Way back in 1998 when I started running, I had no idea what I was doing. There weren’t a ton of books on the subject, and the ones that were available contained lots of technical advice about training plans and form, but nothing about managing the mind, or how to handle the challenges of trying to run when you were a 5’5″ woman who weighed more than 200 pounds. In fact, most books recommended not running at that size, and getting down to at least 180 before starting a program.
Fortunately I’m not really one to worry about what other people think. I ran despite being a pretty big girl, because I prefer to make my own mistakes and learn the hard way (I also hate it when people tell me what to do). Some might call it a character flaw, I prefer to think of it as “doing my own research.”
Either way, over the past 16 years I’ve learned a lot about running through trial and error (and even wrote a book about it). Some of that stuff I really needed to learn on my own (such as, ahem, the best places to put Bodyglide), but if I could go back in time and give my 31-year old self some gentle advice – and this applies to pretty much anyone that is overweight and just starting a running practice – here’s what it would be:
1. Just put your shoes on and go.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped workouts based on really flimsy excuses:
“I can’t find my good headphones.”
“It looks like it might rain.”
“My favorite tights are in the dirty laundry.”
Then I’d sit on the couch and watch Seinfeld reruns.
The reality is, you’ll always be able to find an excuse to stay on the couch. And you’ll always regret skipping your workout. I guarantee it. And while you’re sitting there feeling bad about not running, you’ll probably find yourself with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to avoid feeling guilty.
So my advice is to just put your shoes on and go, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Something is always better than nothing, and more often than not once you’ve gotten yourself dressed and out the door, you’ll stick with it for longer than you thought. The idea of exercise is usually much harder than the actual workout. So before your thoughts can get the best of you, lace up those shoes and get moving.
2. Nobody is looking at you.
When I first started running – or working out in general – I dressed myself in big baggy t-shirts that came to my knees, even if it was 90 degrees outside. I also ran in places where I thought nobody would see me, and at times when fewer people were out and about. I was uncomfortable and hot, and imagined that every single one of my neighbors was behind the curtains in their houses laughing at me. Some days I would even skip running because I was worried about what these imaginary people were allegedly thinking about me.
More than a decade later I know that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, and that if I let someone else’s opinion (even if it is unspoken) keep me from going after my goals, I’m doing myself a huge disservice. I can’t control what other people think. They might be laughing, but more than likely they haven’t given me more than a passing glance. Most people are so wrapped up in themselves, they rarely notice what other people are doing.
You’re not running for anyone else, so why should your assumptions about what other people are thinking dictate your behavior? The short answer: it shouldn’t. So buy comfortable, cute clothes that fit, and then exercise when and where YOU want to – not where you think you’re going to be least likely to be noticed. This is your life, your workout, and your experience. Own it.
3. Strength training is important.
Strong muscles support your joints and help prevent injury. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Twice a week, do some squats, step ups, side leg raises, planks, pushups, and calf raises. You don’t even need any special equipment – when you’re just starting out, your body weight is more than enough challenge. Break it up into small increments – during commercial breaks, or while you’re waiting for your kid to get done with soccer practice. There’s always time to do something. You won’t get bulky or look like a bodybuilder. What you will do, however, is make sure your muscles and joints are strong enough to handle the extra impact of running.
4. There’s no shame in being at the back of the pack.
In face, I think it’s a great place to be. There’s no pressure, no competition, and the people are really friendly. It’s amazing what happens when you stop focusing on passing someone else and take the time to cheer them on while you’re running side by side. The camaraderie is great. Also, and I can’t stress this enough:
Finishing dead last in a race doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
You still covered the same distance as the first place finisher.
What about you? If you could reach back in time to a younger version of yourself, what advice would you have to offer? Feel free to share in the comments!
Disclosure – all links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links to products I use regularly and can personally endorse.