How to Become a Runner

Two weeks ago I wrote KISS Marathon Training about the simple process I used to train to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Then last week someone asked me how to become a runner and I thought, I should have shared my simple approach to becoming a runner before giving advice about marathon training. So here it is—my simple approach to becoming a runner.

My advice isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s so simple I risk being taken as sarcastic. The only way to become a runner is to run. I know what you are thinking—you didn’t need me to tell you that! Well, perhaps you did. Sometimes the solution to a problem is so simple, so obvious, that you only need to hear the words come from someone else’s mouth to get you pointed in the right direction. Now stay with me on this one.

There is so much running advice out there that it’s easy to get intimidated or confused. In a New York Times article by Gina Kolata titled, “For Beginning Runners, Advice Can Be the Hurdle,” Dr. Daniel Smith, Dean of business school at Indiana University remarked about all the convoluted running advice he found on the web when he decided to take up running. He thought, “Oh my God, It’s just running.” And that is the fundamental point, it’s just running.

You may have aged, put on a few pounds and picked up a bad habit or two since you last ran, but if you make a commitment to yourself, schedule it into your week like work or studying or watching television, in a matter of four to six weeks you will begin to notice results. Once you begin to feel the positive effects—increased energy, weight loss, more stamina, suppressed appetite—it’s like a snowball going down a hill, picking up mass and momentum until it is unstoppable. And if you make it past the six-week threshold, there is a good chance you will be a runner for a very long time. A word of caution: fitness professionals advise those over forty years old or more than twenty pounds overweight, to consult your doctor before beginning a running program.

Like tires on a car, the rubber that a runner puts on the bottom of his or her feet is the most important thing they wear on their body. But if you’re a beginner, you don’t need a pair of $170 Nike Air Max. If you never ran, you are going to begin by walking anyway, so chances are you can make do with what you have until you build up the miles that warrant better support and cushioning.

New runners should follow a graduated training program to prevent injury, paying special attention to avoid any sudden increases in running load or intensity. Prominent running coaches suggest limiting increases in distance to no more than 10% per week. Set a goal that is comfortable and attainable for you. Many beginners give up because they have unrealistic expectations. Your intention should be to improve your quality of life, not to qualify for the Olympics. Keep in mind what running guru, George Sheehan preached, “We are all an experiment of one.” It’s fine, even advisable, to follow a training program, but make sure it is within your capabilities, and if not, make adjustments. You will know when to begin pushing yourself, if you inclined to do so. 

There are many beginner running programs available and they all have one thing in common: they all begin by alternating between walking and running. There are two ways track progress, either by time or distance. In either case, alternate walking with running. If you never ran, I suggest begin by walking at a brisker than normal pace for fifteen to twenty minutes three times per week before you alternate with a slow jog. After the first week, walk for two minutes and then jog slowly for one minute, and then repeat. Do this until the one minute jog becomes easy and then increase the run to walk ratio. If you are measuring progress by distance, say you use a local track, walk one lap and then jog slowly halfway around the track, and then walk another full lap before another half-track jog. As with time measurement, after the first week increase the run to walk ratio. Just remember, these are general parameters. Do some research to find a program that fits your capabilities and goals. Following are a few simple, commonsense programs to get you started:

Cool Running Couch to 5K Training Plan

Running Planet Eight-Week Program for Beginning Runners

Mayo Clinic – 5K Run: Seven-Week Training Schedule for Beginners

Refrain from signing up or buying anything online until you are certain that you are ready to make the commitment. There is plenty of free and credible information in the public domain to get you to the point of investing even one penny. There are plenty of excellent fee-based programs offered by professionals, but take one step at a time, no pun intended.

Finally, after you’ve caught the running bug and are entering 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons, consider supporting local, independent running stores, trainers and young credentialed professionals for your running and health and fitness needs. Many communities have publications, like PhillyFit in Philadelphia, that have local advertisements for fitness products and services.

Good luck, and see you on the trail.

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About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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3 Responses to How to Become a Runner

  1. jessiecarty says:

    Good solid advice compiled here 🙂 I agree about the comparison to writing (or anything you want to actually DO), you have to put in the time to do it.

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  2. Jim – I was thinking something similar to your advise about writing. I was telling myself in the grocery aisle, “umm, if you want to do this, you are going to need to write, not think about writing.”

    The Easter bunny is bringing “Running Times” for one of our boys- maybe I’ll see an article in there by you!

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      Reading about running is also good motivation. You are on the right track. I’d queried Running Times several times in past without success. Perhaps you motivated me to give it another go. Thanks!

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