How To Become a Runner


First of all, I’m no expert, but I started running in grade school and I have become and unbecome a runner numerous times in my life.  I am not a fast runner or an award winning runner, but I have run three half marathons and I’ve started and stopped this enough times to  have some idea of how to get from sitting on the couch watching The Biggest Loser and wishing you could get motivated to actually becoming a runner.

And also? If you don’t want to run or you can’t run or you would rather start running a different way or whatever, it makes no difference to me.  This is not a judgment,  just one way that is working for me.

Also, please don’t sue me if you fall and break your ankle during Training Run Number Three.

Step One: Start Walking.

Find yourself a nice route that you can walk every day.  I would recommend three miles, but walk as far as you can in an hour.  If you have no idea where to run or how far anything is, you can either force Mr. E to map you out a three mile route (this is my chosen technique) or you can consult

So, walk three miles every day.  It doesn’t have to be fast, and it doesn’t have to be at a certain time of day.  You can start out wearing jeans and tennis shoes, if you want.  The only really important thing is to walk three miles every day for two weeks.

It’s important that you walk for about an hour, because taking an hour out of your day is a giant pain in the ass.  This means that you will have great incentive to start running, because it takes less time.  After you spend an hour walking every day for two weeks, you will absolutely think to yourself  that anything that takes less time sounds like a pretty good idea.

Start out wearing whatever you want on your walks.  You’re just walking, so it’s not a huge deal.  However, by the end of two weeks, you should be wearing running clothes and shoes –  so that if you felt like starting to run, just to give it a try while you’re out walking, you could.

It’s also important to do this walk every day.  It’s so much easier to work out every single day if you take out the element of choice.  I am a world champion at talking myself out of exercising.  So for me, it works better just to do it every day no matter what, to remove the option of not doing it.

I also recommend that you learn to run outside.  I have nothing against the treadmill, and if that’s the only way that you can get in your exercise, then that’s what you should do, but given the choice between the two, I would run outside.  If you can run three miles on the street, you’ll be able to just up and run three miles any time.   The treadmill is great, but it’s not as hard as running outside. If you can run three miles on the treadmill, you won’t necessarily be able to just go bust out three miles on the street.  It’s just not as hard of a work out, unfortunately.

I also love the fact that I can bring Eli if I run outside, and I don’t have to use up precious nap time to exercise.  I need nap time hours for important shit, like blogging.  I’m not going to waste those magical hours on running.  And even better, if I take him with me, that’s almost an hour out of the day where I don’t have to figure out how to entertain him or get him to stop whining.  Bonus.

Now.  A note of caution.  This two week walking period is going to seem like a great time to find all the reasons why running won’t work for you, but that’s not going to turn you into a runner, so tell yourself that you’re not going to succumb to that temptation, and use these two weeks to figure out solutions to any issues that may arise.  Thighs rub together? Buy some spandex pants.  Bored out of your mind?  Download some podcasts.  Ears get cold?  Buy a hat.  Shin splints?  Google it.  Need to bring the kids?  Find a jogging stroller on Craigslist. Nose runs?  Carry a kleenex.  Big dogs?  Buy some pepper spray.  Blisters?  Buy better socks.  Hate your shoes?  Hit the running shoe store.  Whatever it is, figure it out and move on.

Also, clothes.  Let’s talk about clothes.  I subscribe to the “Run Ugly” theory.  In no universe do I look cute when I run, I look like a chubby twelve year old in her pajamas.  Wear whatever, and don’t worry about being cute.  You’re an athlete, not a model.  Roar!

Ok, um, where was I?

So, walk for two weeks.  Get all the kinks worked out.  Figure out what time works best for you, what snacks your kid likes in the jogging stroller, and get ready to start running.

Step Two: Couch to 5K.

You can, of course, just start off along your familiar three mile walking route and force yourself to run for as long as you can before stopping, but I think that’s a really difficult mental exercise on top of all of the pounding your knees are about to take.  Couch to 5K is great because it starts you off slowly, it’s totally do able, and doesn’t make you run until you think you might collapse.  I just found these great podcasts so I don’t even have to look at my watch, there’s just some guy telling me when to run and when to walk.  Insanely awesome.

For me three mile loop, I have to rewind a bit, because I want to be able to run a little bit farther than a 5K, I want to be able to bust out three miles three times a week. So I do the Couch to 5K podcast twice ish.

Now, I won’t lie.  This starting to run part is going to sort of suck.  In the beginning, it won’t be too fun, at all.  But here are some things to keep in mind.  1. It might not be easy, but it will be POSSIBLE.  2.  You will feel GREAT afterwards.  Endorphins are magical things.  3.  You will see results quickly, I swear I started noticing new muscles in my legs a week in.  4.  The first mile of any run is always a total suck fest, but it gets better after that 5.  It will not always be this terrible.  It will get easier and more fun after a while.  6.  And finally, you will, I promise, come to look forward to these runs.  You will start to wonder when you can fit in more running.  You will start to think about when you can next go for a run.  It will start to be the highlight of your day.  I know that sitting on your couch reading this, you cannot imagine that, but I swear, it is honest to god true.

