you are coming from. I wasn’t always a runner, and actually… I never thought I would be one. Life surprises you sometimes.

Often, when I talk to people, I hear them say they’ve tried to run before—or start exercising for that matter—but they just can’t do it. I understand this frustration because I experienced it myself. My first few years in college I was overweight and I hardly exercised. It had been years since I had played any sports. In addition, I had a terrible diet consisting mostly of meat, cheese, bread, and potatoes. I wanted to be thinner and had tried to start running before, but it just seemed too hard.

Eventually, after several years of failure, I succeeded by following a friend’s advice. I’d like to pass some of that advice on to any of you who would like to start running. My hope is that these tips will be a benefit to you on your journey to become a runner. If I did it, so can you.

Note: just to clarify, this advice is not necessarily specific to runners, it will work for people beginning a variety of exercises, I’ve simply chosen to talk about running because of my experience.

The Right Mindset
A friend of mine inspired me to start running. I was living abroad and hadn’t seen him for a year, but when we connected again I was surprised by how lean and strong he looked. I found out that he had become an avid jogger. This planted a seed in my mind; I thought, if he can do it, why can’t I?

I began to realize that when I tried running before I had the wrong mindset.  I expected too much from myself.  I wanted to go too far, too fast. It simply wasn’t possible for me to run like that.

I realized that you have to start slow. It’s easy to get a big ego and try to go faster than you should—don’t do that. Recognize that you need to begin running manageable distances, at manageable speeds. This is the only way to form a sustainable running habit. If you don’t have the right mindset you’ll wear yourself out. Do the best that you can, but don’t kill yourself. It will work out better for you in the long run (pun intended).

The Right Speed
When I started running, my goal was simple: I just wanted to run without stopping—it didn’t matter how fast I went. I just tried to push myself and keep going for as long as possible—even if it seemed terribly slow.

If you concentrate on how fast you are going it is very easy to get discouraged. I remember trying to run at a pace that was too fast for me. After a couple hundred meters my energy was drained and I needed to walk.

I found that a slower pace gave me a chance to push myself into going much farther distances. Find the pace that is right for you; it should be challenging, but still easy enough to keep up. You’ll feel better about yourself going a longer distance at a slow pace than going a short distance really fast. Remember, there is always time to increase your speed in the future.

The Right Distance
Choosing the right distance is also important. If you try to go too far you’ll burn yourself out or get discouraged when you repeatedly fall short of your goal. I started with a mile. At first, I couldn’t do it. I would always have to walk part of it, but I kept pushing myself. Soon enough, I was able to do one mile without stopping. After that, I began going farther and farther.

Remember, if you start with a short distance, you can always add to it. Adding extra distance to your planned run will always make you feel better about yourself than quitting half way through your goal. It may take a little time, but with perseverance you’ll soon be ready for your first 5k.

The Right Frequency
Don’t expect to run every day. When you get started you’re going to get sore and you’ll probably get some blisters. Give yourself a chance to heal. Starting slow will give you a better chance at continuing in the future.

I started with 3 days a week. However, I didn’t necessarily run on specific days, instead I tried to listen to my body. If I was more sore than average, I would wait another day before jogging again. If I happened to feel better than average or had a lot of energy, I’d go a day early.

As you get more accustomed to running you’ll be able to go more frequently. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it and want to go more. Today, I really enjoy the release of energy and endorphins that running provides. If I don’t go for a couple days, I really feel like I need a run.

The Right Place
Finding a comfortable place to run can really make a difference. Personally, I prefer to run outside because I like the changing scenery and the fresh air. However, in the winter or the summer (depending on your climate) you may find it more comfortable running on an indoor track or a treadmill.

The most important thing is to find a place that is comfortable for you and is not too far from your home—you don’t want to waste too much of your time traveling to and from exercising.

Note: Be aware that not all running surfaces are the same. Some find running on the road to be hard on their legs or joints. If you have this problem, try to find some trails, or run on the edge of the road (where there is only dirt). A treadmill is also much lower-impact than concrete or asphalt.

The Right Gear
Running is a relatively cheap sport to pursue, but there is one place to spend some money: shoes. Make sure that you get a good pair of running shoes—not tennis shoes, not basketball shoes—running shoes. This was the best piece of advice that a friend gave me.
Good shoes really do make a difference. It might sound obvious, but not all shoes are designed alike. Having a shoe with the right features will increase your chances of success while running.

My advice? Go to a running store and talk to the employees. They will help you pick out a shoe that fits right and supports your foot. You may end up spending a little more money this way, but it will be well worth it. In my case, the expensive shoes also provided me with motivation to get out and use them.

In addition, I’d recommend getting a couple pairs of running shorts or pants. They are great to have because they are comfortable and lightweight. Besides that, don’t spend your money on fancy clothing. Your regular T-shirts and sweatshirts will do just fine.

The Right Diet
In order to exercise, our bodies need fuel—good quality fuel. This is why diet is important. The types of food that we put into our body really do have an effect on us. We need to consume foods that will give us energy and nutrients and won’t weigh us down. A diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) will provide our bodies with everything we need to preform our best.

Diet and exercise go hand in hand. As you begin to exercise more frequently, you’ll naturally pay more attention to your diet. Then, when your diet changes and you start to feel better, you may want to get out and be more active.

Do you really need any more motivation? Running is hard work and it takes dedication, but if you follow the tips detailed above you can succeed. Pushing through the first week or two is the hardest part. After that, it won’t be long and you’ll be itching to get out for a run.

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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