Several weeks ago, I got a cryptic text along the lines of, "I just finished my first 5k and it was AWESOME. Thanks for inspiring me."
I did not recognize the number at all, so thankfully, at the end of the text, the sender wrote, "This is Jeanie."
This made me chuckle, not only because it feels so good to think someone is out the door and moving because of you, but also because, in 1980, the notion that I would have been "inspiring" Jeanie would not have entered my mind.
In 1980, I was in the 7th grade--gee, what a great and confident time for all boys, especially those nonathletic boys who are about 5 feet tall and whose voices have not yet changed. Not awkward at all. Add to this that I had just moved to Oklahoma from Ohio, and was visiting a big, downtown church with my parents. It was my first time in a "youth group" (as opposed to children's Sunday School). Jeanie, among others, seemed otherworldly and really intimidating to me. I'm sure she never tried or intended to be, but she was an eight grader with blond hair and makeup and all sorts of other features that had not existed with my 6th grade classmates back in Ohio. Plus she ran in a pack with another blond, be-make-upped BFF, both of whom had features and wore matching, rabbit-fur jackets. Me, I never was permitted a "Members Only" jacket--the manly equivalent.
Alors, we knew fashion in the '80s, non?
Anyway, I grew out of my awkwardness over time as I got to know Jeanie and the other youth group members, and I continued growing after high school (thankfully). And recently Jeanie and the youth group have started meeting up on Facebook. In so doing, Jeanie (now the mother of at least four, including a stunning, college-aged likeness of herself) drafted me to be her running running guru. The changed circumstances give one vertigo.
To make a long story longer, Jeanie wrote me about doing her own triathlon, but bemoaning the fact that she did not yet enjoy the running part. "WILL YOU HELP ME ON THIS RUN THING??? I seriously have to whip myself to do it and actually do enjoy it once I'm there doing it." Here's some of what I wrote back, and I invite you triathlete friends to include your own suggestions for Jeanie in the comments concerning how you learned to love running.
Part of not liking running is feeling like you're not any good at it. You have to figure out how to make it fun, or at least enjoyable, or at least tolerable until your body adapts to where you can go for a run without feeling like you've been caned. There are some suggestions:
1. Do some of your runs with someone. If you have to meet someone, it will motivate you to get out of bed and you'll enjoy the exercise more. There are lots of more experienced runners who would like nothing better than to meet a newbie on their easy run day or for their warm up. Paying it forward is a big part of the culture.
2. Change your running routes. Drive to a park with nice scenery or other runners to watch or just somewhere new.
3. I-Pod. Gotta have it.
4. Create a simple training diary. Seeing progress will motivate you to keep going. At the beginning, mine was as simple as a dry-erase month calendar. I would put a red x when I ran, a Green x when I biked, and a black x when I lived weights. I wanted to have as few days as possible without x's and as many as possible with two x's.
5. Progress slowly--Sore muscles are inevitable, but if you always feel like you've been beaten with an iron rod, you're doing it wrong.
6. Run/Walk--the corollary to progressing slowly. It is easier to keep going if you break the run into bits, especially a run that is longer than you've done before. If you run 4 minutes, walk 30 seconds or a minute, whatever, it is easier to stomach. There are lots of run/walk programs on the internet if you Google "Couch to 5k," and you can start at whatever point of the program meets your current fitness level.
7. Have a Goal--The difference between a runner and a jogger is a race entry. Sign up for an event several months out that is beyond your reach, then plan how you're going to get there. An example might be a 10k in September. Then tell a friend who will hold you accountable. If it is a runner friend, use them to pick out which intermediate distance races you're going to do on the way. Then figure out how you need to train to progress slowly from here to there with an easier recovery week every three weeks or so.
8. Find a running group--there are lots of running clubs and training groups, some of which are set up for (or have programs for) people getting started.
9. Develop the habit--If you get on a schedule and run at the same time on your running days, you soon don't need motivation to get out the door. It is just something you do. (Incidentally, research has established that morning exercisers are most consistent, because nothing interferes with the early morning run.) Once it becomes a habit, you will find it is the best part of the day. If the habit doesn't take the first try, don't sweat it. Starting running is a bit like quitting smoking. Many people have to attempt it several times before the change becomes permanent.
10. Play--It will never be fun all the time, but if it is never fun any of the time, you won't stick with it. So figure out what would turn running (or any kind of training) into "recess" time for grownups. Is it running with your kid or a friend or a certain type of route or a playlist or running intervals or whatever? Training is recess. Go play.
Again, if you have suggestions for Jeanie or other folks wanting to get started this summer, put them in the comments.