Also, be prepared.  At first, all of this running is going to make you really really hungry.  If you’re also trying to lose weight, make sure you have some lean protein healthy snacks ready to go, because when you get back from running, you’ll be pretty hungry for the rest of the day, and if you’re not careful, you may injure yourself falling head first into a vat of chocolate chip cookie dough.  And those cookie dough injuries are the worst.

3.  Step Three:  Find something else to do.  I only want to run three times a week, but I want to work out Monday through Friday.  This means I have to find something else to do.  Alternating running with something is kind of important – it not only breaks up the running monotony and gives you a chance to do strength training,  it keeps you from injuring something by pounding the shit out of your joints five times in a row.

Anyway, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I do the 30 Day Shred, which is great because it only take 20 minutes, it forces me to do push ups which I hate, and it’s free since I have it in my On Demand Cable Thingee.  I would definitely recommend you find something else to do on alternate running days as well.

4.  Step Four:  Keep Running. If you finish Couch to 5K and you want to run more than three miles, or longer than a 5K, the best motivation I have found to help increase distance is to sign up for a longer run.  Find a five miler or a 10K or something, and follow one of Hal Higdon’s training programs.  Once you pay the fee and sign up for a race and tell everyone you know that you’re doing it, it’s powerful motivation to get out there and do those long weekend runs because you don’t want to look like an ass in front of thousands of people as you limp across the finish line on race day.  And before you know it, you’re running a half marathon past every tortilla factory in Detroit with a 102 degree fever while wishing you were giving birth instead.  Yeah!

5.  Step Five:  You Rule.  And now, you’re a runner*!  Congratulations!  You are officially awesome!

*By the way, one of the fastest ways in the world to piss me off is to start bitchily qualifying what makes someone a runner.  If you lace up your shoes and you pound the pavement a few times a week, you are a runner.   Anyone who tells you that you’re not a runner because you’re slow, or you listen to music, or you only run two miles a week or god knows what else can suck it.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Questions? Let me know!


27 Responses

  1. This makes even chubby little me think *I* could be a runner. Thanks for the awesome post. My boyfriend is running a marathon (I KNOW) and I want to start…but hate running because I suck.

    Thanks for the motivation. Take care!

  2. I so needed this today. Thank you, thank you.

  3. Great post! I’ve always been an on-again-off-again runner, too, ever since high school. I completely agree about the Couch-to-5K program — I use that one too, and it eases me into it and makes me feel great without being too intimidating. Love it.

    I also needed to be reminded of what you said about being a runner — I often feel like I’m too slow or don’t cover enough distance to think of myself as “A Runner,” but hey, I do get out there and run 3x a week, so why shouldn’t I think of myself that way? Good point.

  4. I’m doing my third 10-miler in October and I can’t wait to get out there and start training… I remember how great it feels to accomplish something like that.

    Also , huge YES on Running Ugly. No fancy clothes for me, just my huge NEWSTalk WMAL t-shirt that hangs to my knees when I get sweaty and my blue mesh shorts with the giant rip in the crotch. (Which is never a problem, please see: huge NEWSTalk WMAL t-shirt that makes me look like I’m running in a dress.)

    This is superb advice, by the way.

  5. Hmm. Well, I can confidently say that the 60 year old naked man (nay… men, as in the plural) in the Bay to Breakers race I saw with my wife’s best friends mother? Those men were not runners.

    I mean, I’m a grown man and I NEVER KNEW that testicles were so… bouncy, for lack of a better word

  6. My goal is to run around the 2.8 mile lake by my house this summer. This scares the crap out of me because 1) 2.8 miles and 2) outSIDE. I’ve already had the “BUT PEOPLE WILL LOOK AT ME” talk with my dozens (dozens!) of marathoner friends.

    I did not know about that podcast- how awesome is that! Because a big part of my problem is obsessing about where I am in the workout. I have to cover up the flashing lights with a blanket or else I’d just be watching the seconds tick by. It’d be great to just have someone say, “Hey, time to run now wussy girl.”

    Although, all of this means nothing if my kids don’t nap at the same freaking time. OR AT ALL. LIKE TODAY. GAH. (Have no idea how to run with two as I am jogging stroller-less, have no intention of buying one, and IT IS SNOWING. Time to move to CA.)

  7. Thanks for this post! My husband has always been one of those lothesome people who can up and run 3 miles after being sedintary for months. I, on the other hand, have never been much for physical exertion. But…I am an elementary teacher and keep getting sick. He swears that regular exercize will help me stay healthier, and I’ve always wanted to be a “runner”, so I’m giving it a shot. I had no idea about the podcasts – sounds like a great idea! You rock!:)

  8. I love this post! I’m not a runner but I want to be. This might be the workout plan I need to follow.

    Also, run ugly? Love it. I subscribe to the workout-ugly theory, which is the same idea. I wear icky knee-length shorts and t-shirts I filch from the mister. And i look at all those cute little outfits at the gym and laugh, because I don’t look that put-together for work, where I go to COURTROOMS and speak to JUDGES.

