For nonrunners, the idea of running can be as intimidating as it is intriguing. Don’t you have to be thin, in great shape, have cute clothes and go fast?
The answer is a resounding no. Running is, at its most basic, putting one foot in front of the other. Runners are anyone.
“If you want to see what a runner looks like,” said longtime Run On coach Rae Mills of Sachse, Texas, who ran her first marathon at age 57, “look in the mirror.”
David Farris, who estimates he has coached 700 runners, said, “Your goal is your next step. That’s all you need to be focused on. People say, ‘Oh, I can’t run a marathon.’ No, right now you can’t, but you can run for a minute, right? Let’s start there.”
We asked these dedicated coaches for tips to getting started in this do-anywhere exercise:
Have a reason. Do you want to meet new people? Honor the memory of a loved one? Lose weight? “When you get to bad days when the temperature is 95 and it’s humid and everything hurts, you can say, “I’m doing it because of X,” said Farris, 46, of Dallas.
Invest in a good pair of shoes. Go to a store that specializes in running shoes. The process should take at least 30 minutes, Farris said. “If they don’t make you try them on and run around the store, hand those shoes back and leave.”
“Remember that Cinderella is a good example of how a pair of shoes can change your life,” said Mills, 65.
Don’t expect to love it. “With the exception of a tiny group of people, it’s a struggle,” Farris said. “Every one of us wakes up and says, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ You have to want to change your life.”
Join a class or run with someone. When Farris coached for Luke’s Locker, he made up cheers and had his runners sing songs to keep them going. Not every coach does that, obviously, but camaraderie can work wonders in keeping your spirits up and enthusiasm high.
“Don’t not join a class because you think you’ll be the slowest runner,” Mills said. “Everyone thinks that.”
Start with 10-10-10. That’s walk 10 minutes (at a get-faster pace every two minutes); run 10 (where you can carry on what he calls a “broken conversation”); and walk 10.
“If you can have a regular conversation, you’re not putting out enough effort. If you’re panting as you talk, you’re running too fast.”
If you can’t complete the 10-minute running phase, Farris said, “Pick a point 100 yards away that you can make it to, like a tree. When you’re a few yards away, re-evaluate.” Even if you don’t run, keep moving.
“If you control your stop and control your restart, you can own it. It’s not a defeat,” he said.
Do the 10-10-10 three times a week, Farris suggests. When you can finish the running portion without stopping, change the ratio to 9-12-9. Eventually you’ll run the whole 30 minutes.
Mills strongly advocates former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s run, walk, run method, no matter how advanced her runners. She recently completed the Rock ’n’ Roll Philadelphia half-marathon in 2:23:24 using a 3-to-1 run-to-walk ratio.
Breathe. Beginners, maybe because they’re afraid or tense, tend to hold their breaths as they run, Farris said. That’s one reason he encourages talking. Even if you’re running by yourself, he said, talk. It helps gauge your exertion level and keeps you breathing.
Look six feet ahead. “People are watching their feet,” Farris said. “You need to be looking for puppies and kittens, twigs on the road. If your head is up and your mouth open, maybe some air will shovel itself down your throat. I’ll take breathing however I can get it.”
Relax. “Get your shoulders out of your ears,” he said. “Your typical new person will clench their fists, jack their shoulders up to their ears, look at their feet, glue their elbows to their sides. I was taught to run like you’re carrying a feather.”
Schedule your runs. “Do it like you’d schedule a doctor’s appointment or a ballet recital or anything else,” Farris said. “This needs to have that level of importance.”
Keep a record. “I like having a diary in front of them on the fridge that shows what they’ve done,” he said.
Rest. “The time you rest is as important as the time you run,” Farris said.
Believe. “People will say, ‘I can’t do that,’” Farris said. “I tell them, ‘You’re the only person who believes that.’ Running can change your life.”