A note about the author: Beth Dunn is a writer and editor at HubSpot in Cambridge, MA. She went from a sedentary lifestyle to running 20+ miles a week in two years, losing over 100 pounds in the process.
“You haven’t read the Harry Potter books yet?”
My best friend clapped her hands with delight, her eyes shining, and stopped in her tracks. We were taking a leisurely twilight stroll through my old neighborhood in New York, but suddenly she looked like her heart was racing with joy.
In fact, she looked positively ecstatic.“I am so happy for you,” she said. “You get to experience it all for the first time!”
And of course she was right. There’s nothing like discovering a magical new world for the first time. It’s an experience you can never replicate, no matter how hard you try.
There’s only ever a first first time. And being new at something is actually pretty amazing.
That’s how I feel about running now. After starting running two years ago, I’ve lost over a hundred pounds, finished a bunch of 5Ks, run a 10K, and am registered for my first half marathon in the fall. I run five days a week. I look forward to running. I miss it on days that I rest. I wear little, tight-fitting shorts when I run. In public. With pride.
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. But I kind of miss the early days. I miss the heady rush of pride I got every time I made it out there for another slow, short run, no matter how slow or short it turned out to be. I miss the thrill of breaking records almost every time I ran, back when my speed was still evolving from amazingly slow to still pretty slow but not bad. I even miss the sensual thrill I felt every time I felt comfortable enough to shed another layer of clothing when I ran -- when I went from long sleeves to short, or from leggings to capris, and felt the cool air on my skin for the first time in years. That’s right: Years. When every day was a new adventure in feeling at home in my skin, like I belonged in my body.
Believe me, when I started running two years ago, I didn’t think there was anything particularly amazing about being a beginner. I spent most of my time wondering how I was going to get to the end of the next block, nevermind how I was going to advance from the I hate this phase to the OMG running is awesome thing I saw -- and was frankly suspicious of -- in other people.
And now I see new runners starting their own first, tentative couch-to-5K plans, wondering how they’ll make it to the end of the block, wondering how they’ll survive that first 20-minute run, wondering if this running thing is all it’s cracked up to be. And I’m jealous. And I’m thrilled for them.
And I just want to clap my hands and stop with them by the side of the road and tell them how much amazingness they have to look forward to.
Because being a new runner is kind of like entering a magical world for the first time. It’s weird and disorienting at first, and you feel like everybody else knows all of the right magic spells and incantations to make their little feathers float in the air. And you wonder if the fact that you’re muggle-born doesn’t doom you to a life of couch-sitting rather than 5K-running.
But then something clicks. Without even realizing it, you start breaking your own records. You survive a 20-minute run, and you feel like a god. You go from a 15-minute mile to a 14-minute mile, and you start to wonder when the sponsorship offers are going to start coming in. You run your first 5K, and you realize you didn’t even come close to dying.
The rewards just start piling up so fast in the beginning, if you know where to look. And that’s why it’s vitally important to look in the right places in the beginning, or you’ll be seriously screwed.
So here are my suggestion for new runners who wonder when the miracle is going to happen. Because way too many of you are going to give up before it does.
Focus on the process, not the result. The “result” new runners have in mind is usually something like “run the speed I did when I was in high school” or “run as fast as that woman I work with.” Results like these happen best when you pretend they’re not there, like a shy woodland creature you’re trying hard not to startle. Just move quietly around them, going about your business, and eventually even the most skittish ones will befriend you, usually when you least expect it. In the meantime, focus on the stuff you have control over. Run three times a week. Run badly, run slowly, run with extended and frequent walk breaks, I don’t care. Just run three times a week. Keep showing up. It’s the only way you’ll ever earn that woodland creature’s trust.
Be your own yardstick. Ruthlessly suppress any urge to compare yourself to other runners in any way whatsoever. Nothing’s more self-defeating than feeling momentarily elated because you finally broke into the 14-minute mile zone, only to remind yourself a second later that your friend at work considers a 9-minute mile to be a “fun run.” Screw her. She’s got a stupid face, anyway.
Celebrate your successes. I mean celebrate them like it’s your job. Did you finally feel comfortable enough in capris to ditch the full leggings? Post a picture of those adorable ankles on Facebook and show the world. First time finishing a 5K without once stopping to walk? Wear that race T-shirt for a week. Don’t worry about what other people might think about your successes and whether you should be proud of them. I guarantee you there’s somebody out there who isn’t there yet and who needs to see your joy.
In the earliest days of running, long before the miracle happened and I realized I loved it with a white hot passion after all, these rules are what made it possible for me to get out there and run at all.
Sure, for a while, it’s an act of pure faith.
But then suddenly, without warning, it’s magic.