A few years ago, I realized that my slowing metabolism and life as an office-dwelling desk jockey were catching up to my waistline as well as my long-term cardiovascular health.
After reading one too many of those “sitting all day is slowly killing you” articles, I decided to try running as a weapon in my personal battle of the bulge. Little did I know that I was planting a seed to one day sorta kinda like running.
Before embarking on this unlikely journey to improved fitness, I followed the age-old advice that you only have to run if something is chasing you. In fact, I actively disliked running for most of my life.
But given my family history of high blood pressure and my unwillingness to move up to the next pants size, I figured it was time to revisit the one kind of exercise that you can literally do anywhere. There’s no gym membership required. You just have to motivate yourself to start running — and then stick with it.
If you’re still sitting around wondering how you can get in shape, here are five tips to get you to lace up your shoes, put on your sweatband, and start pounding the pavement.
1. Choose a running mate.
When it comes to exercise, I think it’s important to have a wingman. It’s not all that necessary that they even run alongside you — maybe they’re faster than you, or slower than you, or even live in another city. It doesn’t matter.
The point is to find a training buddy who will listen to your sob stories about how hard your run was yesterday and how sore you are today, who will celebrate with you when you break a personal record, and who will inspire you to keep pushing yourself in those moments when you realize that you are now spending your free time willingly doing that thing you hated for so long.
It’s also way more fun to sign up for a race with someone else, rather than just doing it by yourself. It gives you a common goal to strive for and someone to eat bananas with after you cross the finish line.
2. Sign up for a race.
Just because I’m okay with running doesn’t mean that I always love it. There are still plenty of times when I don’t feel like doing it, which makes me all the prouder of myself when I actually follow through.
When I was starting to see some progress and increasing my distance beyond that first dreaded mile, I paid some hard-earned money to sign up for my first race.
Since then, I’ve always been better about motivating myself to run when there is a date on my calendar for the next organized race. My interest in and stamina for running has not led me to anything beyond a 5K — and I’m not sure that I’ll ever tackle anything greater than that — but it’s been important for me to use races as a reason to run.
It’s also just really fun participating in a race. Beyond the fact that you can get some pretty cool race swag, there is a palpable energy at a race that calls you to be the best runner you can be and usually provokes me to run faster and last longer than I would on a training run.
You somehow feed off the energy of the other runners to replenish your own reserves. It also helps that the race results are often posted online for eternity along with your full name and age at the time of the race — just a Google search away from being discovered by personal stalkers, blind dates, or future employers. Now that’s motivation.
3. Track your progress.
Even before the days when I wore a FitBit, it was important for me to track my personal progress as a runner. A big reward of this is the process of noticing improvement over time.
How quickly can I run a mile? Can I run a full 5K without stopping to walk? Can I run a 5K in under 30 minutes?
Completing one goal makes me want to tackle the next. It took years of on-again/off-again training, but I recently ran my first 5K without stopping, so now I’ll be moving on to improving my time.
FitBit and other apps like Strava allow you to make your running both trackable and more social. You can follow your friends, see their activities, engage in challenges ,and offer virtual encouragement. Peer pressure can be an excellent motivator when you see that your friend ran five miles on a Saturday morning while you were sleeping in.
4. Make the conditions as perfect as possible.
Running is an investment of time as well as calories, so it’s important to make that time well spent, or you’ll never learn to tolerate it. Once I decided that running was something I wanted to commit to, I tried to make the conditions as conducive to running as possible. On a basic level, that meant buying some true running apparel to combat my profuse sweating and some new running shoes.
Most recently, I went all in and bought a treadmill so that I could continue to run through long Chicago winters. The financial investment and the fact that it lives in my house was enough to make me actually use it regularly, and I was able to maintain some of my running momentum so that when spring rolled around, I wasn’t starting at zero.
5. Go with God.
This may sound corny, but if you’re doing it right, running can be both a physical and a spiritual experience. Whenever I don’t feel like running, I remember all the people who are physically incapable of doing so. I thank God for my health and fitness, I put on my shoes, and I go for the run.
When I am mid-run and my legs are getting sore or the sun is getting hot, I think of a person in my life who is sick or facing a challenge, and I offer up the rest of the run for them.
Sometimes I will say a few decades of a Rosary in my head and dedicate it to that intention. If singing is praying twice, praying while you run has to count for at least triple.
I still don’t love running. The struggle is real, but so is the “Runner’s High.” A switch has flipped in my brain that makes me actually think thoughts like “This is running weather,” and “I want to go for a run today.”
Once you force yourself to get started, it won’t be long before you find yourself feeling better after you run, even if you’re a bit sore the first few times. You might even start to lose a little weight and see some muscle tone in your legs. Even if you don’t, the invisible cardiovascular benefits of running are undeniable.
The fact is you’re going to have to stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone of your couch to remain healthy as you get older.
Which reminds me of one last tip: Don’t forget to stretch after a run!