April 11, 2016

Health : Start Running

TransAmerica Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon. April 2016

I often hear people say that they could never run this or that distance, or run home from work, or run up certain hills. And I really, truly believe that anyone can run and anyone can run for longer distances and steeper hills than they think. Stamina is something that anyone can build, and it really is as simple and hard as taking the time to develop it.

For years in elementary school, I was two feats away from attaining the President's Physical Fitness Award.  Do you remember that annual test where you have to do a certain number of sit-ups, throw a ball a certain distance, and run a mile in a certain amount of time, and if you did all of the things on the list you would get a President's Fitness Award?  The two things I could never do were: 1) a pull-up and 2) run a mile under the required time. All of the other things I could do without trying, and so I figured that I just couldn't do these two things.

Then one year our school realized a good number of us weren't passing the mile test, and they decided we needed to develop our stamina.  So once a week they made us run around the gym for twenty minutes straight. They didn't measure our distance or measure our mile time; they just encouraged us to keep running at whatever pace we could keep for twenty minutes. That year when I ran the mile for the Fitness Award, I did it well under the required time without even trying--realizing afterwards that all the trying had been in those weekly twenty minute runs. (Unrelated to running but related to trying--I practiced pull-ups for months and eventually learned that too, and I have so much to say about strength training at another time).

My point about that is not just that a lot of physical things just take time, that mainly that I'm not a natural athlete by any means. I remember watching girls my age naturally run six-minute miles, and that was never me--I needed that extra push from my school to develop stamina to just finish a mile without walking. I could sprint fast enough to make it into races but never fast enough to win them.  And I'm still not fast, but I can run long distances and if I can, it is really, absolutely true that you can too.  So that starts my list of tips for getting into running:

Know that you can. I love running because inherently, most everyone can do it. It doesn't require technical skills or gear. It is pretty much the easiest physical thing you can do for yourself. And I know a lot of people don't like running because it feels like work and the runner's high doesn't come, but I really feel that if you have any desire at all to discover the joy of running, you can.

Aim for time, not speed or distance. Instead of worrying about how far you are going, just aim for running for a period of time. I find that this relieves a lot of the pressure about keeping a certain pace. For people who are aiming for speedwork, this may feel like you're not pushing yourself. But when you are just starting out, I find it can be discouraging not to be able to finish a certain distance. Our speed can change a lot, so one week three miles will feel like a breeze and another time it will feel impossible. Our general stamina for how long we can run is more constant.

Castle Rock State Park, California. Summer 2010

Have small and big goals. This is relative for everyone. I think it's important to have the bigger goals--a 5K, a half, a full marathon--to push yourself to know that you really could do any of those things if you wanted to. But day to day, week to week, starting out slow and totally embracing that--I found that this is key to maintaining it. Don't feel bad if your initial goal is to run for ten minutes straight. When I first got back into running after awhile away, this was hard for me.

Choose the treadmill or outdoors. People are always ragging on the treadmill, but I love the treadmill when I find it hard to get started or keep going outside. I think it's different for everyone, and you should choose whatever works best for you to start, or mix it up. The key is to avoid feeling bad about any way you choose to run.

Always feel good about how you run. I totally understand that if you're a professional marathoner there are times you might feel bad about your performance and you want to be able to recognize where you can improve. But when you are first just getting into it, I think it's important to be amazed at what you are trying, regardless of how much you stop or how tired you feel. It's not so hard that this is out of your reach, but it's not easy either to fight inertia and make your body move.

Yosemite National Park, California. October 2012.

I know that principles are always easier to spout and nod at, than to integrate into daily life. It took me a long time to make this a regular practice, and I think that's true of any healthy habit you choose that isn't a routine or natural part of your day. But after you realize that you can, there are a lot of ways to start. Sustaining it is for next time.


  1. Great principles for running and anything in life, really! Thanks for summing it up so articulately. Makes me want to go for a run :) p.s. I totally remember that physical test in elementary school- for me, it was doing a sit up ;)

  2. Great principles for running and anything in life, really! Thanks for summing it up so articulately. Makes me want to go for a run :) p.s. I totally remember that physical test in elementary school- for me, it was doing a sit up ;)

    1. Hahaha, isn't it silly the things people choose to put on a test? Then again I might never have gotten into running without being tested on the mile...


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