When I started running at the age of 12, it wasn’t because I loved the sport or because I recognized my untapped potential. I had an older sister on the high school cross country team, and when you grow up in a small town, everybody has an opportunity to participate.
I didn’t even know I was fast at first. I could tell I was toward the front of a lot of races. I even won a few that first year. But what I really loved was the fresh air and the feeling of running. I loved being with people and talking about getting faster. I wasn’t concerned with beating other runners. I just wanted to beat my best time.
Running has taken me a long way since then, including to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, but even now that I’m retired from competition, I love running because it has something for everyone. You don’t have to be an elite athlete. You don’t even have to run. You just need to get up and go. Whether you’re training for a marathon or 5K or just want to get out and walk more often, it’s the easiest way to increase your activity level and develop a healthier lifestyle.
So, what’s the secret to getting off the couch and onto your local trails? Here are some quick tips to help you get moving and push through some common obstacles.
Shoes are the obvious place to start, and while running doesn’t require the most expensive shoes on the shelf, it does require shoes that fit. Would-be runners aren’t going to find those shoes online. There are plenty of specialty running stores staffed by employees who can identify the right fit based on shoe size and the details of an individual’s stride. That’s especially important if, like many modern office employees, you spend the bulk of your day sitting. If you’re interested in increasing your daily step count, find a store that will help you treat your feet right.
There are a few other pieces of gear to consider before you lace up and go. A good pair of running shorts, a good shirt, a sports bra for women, a brimmed hat for sun protection and a nice rain jacket will make running more enjoyable.
Getting up from the couch isn’t easy for everyone, and for some, just walking more often is a big step. Motivate yourself by setting goals and creating challenges that encourage progress. That could include daily goals for steps, distance or time; a training period leading up to an organized fun run/walk; or something completely different. Just make sure it’s significant enough to challenge you but not so daunting it keeps you from ever getting started.
One tool that can help you set and achieve goals is virtual, on-demand fitness. Virtual-fitness providers create training plans that work for runners of all levels and provide expert instruction and motivation to keep you moving toward your goal.
You’re trying to get more fit, not turn yourself into the next great distance runner. Challenges and goals are powerful motivators, but it’s also important to understand that everybody has an off day. Sometimes people are afraid to commit to a workout plan because they feel bad when they miss a day or fail to meet their goal. The truth is, even Olympians have days when they’re not feeling it. It’s OK if you don’t go as far or as fast as you wanted to on a given day. Pushing too hard leads to injury and burnout. Listen to your body. It will let you know when it’s time to take it easy.
A solid training plan and classes that focus on stretching and recovery are also good ways to take care of your body as you adjust to this new level of activity.
One of the easiest ways to keep yourself accountable for your fitness is to find someone who will help keep you on track. You’re more likely to get out and run—and stay committed to a goal—if you know you aren’t alone. Find a friend who will commit to the same goal you have, then find ways to train together.
A good virtual-fitness plan is like a voice in your ear encouraging you and keeping you on pace. In addition, it allows friends at different skill levels to work out side-by-side on treadmills, each completing the same training plan at your own pace.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to choosing a time to exercise. I love to run first thing in the morning, but I know plenty of people who prefer to run after work or in the evening. Experiment a little to find your ideal running time. Are you an early riser? Can you squeeze in a run over lunch? The better exercise fits into your schedule, the more likely you are to stick with it.
Virtual, on-demand fitness gives users the benefit of expert instruction without requiring them to plan their lives around a group-fitness schedule. Whenever you’re ready, you can pop on your headphones and go.
About the Writer: Carrie Tollefson is run lead and coach for Wellbeats, a content and software-as-a-service company that delivers on-demand, virtual fitness programming for corporate wellness programs. She competed in the 1,500 meters at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and works as a television analyst for national and international competitions.