  9. How do I even describe the awesomeness of this post?! I’ve been an on/off runner for more than 20 years and every single thing you said is totally spot on! Especially the part about starting out walking and then taking up running because it takes too damn long! That right there is some truly funny shit!

    Thanks for this rad post!

  10. Awesome.

    I was just starting to work up to running some of the time during walks, and then I sprained my stupid ankle (not running, just trying to walk down stairs), and since then I’ve been wary.

    But now I’m up a few pounds and I really need to get back to it. Thanks for the reminder.

    Q: how do I keep my daughter from falling asleep ion her nice soothing stroller ride? Because nap time during exercise time sucks.

  11. Very cool. I am a perpetual walker, but this makes me think I might be able to do more. I think I’m on day 5 of the Shred and I love it. It’s hard, and I can’t imagine progressing beyond the first workout, but it’s a lot of bang for my buck (or for 20 minutes, anyway).

  12. This post reminded me of how I got started running in law school. And I was good at it! But then I gave it up and now I’m out of shape, but I think I can do it again thanks to you.

    Oh. Yea, and I loved Mr. E’s comment about testicles. That made me want to run too. 🙂

  13. Sounds like someone has gotten her running mojo back. 😉

  14. This is awesome. I am going to print it out and once I have this baby, I will start using these techniques.

  15. …I had to lay down and take a short nap just *reading* this. Heh. I am very glad it works for you — running is, sadly, not my thing (it kicks up my mild asthma, and within about five minutes I’m on my knees on the side of the road, hornking stuff out of my lungs that is better not described). I do, however, rock the push ups, so we should just trade. I’ll do extra pushups for you, you do extra running for me. Deal?

  16. My favorite part of this post is your no. 4 under “Step Two: Couch to 5K.” You are so totally right.

    And congratulations to you for getting out there and doing it, making it happen. That’s the hardest part.

    P. S. I am running my second 1/2 marathon this weekend. Because you’ve already done three, this automatically makes you a better runner than me. 🙂

  17. So awesome. thank you for inspiring me 🙂

  18. you definitely need to coin Run Ugly. It means SO much to me that you get that.

  19. This is FANTASTIC. I’ve set a fitness goal for 2009 (who hasn’t) and I’m struggling with it already… trying to find things to do, how to do it, how to get started, etc. I’ve been doing a video that is kicking my TRASH and it’s a ridiculously EASY dvd that you’re supposed to do with your TODDLER. Which makes me, quite possibly, the weakest weakling that ever weaked. But. You’ve give me motivation. I can do this. I know I can! I’ve done the running/not running thing before too, and I needed a reminder that that runner is somewhere in me.

    Thank you. BTW – love “run ugly”. It’s fabulous.

  20. I love this post! Your how to be a runner story is the exact recipe I use when I need to become a runner again. I totally used the Hal Higdon thing when I ran a half marathon too. God Bless the internet eh? I am currently loving running and am at that stage where I want more, more more. Excuse me now, I must go add you to my reader and star this post.

  21. you’re awesome – thank you for this post. what you have to say always makes me feel good.

  22. This was so perfect for me today! I started the Couch 2 5k program in January of 08, and ran my first 5k race in July. But then Christmas happened, and well, I haven’t ran since about Dec 20.

    I’ve been trying to get myself motivated again to do it – because I really did enjoy it – even though I was as slow as molasses.

    I just need to get back out there and get started again – even if I just start back at the walking part.

  23. I have a lot of friends that swear by C25K. I ran – well wogged – my 1st 5K last December …. maybe this is the kick I need to start again.

  24. This is an awesome post! All of it is true. I have been kind of, sort of trying to get running again and then had a knee issue and then an ankle issue etc etc… but you have motivated me. The BEST part of this post is the podcast thingie! I have always wanted to do that Hal Higdon thing but can’t be bothered to pay that much attention to the time. THANKS!!

  25. Late to the party on this post, but the idea of starting with a DISTANCE, instead of a time, so that running seems appealing because it is faster? That is BRILLIANT. Also, the advice that you spend those two walking weeks discovering and addressing your issues is spot-on. After years and years of not running outside because of my asthma, I finally sacked up and went to the doctor to get a new inhaler and behold! I can run 3 miles now!

  26. […] what to do to go from being a walker to a runner. I stumbled upon Life Learning Today, eHow, and Princess Nebraska. I really liked the humor in Princess Nebraska’s post. She also led me to The Couch-to-5K […]

  27. awesome. I read in one of my running books onetime that what takes someone from being a jogger to being a runner is merely a frame of mind and in no way correlates to speed, miles done, or fierceness. So if you consider yourself a runner you’re a runner, even if you only run 5 minutes once in a blue moon. After being like you and being off and on over the years due to injuries and the general craziness of life, I like that way of looking at things!

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