I have never considered myself (nor have I been considered by others) to be an athletic person. As a child, sports were never my thing, and my goal at any Track and Field event was primarily not to embarrass myself. It seemed as though, despite coming from a family of ballerinas, the genes for physical prowess, coordination, endurance, and strength had simply passed me by. This was compounded by the fact that until last year, I had undiagnosed exercised-induced asthma – a fact I discovered only after my partner insisted I see a doctor (he refused to believe me when I claimed that regularly breaking into uncontrollable coughing fits after physical exertion was ‘just the way I was’).
So, it was a pretty big feat for me when I ran 5k for the first time last week! My time was not very fast (around 42 minutes), and I definitely still had to break up my running with spurts of brisk walking, but it was still a lot more success than I’d ever though I’d have with running. My decision to try running was the product of a few factors. First, I was studying abroad in Sydney for 3 months. This meant that I wouldn’t have access to my usual elliptical machine in my apartment building’s gym, and I wasn’t so sure I’d actually make use of a gym membership in Sydney. Being alone and far away from home was not doing great things for my anxiety, and exercise really helps me feel better, so I figured I’d better find some form of exercise I could do regularly and easily. Second, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to put more effort into being healthy. I had been documenting my progress towards my resolutions to hold myself accountable, and running seemed like a good activity that I could track as part of this process. Using a Couch to 5k (c25K) app and a pedometer app, I could easily track my progress on my phone. Finally, I had been sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed since I’m staying in a residential college while abroad. I suffer from lower back pain even when I sleep on a good mattress, so I knew I needed to do something extra to compensate. Doing more regular exercise seemed like it would help (this JAMA review about exercise and lower back pain is pretty convincing).
I’ve now been running for just over 8 weeks, and I really did go from being able to run very little to being able to run 5k (as the C25K program promises). That said, although I can run 5k, it still really takes it out of me. So, to make running more sustainable for me beyond C25K, I’m focusing now on running for 30 minutes and trying to increase the distance I can cover in that time, and reduce the number of walking breaks I need. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get to the point where I can do 5k in 30 minutes! Here are my tips for anyone like me who is non-athletic but wants to try running:
- Use apps! They are great. C25K apps are awesome because they have set programs, they build up your stamina in increments, and they make you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. My usual MO in the gym was to go on the elliptical until I was tired, which wasn’t really conducive to noticeable speed or endurance gains.Having incremental goals really helped me push myself. Pedometer apps are great for once you are done the 8 week C25k program and want to just do your own runs. Also, most of these apps are free!
- Don’t worry about doing everything perfectly. The app I was using gave me this motivational quote that, unlike most motivational quotes, I actually found motivating: “No matter how fast you’re running, you’re still lapping everybody on the couch”. Doing something is better than doing nothing! As long as you aren’t running in a way that’s going to cause yourself harm (see point 3 below), don’t stress out too much about whether you are hitting the pace set by the app (my app was set out with the expectation that users would be running 10 minute miles by the end, which I certainly wasn’t). Also, don’t worry about looking stupid. I spent a lot of time running in big circles around an empty parking lot, and I definitely got some weird looks. But who cares! I’m running for me, not for random people on the street!
- Do worry about running with reasonably good form. I hadn’t considered this at first (because, as aforementioned, I knew nothing about running), so I didn’t realize I wasn’t really protecting my knees until they starting hurting a lot! The internet was my best resource for this – I found this guide particularly helpful.
- Be prepared for your calves to hurt a lot if you decide one day to change things up and run up and down hills. This is probably obvious to most people familiar with exercise, but it was not obvious to me! Level ground is your best friend when you are new to running outside.
- Try to remember to remove your makeup before you run. Again, this is probably obvious to most make-up-wearing athletes, but I was not prepared for how much my face would sweat (and how much it would hurt for that sweat to mix with my mascara and then trickle into my eyes). It’s also much better for your skin not to sweat makeup into it (duh).
- Most importantly, don’t give up. There were days (ok, most days) when I didn’t want to go for a run. But I did. And then I felt really good! Like I had achieved something! Also, endorphins! I used to think endorphins were either a lie or just didn’t work for me, but I was wrong. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. (And happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.)
So, if running is something you never thought you could do – I say, give it a go! Seriously, if I can do it, anybody can.