how to run if you’re not a runner

This is my little sister Dorothy. She is a runner!

I am not a runner, I have never BEEN a runner, and I actually hate the physical act. It hurts. I can’t breathe. I can’t run for any significant distance, despite other indicators of my physical fitness. I would much rather chug away for an hour on an elliptical machine than run a mile.

This hatred was born a long time ago. I was in elementary school when I was first instructed to run around the white circle on the blacktop. I remember the first half of a lap was great – I was fast! I was in first place! Once I finished the second half of the lap, things started to suck, and I came in just ahead of the asthmatics.

Things got worse in middle school. Every year, students were enrolled in three quarters of gym and one quarter of health. Gym class activities varied depending on what quarter it was – first and last semester always included twice weekly timed outdoor runs around Tuccamirgan Park. The gym teachers claimed we weren’t graded on our times, but I was averaging a 16 to 14 minute mile, and during those quarters, I was averaging a B in gym.

On a side note, my GPA fixation started early. I was also a B student in math, and whenever I had spring or fall gym, I studied extra hard for my pre-algebra tests because I knew I was going to get a B in gym because I just couldn’t run.

Anyway, despite all that, I am running. I am running because my school’s gym is inconveniently located, because gym memberships in Boston are prohibitively expensive, and because even if I could find one cheap enough, Lance and I can’t figure out where there would be a gym conveniently located for both of our schedules.


I’m holding down my mental shift key, basically.

And it’s kind of working.

Of course, I choose to start pursue this habit about 5 minutes before the temperatures dip below freezing and the running paths ice over… but I’m going with it.

These things help, too:

1) I walk

I’ve chanced upon a disproportionate number of blogs written by casual marathoners (as in, people who run marathons but not to the point where they are too busy running to blog and entertain me). Most of them mention that they walk during not just actual marathons, but even long training runs. This floored me – I’ve always held this opinion that runners are so in shape they don’t have to walk. That if you have to stop and walk (like I do, often), you might as well give up.

Of course, I TRY not to walk, but if I have to walk, I remember all those marathon runners, walking when they get exhausted, just like me, and then I make sure I run again.

2) I engage in mental aerobics.

Without resorting to caps-lock affirmations, I definitely trick myself into keeping at it.

If I start to talk myself out of running because it’s too cold/too hot/I’m too tired/I just ate/I’m too hungry, I slap myself in the face and say “Well, who cares? Just go out and have a cold/hot/full/hungry run. When you get back, you’ll be cold/hungry/full/hungry, but you won’t be dead. And if you feel like dying, you can walk home, you idiot!”

(I never said my mental aerobics were particularly kind)

While I’m running, I often want to stop and walk (aka die). Now, I force my mind to reason with my body before I stop: I have to think of a compelling reason to stop running, and I have to keep going until I think of it. And of course, while my mind takes inventory of my reasons to stop, my caps-lock brain kicks in.

For example,

I think, “I should stop because my legs really hurt.”

and my perky caps-lock brain says,

“WELL! You are getting stronger! Your legs need to grow more muscles, so of course it will hurt, but once they are done growing, it will be easier! Also, you are going up a hill! Once you start descending, it won’t be so bad!”

Repeat for: lack of oxygen, throat pain, slightly painful ankles or knees, or boredom.

And I find that when I do need to stop to walk, my brain and body are pretty much in agreement.

3) I distract myself

This is not as easy as it seems. When I started running outdoors, the only thing that would keep my mind off the pain was movies/TV on my iPod, even if the screen was in my pocket. Not-so-unfortunately, I only had one movie on my iPod: Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Side note: Mental Aerobics during this period often included “Come on, Jessica! Keep going! Keep running until this awesome song is over!

Over time, I figured out how to focus on an audiobook, which is handy because I’m almost always listening to one, or even a This American Life podcast.

And now, my brain is finally trained enough to occasionally 1) Think of my own independent thoughts while I’m running or 2) Listen to music.

4) I listen to exclusively awesome music

This may involve making a new playlist for EVERY RUN, but whatever.

Lately, I require these offensive little ditties of questionable musical quality:

5) I finally bought workout clothes that fit (sort of).

My shoes no longer make my ankles hurt or make my toes go numb. My sports bra doesn’t cut off my breathing apparatus. I am still wearing a pair of XL Adidas shorts that lost their drawstring, but it’s nothing a little creative hiking-up can’t help.

6) I run so slowly that leaves falling from trees pass me.

I have trouble pacing myself (see: Elementary School Blacktop), so I started running as slow as I possibly can. At times, I have slowed down to the point that I wonder if I could walk faster.

So I stop running for a second and walk, and yes, I can and do routinely walk faster than I run.

I ignore judgments from fellow runners as they pass me. Even Lance leaves me behind when we run together.



Anyway, I’m not any sort of running expert (obviously), and I’m mostly writing this so I can look at it in the spring when I want to start running again but fall back into my previously non-running ways. But in the past few weeks, without any concerted effort to run faster, I’ve cut almost a minute off my Seriously Slow mile time, I’ve run 2 miles with stops and 1.75 miles without, which is a Lifetime First, and far exceeds my 6th grade dreams of running a mile in under 16 minutes.

I don’t know if my time would get me that coveted A minus yet, we’re moving in some sort of direction, and it feels pretty good.


9 Responses to “how to run if you’re not a runner”

  1. Hello!
    I’ve been following your blog ever since Andy Woodworth mentioned it. (Uh oh. Hopefully that name rings a bell. Otherwise, I am even more of an Internet Random Guy, which I realize is creepy to some.)

    Are you using a particular program to build yourself up to running 3 miles?

    Also, maybe I’m just oblivious, but I never feel like other runners are being judgemental when they pass me. Certainly, on the (very) rare occassions I pass others, I don’t feel judgemental.

    Best of luck with your running! 🙂

    • Oh, the name Andy Woodworth rings more than a bell 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      I’m not following any particular plan. I’ve tried Couch to 5k before and liked it, but it’s a little difficult without a little treadmill timer in front of my face to calculate when I’m supposed to be running and walking. Right now, I make up little plans as I go… like this week, I decided to have a 1.5 mile run, a 1.75 mile run, and a 2.0 mile run. Then I can decide which run it will be, even as I run, whether I want to get the long one out of the way or if I’m feeling miserable, just do the short one and it would be okay. Last week I did 1.5, 1.75 and 1.5, so I’m trying to push myself a little.

      And I don’t REALLY feel judgments from other runners – whatever – but my boyfriend does make fun of me for running so slow, and I do notice that I never pass anyone who isn’t walking with a baby stroller or a small dog. 🙂

      • My understanding of C25K is that it’s not Super Important that you precisely follow it to the second; rather, it’s about slowly building yourself up. Not too fast, not too slow. But hey, if you’ve found something that works, woo! I would hate to mess up something that’s working. 🙂

        My answer to the lack of a treadmill timer was an incredibly ugly, but as cheap as possible, digital wristwatch. Fashion awards, this thing will not win. But it’s still working 2 years later, so whatever. 🙂

  2. Congrats on your new found love for running!!! Seems like you have a great & fun attitude about it. I’m rooting for you 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment 🙂 Looks like I’m far away from keeping up with you, but yes, I’m trying to keep a good attitude, and I think that’s helping more than anything else I’ve tried!

  3. I really enjoy that Caroline is eating a popsicle while Dorothy stretches


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: