6 Tips on How to Become a Runner, From a Non-runner

Running is an invisible divide between where our mind and our feet take us. The goal is to balance that divide from beginning to end.

When I first started to run my mantra was an internal dialogue of “nope, nope, nope.” With every step, eventually, that turned into “okay, okay, okay.” In time, it became an enthusiastic “yes! yes! yes!” That’s because running is flat-out horrible when you first do it, and anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying to you or themselves. But here’s the good news—it gets better. 

As a non-runner, the hardest obstacle to overcoming my negative mindset was to simply begin.  I wanted to chase the runner’s high I heard so much about, at least to see if I could achieve it. In time I came to learn that running isn’t about running at all. Rather, it’s about the mind-body connection that results from a continuous stride forward.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” —John Bingham, American marathon runner 

Here are six tips on how to become a runner, from a non-runner.

Pick your happy place

“Never limit where running can take you. I mean that geographically, spiritually, and of course, physically.” — Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runner’s World magazine

Every run begins with a single step. For beginners, it’s where you choose to make that first step that matters most. While convenience is practical when you first start it isn’t everything. To become a runner you need to first pick a place that makes you happy. Whether that’s the treadmill in your home, a scenic view outside your front door or a destination you have to drive to your first step as a runner needs to be somewhere that you look forward to showing up. When you create a positive association with running you’re more likely to lace up. 

Choose your playlist

“Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”—George Sheehan, author

Running is repetitive. It’s the same motion from start to stop, which can either free your mind or hold it captive. For beginners, it’s usually the latter. To avoid getting stuck in a pessimistic loop, prepare your running playlist ahead of time. Traditional workout playlists don’t always work because, unlike your gym workout, there is no break between reps. Be open to the idea of background noise, a continuous melody, meditation, podcasts, or even sans a playlist completely. To become a runner you’ll need to determine what gets you in the mental space to hit the ground running, literally. 

Create mental markers

“Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’.” — Paul Tergat, Kenyan former professional long-distance runner.

When you run for the first time you won’t know what your body is truly capable of. Your mind will create excuses on why you should quit, slow down, or take a break. “I can’t go any further.” “It hurts to breathe.” “I ran enough.”  Don’t listen. Instead, focus on your body. 

A great way to check in with yourself is to break down the run with mental markers. Focus on a corner, tree, lamp post, trash can, or street sign. Choose a marker that’s a short distance away but close enough that you feel comfortable crossing it. At each marker ask yourself if you can go any further and then repeat the process. Choose a point in the distance. Run to it. Check-in. When you break down the run into bite-size accomplishments you’re more likely to push your body to reach what it’s truly capable of. 

Track distance, not time

“That’s the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” — Kara Goucher, U.S. Olympic women’s marathoner

There are two methods to measure a run— distance or time. While it’s natural to be preoccupied with what mile-per-hour group you fall into, as a beginner that’s a false way to track progress. You’ll naturally feel fatigued early on. Your legs will become sore, your head might hurt, and your lugs will almost certainly burn. This is all completely natural, you just need to push through it. As your body acclimates these symptoms will become more moderate, almost tolerable, and you might even achieve the elusive runner’s high when you hit a certain distance. Once you’re able to tune into your pace you will naturally increase your speed. Have patience. 

Learn your heart rates

“There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.” — Kristin Armstrong, former professional road bicycle racer and three-time Olympic gold medalist

As with any workout, your heart rate (heart beats per minute) is a good way to evaluate how hard your body is working. You want to push yourself without exceeding your maximum heart rate for too long, too often. The way to do this is to learn your resting heart rate and its rate in the five different training zones (1-2, long-distance; 3-4, speed; 5, sprint). To become a runner, begin with the lower zones (1-2) and as you build endurance you’ll work your way into the higher zones (4-5).


“Running has taught me, perhaps more than anything else, that there’s no need to fear starting lines or other new beginnings.” — Amby Burfoot, former American marathoner

The final step to becoming a runner is to commit to running. Do it on the days you don’t want to when life is most stressful. The days you’re tired and rather give up. Those are the moments you need it most. You’ll enter a meditative zone, the zone where you run away from life’s problems and towards clarity. Commit to one day a week, then more. Even a single mile counts as a run, it just takes that first step.

On average, I run about three days a week. Yet, I still don’t consider myself a runner because, even on my best days, I prefer other forms of exercise. But I run for the person I once was, the former self who became out of breath after four blocks that can now complete a 10k (with a lot of huffing and puffing). As a non-runner, I run because it pushes me out of my comfort zone. It’s both my starting line and finish line, every time.

“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” — Bart Yasso

The weekly wellness series is in partnership with James Lane Post, an East End experience.

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