I never thought I could be a runner. During my time as a collegiate swimmer it was actually a joke that swimmers couldn’t run. Every few months our coach would make us run as cross training. I hated it and literally felt like a fish out of water. I told myself that I couldn’t run, that I wasn’t made to run, and worse than that, that I hated to run.
And then life happened.
Running saved my life. In 2008 my life had come off the rails. I had a broken-off engagement. I was financially broke. And I was broken – a rapist took my confidence and sense of safety from me, leaving me with fear and severe PTSD.
One sleepless night I heard the treadmill calling to me. My gym was 24/7 and I found myself in safety of the treadmill’s arms at 3:00am – the rails of the treadmill protecting me. I knew that no matter what no one would ever catch me again. No matter what, I would never be a victim. Running was the tool that turned my mindset around. Because of running I became a victor over my circumstances and started to see opportunities surrounding me to be victorious in other areas of my life as well.
Running was the self-therapy that saved my sanity. It taught me things about myself I never knew possible – I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought, that my mind is fierce and that my body can do immeasurably more than I ever thought it could. I can still remember the first time I crossed the finish line of my first 5K, the horrific experience that was my first 10K, the feeling of elation and surprise I felt when I finished my first half marathon, the exhilaration and high I felt during my first marathon and the pure joy I felt crossing the finish line of my first full Ironman. Running has taught me how to enjoy the journey of life and it continues to teach me more about myself each and every week that passes.
The minute you decide to start running is the moment you become a runner. Far too many fitness enthusiasts and aspiring runners hesitate to call themselves by the adjective “runner” until they reach a certain, constantly moving standard. They want to wait until they complete a specific distance to be considered a runner, or they want to make sure they can go for a certain amount of time before the call themselves a runner. None of these standards matters, and they certainly are not valid measurements of what makes one a runner or how to become one.
Here’s the secret: if you run, you are a runner.
To help simplify the chaos that goes on in many-a-runner’s minds, I have put together a five step explanatory process that can help you really become a runner, like, officially.
Step One: Decide that you are a runner.
I don’t care how slow or fast you run, or if what you do is more of a “wog” (walk + jog), if you are moving one foot in front of another, with the intention of getting there as quickly as possible, then you are a runner.
There exists out there a giant myth that to be a “real runner” you have to always run during your workouts and you have to run every day. Both of these notions are false. I have the pleasure of being friends with a plethora of high level runners, ranging from professional runners to Olympian triathletes, and there is one resounding thing they are do: maximize walking. Also, they all take days off.
Yes, you read that correctly. The fastest runners in the world walk. I was first taught this training strategy by my coach when I first started training seriously for marathon and half-marathon competition, and I was shocked at the effectiveness of the tool that walking can be.
Step Two: Make a plan.
There is no such thing as not having a plan. You either have a plan or you have a plan to fail. Being intentional about your plan with running is what will lead you to a successful relationship with running in your life.
Pick out which days of the week will be your running days. Put them on your calendar and stick to them. Also, determine whether you are a morning runner, a lunchtime runner or an evening runner and make appointments with yourself for the specific time of day that you plan to run. As you begin to explore running you might find that you need to try out running at all different times of the day to find out when it is that you most enjoy it.
Step Three: Take care of yourself
If you’re going to be pounding your feet on pavement, or a treadmill, make sure you are wearing the correct running shoes for your feet. Go to your local running store to be properly fitted. Getting the right shoe for your stride, your foot shape and your goals can change your entire experience with running. The wrong shoes will not only set you up for potential injuries but they will cause your running experience to be unpleasant and potentially painful.
Additional components that are crucial to the success of your running involve the process of taking care of and honoring your body and muscles after your runs. You can help your body recover faster from runs – and ultimately stay injury free – by incorporating a combination of stretching, foam rolling (self-myofascial release) and Epsom salt baths into your repertoire. These activities will help flush your body from the lactic acid build up that occurs throughout the body and will leave you feeling recovered and well rested for your next running adventure.
Step Four: Set a Goal
Your goal doesn’t have to be race oriented or distance focused, but you do need a goal. For some people, signing up for a local running race is an ideal goal – whether it is a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon. Decide first on the distance, then on the race, and then bite the bullet and register for the race. By paying for the race in advance you are deepening your level of commitment.
If you don’t want to participate in races you can set your goal based around total mileage for the week. If you are someone who wants to use running as a tool to completely zone out and the thought of tracking miles sounds like it will steal joy from your experience, then simply make a weekly goal based off of how many minutes per week you want to run.
As with any goal, the most important thing about setting goals is that you tell others about it. Once you set yours tell at least five people about your new commitment. This accountability of telling others has statistical evidence to help you really follow through with more consistency.
Step Five: Enjoy
Find what you love most about running. Is it running with a friend? Perhaps you like running as a personal escape and quiet time? Do you love the silence of wooded trails or do you like the hype of being at a gym on a treadmill surrounded by the distractions of music and television? Whatever type of running you most enjoy is the type of running you should be doing. Running is an adventure – a little natural high from heaven – that we get to indulge in each and every day. Enjoy your indulgence.
Do yourself a favor. Declare to yourself that – no matter how fast or slow, how much you walk, or how you feel when you do it – if you are moving towards a goal that involves distance and trying to get there as fast as you can, then you are a runner. Welcome to the world of running. You, my friend, are officially a runner.