The no-excuses guide to running for non-runners
In high school, I couldn’t run the single mile our PE teachers made us do as part of New York’s annual statewide fitness test. When I was 21, I used a combination of the elliptical and the treadmill at my local New York Sports Club to work up to a slow jog for 30 minutes straight. At 25, I managed to run more than three consecutive miles — and kept building gradually so that, at 32, I completed the New York City Marathon. Now, at 35, I’ve never been faster, shaving more than 15 minutes off my half-marathon time in the past year with a combination of speed work and strength training.
Even while amassing a decade of experience, I never believed the medical and fitness experts who said that a runner is not born, but made. Now I do.
The start of 2020 is as good a time as any to start running. Yes, this is the year to become one of those spandex-clad folks posting social-media photos of sweaty grins, bibs and medals — because you have no excuse. Here, experts share some of the most common reasons folks state for not wanting to pound the pavement and how to counter ’em.
EXCUSE: I am not a natural athlete.
“Can you move, walk, breathe and sweat? Then you can work out,” says Corinne Fitzgerald, head coach at Mile High Run Club, which offers guided treadmill classes for all levels at its three Manhattan studios. “Start with a simple goal: ‘I want to move for 10 minutes.’ It could be a walk, a jog, a sprint or a combination of all them. Once you start to crush the 10-minute marker, you can extend to 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll find you’re more of an athlete than you think!”
EXCUSE: I get out of breath after just a few minutes.
“This is a totally normal feeling when you first start training, no matter who you are,” says Roberto Mandje, an Olympian who is now senior manager of training and education at New York Road Runners. “Just make sure to pace yourself — keep the effort nice and easy — and if need be, work in some walk breaks. An example would be a 20-minute run, where you run for five minutes and walk for two minutes. You’d repeat this cycle three times and be done with the run before you knew it. As your fitness progresses, you can cut the walking portion down more and ultimately eliminate it entirely.”
The requisite caveat from Dr. Kirk Campbell, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Sports Health, is to check with your primary care physician for any “contraindications” (asthma, joint injuries, etc.) before starting any exercise for the first time.
EXCUSE: I’m too old to start.
“I was never a sporty child and didn’t start running until my 30s,” says Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, a Miami-based travel writer, a k a JetSetSarah, who recently shared a photo of herself jogging around a track on a cruise ship deck to her 17,100 followers. “I completed my first half-marathon at 40 and ran the New York Marathon at 47. Trust me, if you’re still breathing, it’s never too late to start!”
EXCUSE: I don’t have time.
Fitzgerald puts runs in her calendar like they’re unskippable meetings or appointments. Start small, says Mandje: “Even 15 minutes of running is better than no running.”
EXCUSE: The weather is bad.
There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Cold-weather running tights or leggings are a must for your bottom half. “Windbreakers and/or waterproof layers will help for rainy days. For cold days, it’s just a matter of wearing the right amount of moisture-wicking layers. Dress like it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it actually is. That way, you’ll avoid overheating once you start running,” Mandje says. “A good pair of gloves, hand warmers, a beanie plus a buff [running scarf], and you should be able to tackle whatever Mother Nature throws your way.”
EXCUSE: My feet (heels, toes, arches, ankles) hurt.
“First of all, you need to be wearing the correct shoes,” says Patrick Vignona, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center. “Your feet have tiny muscles that help support and stabilize your arch. So if you’re new to running, those muscles, just like all muscles, need to be trained appropriately.” To avoid foot pain, don’t cover too much ground right out of the gate, Vignona says. “If you build up too much too quick, you will likely get injured,” he says.
Paragon Sports near Union Square, JackRabbit‘s network of stores and Super Runners Shops citywide carry wide ranges of shoes and specialize in fitting them to runners, often by videotaping their gaits as they jog on a treadmill. From Currex to Superfeet, there are also as many insole companies as sneaker brands; Connecticut-based firm VKTRY makes ones with carbon (from $199) that adds a discernible spring to your step. Many podiatrists and orthopedists will also evaluate the fit of your running shoes and insoles — advising which combination provides the right mix of support and comfort — during initial appointments.
EXCUSE: My knees and hips can’t take it.
Stretching, warmups, cross-training and strength training are important to prevent injuries in runners, amateur and experienced alike, according to Campbell, who has worked as a team physician for the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox. Overuse — or running too much, too quickly — is the biggest risk factor. If a few days of rest doesn’t help, get whatever hurts checked out by a sports-medicine doctor. Shin splints, calf pain and knee pain that comes with swelling could signal more serious problems.
If all checks out at the doctor’s office, Vignona suggests reducing strain by shortening your stride while running, and foam-rolling your lower body daily.
EXCUSE: I’m too tired.
“Tell yourself you’ll run, and stop if you don’t feel like it after five or 10 minutes,” Greaves-Gabbadon says. “I promise myself that I can go back to bed the second I’m finished. In all these years I never have once, but somehow my mind trick works.” Starting is the hardest part — once you set out, running will wake you up. “Your body releases endorphins, thus helping reduce feelings of pain or exhaustion,” Mandje says.
EXCUSE: It’s boring.
Energizing music, engaging podcasts and engrossing audiobooks all help. So does running in new neighborhoods and locations, as well as jogging with friends or in organized groups or clubs. Treadmill classes offer a sense of camaraderie, add structure and help avoid inclement conditions outside. Beyond Mile High Run Club’s offerings, Peloton Tread and Precision Run from Equinox are other options. Fitness chain Orangetheory has a running component, and celeb favorite boxing gym Rumble is launching a treadmill class this month.
EXCUSE: I travel too much.
Greaves-Gabbadon, who travels about three times a month, gets her runs in by keeping one pair of sneakers in her carry-on at all times. She makes sure to fit in a run any day she flies, “even if it means hitting the road pre-dawn.”
EXCUSE: I’ll start next week.
What helps me quit procrastinating and stay accountable is constantly signing up for races. Fear of failure — I’m downright petrified I’ll have to drop out halfway through due to poor preparation — motivates me to follow training plans. I either find free ones online from Nike, Hal Higdon, Runner’s World magazine or elsewhere or pay $29.99 for a New York Road Runners’ Virtual Training Program timed to whatever race is coming up next. NYRR and NYC Runs organize runs almost every weekend, while Active.com has a comprehensive list of events across the country. “Setting small and attainable goals will help you tackle the larger goal without it being so daunting,” Mandje says. “Having a specific goal with a deadline helps, as it will add a sense of urgency.”