Running: The Hardest Part: Starting
A year ago, I decided to start running. I was pretty much sedentary before then. My only saving grace was taking mass transit to work, walking about half an hour a day to and from the CalTrain station. But other than that – zip.
The goal and plan were easy to solidify. Goal: exercise on a regular basis. Plan: a “couch to 5K” running schedule. It ramps up from zero to running for half an hour straight (at a relatively leisurely 10 minute mile = about three miles). Looked totally doable.
But then came the hard part – the place I would most likely fail – following through. And this is where I had to employ a long list of motivational techniques and psychological tricks:
- Made it clear to myself why I was doing this now: health. My fortieth birthday. Why I had to start now, as opposed to tomorrow, which has a funny way of never arriving.
- Asked exercise-inclined friends and co-workers for advice. Much to my surprise, there were no Debbie-Downers – everyone was encouraging, even the hard-core runners. They all said running three miles was totally doable and they’d all “been there” once before. This alleviated my initial fears that I’d have a heart attack at mile one or look like an idiot out panting in public. They all thought I could do it and somehow, I didn’t want to prove them wrong.
- Spent some money on equipment. Normally I wouldn’t do this upon starting a new hobby but it worked, as I felt obligated to follow through after dropping a few hundred on shoes, clothes, an iPhone armband and BlueTooth headphones. My frugal side meant I didn’t want to waste the money.
- iPhone app. Runkeeper:
- I love technology so I was actually excited to get started and test out the app.
- You can program workouts in Runkeeper, most specifically, intervals which are part of the Couch To 10K schedule where you alternate walking with running and slowly increase the latter over time.
- Having a programmed workout kept me honest – once the timer started, I was pretty much committed to finishing the whole thing.
- Runkeeper tracks all your workouts, generating a ton of data that I could look back on it over time and see the progress.
- Signed up for a 5K with a friend, committing myself to at least one round of exercise. I mostly walked, but seeing other racers and the fact that I didn’t come in last proved inspirational, indicating that yes, I could do this.
- Psychological trick: dress up = committed. Put on the gear first thing in the morning. It was harder to backtrack once the clothes and shoes were on.
But now for the hurdles – despite this list, I initially hated the entire experience. Meaning, I’d get out the door, start moving, and within five minutes I’d think “this is ridiculous” and consider giving up and walking home. Around the halfway mark I’d relax, and I’d sometimes – sort of; kinda like it. Nearer to the end, I’d feel exhausted and grumpy and want to quit, but my mind would say “You’ve already done the majority of the workout, just stick it out.” And at last it would be over, and I’d feel pretty good about half an hour later after a hot shower.
This pattern of wanting to quit each and every time and the internal tug-of-war lasted for… a few months. It wasn’t until month three (running about 3 – 4 miles straight) that I built up some semblance of endurance and started looking forward to the whole ordeal.
Another hurdle was unfamiliar aches and pains (chest, shins, knees, ankles, thighs, feet). Being paranoid about injury, every pain became an excuse to quit. I was ready to blame just about anything (bad shoes, bad form, maybe my body wasn’t designed for running). But in retrospect, I believe my body just wasn’t familiar with exercise – not used to breathing so deeply or employing muscles unused in years. I also couldn’t tell the difference between a hard workout vs. genuine injuries. So I pushed through the physical discomfort, and so far, the pains proved temporary.
Today, that difficult initial month has become a huge motivator. I truly dread the thought of going sedentary for a few weeks and having to repeat that crappy first month again. While there are days I don’t want to run, the desire of repeating that first month ranks even lower. And so I forge ahead.