How to Start Running: Adjusting Your Mind-Set and Setting Expectations

4 years ago

Lately I've gotten a few requests to do a "how to get started running" post. I've been wanting to write a post about this for a while now, but the main thing keeping me from it is because I don't feel qualified. 

I'm not a physician or a personal trainer or coach. I'm not fast by elite standards, and I don't follow any sort of normal training plan. I don't diet and I don't do as much cross-training as I should. 

I'm just a regular person who fell in love with running. But I guess that's as good a qualification as any, right? 

hello, squinty eyes

So just keep in mind, those of you who are interested in reading this series, that what I'm about to say is based solely on my own personal experience as well as a number of articles and book I've read on the sport of running. You should consider consulting your doctor before beginning any kind of regular fitness regimen. Also, I realize that some of you might be way more in shape than I was when I started running, so not all of this will apply to everyone. Again, I'm just speaking from my experience.

Okay, so, now for the million-dollar question: How does one get started running?

The answer is as simple as putting on a pair of shoes and as complicated as an advanced algebra equation. I'm going to split this into a few different posts, because in order to go into the detail you're probably looking for, this is gonna get long. For today's post, we'll focus on two things: adjusting your mind-set and setting realistic expectations. I really think this is where your running success or failure will be defined. 

First, realize that it's going to take time.

I've been running consistently for over 3 years, and it was only over the course of this past year that I've been able to honestly say that I think running is fun. Fun. Like, pack my shoes in my suitcase and go running on my vacation fun.

What I want you to understand is that it wasn't always like this. Many All of my early runs were filled with pain. This pain was both physical and mental. The physical pain was obvious: burning lungs, stomach cramps, leg cramps, blisters, and nausea. The emotional pain was even worse in some ways. It was facing the embarrassing realization that I couldn't hold a light jog for more than 2 minutes at a time. It was wondering when, if ever, I would be able to call myself a runner.

Both of these pains took time to overcome. And it's not like every run I go on now isn't hard. But for me, running is so much easier than it used to be when I was huffing and puffing after half a block. (However, it isn't ever going to be easy. Read this awesome post from one of my favorite running bloggers about easy running.)

If you're just starting up running, it's not going to be instantly easy, which is where realistic expectations come in.

As you're considering starting up running, you need to figure out where you're at physically. Maybe you're able to run a mile or two. Or maybe you're able to walk for 30 minutes. Let's assume you're the latter. You're not a blob on a couch stuffing your face with cheesy puffs, but you're also not sure how far you can run, if you can handle running at all.

Setting realistic expectations means working with what you've got. The Couch to 5k program is all about building up your running in slow steps. (See also: How Stuff Works: How the Couch to 5k Running Plan Works.) I didn't follow that, or any, program when I was first starting, but I basically did the same things they recommend: alternate walking and running for a set period of time. Continuously build up your running time as you lower your walking time. Eventually you'll be running more than walking, and soon enough you'll be running the whole time! 

At this point you could care diddly squat about distance. We're focusing on time.

For my birthday I bought myself a copy of Run Less Run Faster. It has a lot of great advice for experienced runners, and it also outlines a novice 5k training program that I would totally try out if I were just starting. 

Here's the first workout of the 12-week program:  

Total time: 32 minutes

Walk for 10 minutes

(Run: 1 minute | Walk: 2 minutes) x 4

Walk for 10 minutes

It's a 32-minute workout, and you're running for a total of 4 minutes. You're probably thinking that sounds ridiculous. Surely you can run for 4 minutes over a 32-minute time frame. And you probably can. But the point is to be realistic about it. You aren't going to be blazing any trails for the first few weeks or even month. Just keep your eyes on the prize. Start with something somewhat manageable.

Now, check out what the first workout in week 4 looks like (this is still according to the aforementioned book): 

Total time: 36 minutes

Walk for 10 minutes

(Run: 3 minutes | Walk: 1 minute) x 4

Walk for 10 minutes


Do you see how the running time has increased and the walking time decreased? The overall time of the workout also increased just a tad. This is how you build up. But it takes time. I think a lot of people start running and then drop out after a few weeks because they get discouraged. I know from experience that it's totally embarrassing to admit that you're running a total of 3 minutes at a time. 

To this day I remember going for a run with a friend of mine freshman year of college. I think we made it 5 minutes before collapsing. 

When there are people posting post-marathon pictures, your 36-minute workout won't feel like much, especially since you spent 75% of it walking. But at the end of the day a 5k is completed one minute at a time. So keep adding minutes. You'll get there.

Okay, that was a lot already! 

Next up: running gear. For now, just do some research on what plan you're going to follow and work on adjusting your mind-set and setting realistic expectations for yourself. Maybe even see if you can find a 5k to register for. Yep, I went there. Just make sure it's about 9-12 weeks out. Believe it or not, you'll be ready by then.

Do you have any questions? Anything to add? Leave a comment!

Also, if you have any questions or suggestions for what to put in an upcoming running post, leave a comment or email me at:

Until next time, happy running!

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