04 Apr 2012

letter to a beginning runner

Dear Beginning Runner,


  • Have never been a runner
  • Are pretty out of shape
  • Aren’t of the body type to be a natural runner
  • Don’t eat healthy 100% of the time
  • Have some running shoes, a sports bra, but not much else…
  • Every time you run any distance (a half mile, a mile, 2 minutes), you feel like you may die.

Me too.

I started running almost three years ago because I knew I was moving to Boston for grad school. I knew that I would be too broke to afford a gym membership and that my apartment was across the street from a little park. A financial necessity. And heck if I can afford a trip to Lululemon – I’m stuck with my Target bra, my college t-shirts, my sister’s gym shorts that are at least a size too big.

I hadn’t run since utterly failing at middle school gym class. I’d never run more than a mile on a treadmill or indoor track, and it had been years since I’d tried even that.

I am not overweight, but I am closer to that than underweight. I am 5′ 10″ without much muscle. Pulling my own weight around a track is not effortless. I don’t feel light. I don’t feel easy.

Three years later, my body is still bigger than it should be, I still fall off the wagon and trade vegetables for chips, some days, I run a half mile and feel like dying.


But not every day.


I started out two years ago, trying to get a handle the mental process. I wrote about it here. I ran at least a mile 3 or 4 times a week, sometimes running as much as 2 miles.

Then it became winter and I stopped. Weather happened. Life happened. I was still running a few times a week, but never more than a mile. There was always a good reason to stop, so I didn’t ever push myself. I ran a few times a week, usually, but sometimes I would skip runs, skip weeks. Inconsistent.

Last October, I had some weird work-related things go on. Basically, for a week or two, I was told not to come to work. I had some free time. I had some frustration to work off. Around this time, every person on my Facebook friends list was doing Couch to 5k – the old, the young, the overweight, the pregnant, the infirm – and then running in the mud and posting pictures. Apparently this is a thing?

I came home early on a Monday – I’d been sent home from work. I just decided to do it. I sat down at my computer and made a really, REALLY annoying Couch to 5K playlist for myself so I could switch from running to walking when the songs changed. The first few weeks of C25k is like, Run 30 seconds, Walk 1 minute, so I sorted my iTunes by length and listened to a LOT of weird little songs. I knew I could easily do the first few weeks, but I didn’t know exactly when it would get hard and I didn’t want to just do the first hard workout repeatedly waiting for it to get easy. I wanted to make progress, so instead of repeating workouts, I did the first week’s workout on Monday, the second week’s workout on Tuesday, and so on until it got hard. Then I stopped and did the rest like a normal person.

Doing three runs a week, I finished the program, but I never ran 3 miles. The long 10-15 minutes stretches of running were really hard for me. I focused on running slow enough to make it through them, which means the most I ever ran was 2 and a half miles, but it really helped me change my mindset about running – that I didn’t need to run a mile and turn back, I could stay out for 20-30 minutes and it wouldn’t take that much time out of my day, that I wouldn’t be too tired or hungry or sore or bored… or if I was any of those things, well, I would be home within the span of an episode of Mad Men or whatever.

Then it became winter and I stopped.

Weather happened.

Life happened.

All that stuff happened, but here I am in this entirely new place of running. More than two years after I started, but I finally made it.

    • I can run three miles. With stops, but not excessive amounts.
    • I can run two days in a row without my muscles screaming at me.
    • I can run when I’ve eaten a little too much or not quite enough.
    • I can run inside or outside (but not on a treadmill…)
    • When I’m done running, I no longer collapse in a pile of sweat. I can still talk.
    • Occasionally, I can enter that “my brain has ceased to function” kind of run.

And this weird one: sometimes, I’ll run in the afternoon or evening. I’ll run a lot: 2 or 3 miles.

Later in the day, I’ll be hanging around the house and I’ll catch myself thinking about my legs. Thinking about how I want to run again. How I could have run farther.

So, Beginning Runner, I just wanted to tell you that people are not either Marathoners or Never-Get-Off-the-Couchers. Reading fitness and running blogs can be incredibly motivating, but everyone in the world is not running laps around you in designer track jackets and Garmins and the latest in minimalist running shoes.

There are people who are in between, who are working hard at fitting fitness into their lives but who fall on and off the wagon. And there are people who find running deeply unpleasant who do it and do it and do it and then eventually, their body caches up with their brain. A little bit.

That’s basically what I wanted to say about running:

It might take weeks, months, years, but eventually, it doesn’t suck so much.

Eventually, you might love it.




  1. Liz wrote:

    Thank you so much for posting this, Jessica. I am going to start running next month and I have a history of really hating it, so I really needed this post to make me feel better about not being so enthused (I know so many runners that just LOVE it, gross!). Of course, I’m going to be doing Couch-to-5K and see how I do with it. I’ve never run more than 2 miles in my life (how many years ago?) and hope to actually get somewhere with running that I might feel brave enough to run a 5K in the late summer/early fall. Thank you again for this post and helping me realize that I might feel differently about running this time around.

    Posted on 4.4.12 · Reply to comment
    • jessica wrote:

      !!! I’m so glad you are going to be running! Yeah, I started running while reading all these crazy marathon blogs and while they inspired me, I was also like – okay, you are not me. At all.

      But I went for a run today with Lance and I ran the same trail that I have ALWAYS run since I moved here, and I was remembering when I used to feel like dying and have to stop after less than a half mile… and then how long it had been since I felt like that. Now I feel like I have to stop after a whole mile, and I don’t USUALLY ever feel like dying. It took a long time… a SUPER long time… but it did happen! You don’t have to be a super-runner for it to happen! Really!

      Additional tip: just run slow. The slower the better. I think I run slower now than I ever have, and I’m completely okay with that. And don’t hurt yourself!

      Posted on 4.4.12 · Reply to comment

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