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Ask a loser: How do I start running?

I am not a Magic 8 ball, but sometimes people ask me questions (though thankfully they don’t shake me afterwards). EVA asks, “i noticed you started out walking and are now running. how did you do it?” I’ve been asked this before and my advice is: Don’t do what I did! I did no research and I had no plan. I was just walking on the treadmill one day, all 200-something pounds of me, and I decided to kick it up to a run. I started out doing short distances and eventually got up to a mile. A mile! It was awesome. Then I injured myself. This was because I was not stretching properly and I did not have good running shoes and didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

So, avoid the idiot’s method of running and do some reading before pounding the pavement. Before I dispense any advice, I should remind you I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV. It’s always best to consult a physician before embarking on any exercise program, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know I sound like one of those disclaimers at the beginning of an exercise tape, but seriously, it’s best to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk before starting any intense exercise program. Okay? Don’t sue me if you twist your ankle. You’ve been warned.

The act of running applies something like 3-4 times your body weight on your joints. (Someone who is better at Googling than me can find the exact statistic.) If you weigh 500 pounds, you should not be running. You’re going to break yourself. Find another lower-impact exercise until you are at a weight at which you can run. I don’t know what weight at which it is “safe” to start running. Listen to your body. If you start to feel pain above and beyond the “I’m running and it hurts” type of pain, you should probably stop.

Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K is a popular training program that gets you from your couch to a five kilometer run (3.1 miles) in two months. If you’re not a runner, but want to be, this is the best way to go. The program originated at the Cool Running web site. You start by alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of running walking for a total of 20 minutes. Eventually the jogging intervals get longer and the total time increases, and whallah! You’re running! There’s a big list of Couch to 5k resources here. I didn’t do Couch to 5K, but I know a lot of people who have and they all speak highly of it. And despite the title, you don’t have to actually own a couch to succeed.

Hold back a little

Most people start out running too fast. They sprint for 30 seconds, upchuck their lung onto the sidewalk and go back home. Run only 70%-80% as fast as you think you can. You’ll last longer and go farther. After a couple runs you’ll be able to pace yourself and have a better sense of your limits.

Stretch

Yeah, it’s boring. Do it anyway. It prevents injury. If you ignore me you’ll just get hurt and then your Couch to 5K program will be your Couch to 5K to Couch program.

Get good equipment

A good pair of running shoes also prevents injury. My local running store videotaped my feet as I ran on a treadmill to analyze my gait and recommend the best shoes for my running style. I’ve signed up to run a half-marathon in May, so I’m probably going to invest in some socks and clothes that wick sweat away from the skin. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need space-aged socks, but down the road you might consider it. Assuming you can run down the road.

Read expert advice

There are web sites that know a lot more about running than I do. Read sites like Runner’s World and Cool Running for more information on stretching, what to eat, etc. They can’t actually do the running for you, but they’ll get you off on the right foot, no matter what kind of shoes that foot is wearing. Jeff Galloway is a well-known runner who was overweight as a kid and has a blog for beginners as well as several training programs.

Accept that running is not for everyone

I love running. It’s my thing. But it’s not everyone’s thing. If you give it a good chance and decide you don’t love running, that’s okay. Find an activity you do love, or at least tolerate, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

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35 Comments

Jenny • December 13, 2007 at 9:02 am

Great advice! Another great organization is USAfit. They have running programs in bigger cities across the country. Its essentially a marathon training program, but can also be used to transition from walking to running. Most of the clubs have several levels of walkers to runners. Its fun to run with a group, more motivating as well. Plus, the groups are full of knowledgeable people who are willing to share advice. Some have a session after every run dedicated to something about running, like shoes, nutrition, etc. And no, I don’t work for them and nope, I have never run a local one. I just ran with one group for two years and it was the best group running program for support that I’ve found.

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z. • December 13, 2007 at 9:35 am

Another good resource is John “The Penuin” Bingham. His “Marathoning For Mortals” book is my bible.

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Jenny • December 13, 2007 at 10:08 am

I recently returned to running – I love running at night in the shadows and night air. This post is so timely because I know it takes more than just a good workout mix on my Ipod to be successful. Thanks.

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Jill • December 13, 2007 at 10:09 am

Great advice! I started running this year (all 300 pounds of me!) through a local 5K training program offered by a community track club. These kind of free or low-cost programs can be found in many communities offered by running clubs or running stores. I highly recommend this approach — coaches offer advice and great information for newbies. I started running for one minute and can now run for 30 minutes!

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Hilary • December 13, 2007 at 10:10 am

This is great advice! I second the USAfit recommendation put forth by Jenny above, by the way. I used the NYC branch of their program to train for a marathon back in 2001 when I lived up north.

Sadly, six years later I’m all the way back to Couch status. But I think I’ll check out that Couch to 5K program. Thanks!

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AKS • December 13, 2007 at 10:18 am

Even if you’re just starting out, it might be worth it to invest in a pair of seamless wicking socks (NOT cotton), especially if you’re prone to blisters.

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EVA • December 13, 2007 at 10:38 am

Thanks PQ!! That’s very encouraging and informative. And “Jill”!!! You are my hero! I’m 200 pounds and thought I’d have to lose another 50 before I could run…so thanks for the hope and advice! I hope they have a community track club in Rochester…if so I’m THERE! I think the most frustrating thing about being overweight..ahem, ok ok obese….is that when you want to do something your body gets in the way. When I’m walking I get excited and want to run…so I do for 60 secs and then my heart attempts escape from my chest “Alien” style…My body gets in the way in other things too…like it won’t let me cross my legs, do step aerobics, do pilates, or…less important…fit into a size 10! But, in all fairness I was pretty mean to my body for a lot of years and wouldnt let it eat many fruits, veggies, and I didn’t exercise it…so I guess I can’t blame it for being mad! But that was then. WHEN I do get there, I’ll just appreciate it more :-D

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Kate • December 13, 2007 at 11:29 am

As a medical student, I want to chime in that we learn next to nothing about exercise in medical school. So while it’s a good idea to get a general go-ahead from your doctor before starting an exercise program, I’d recommend talking to an experienced trainer about the details.

PQ – Huh, I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info. I always see those disclaimers that say “check with our doctor” so it’s funny to learn that doctor’s might now know as much as trainers.

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Emily • December 13, 2007 at 11:42 am

All good advice. I went from loathing running to loving it. One thing that helped me is focusing on getting into a rhythm with my breathing.

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we_be_toys • December 13, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Excellent advice – are you sure you’ve never played a Dr. on TV at least??

I love the Magic 8 Ball metaphor – when I’m shaken I generally get stirred as well – so very James Bond of me, I know.

Really good post – thanks!

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Sally Parrott Ashbrook • December 13, 2007 at 12:22 pm

I second the advice about socks–having 5 pairs (so that I don’t ever have the ‘oh, they’re not clean’ excuse) of good running socks was a bit of a pricey investment, but it was completely worth it.

In fact, I think a sweat-wicking top is much more comfortable than feeling tangled up in cotton, too. And for women with larger breasts, I have to recommend the Enell sports bra. Just buy one and wash it daily if that’s all you can afford, but if you have big ‘uns, don’t try to run with a crappy sports bra. I have DDD breasts, and the Enell bra is the only one I’ve ever had that’s worked for higher-impact stuff. There’s an online women’s work-out store called Two Roads Fitness that is great and ships very quickly.

My husband is now on Week 4 of C25K, and I’m so proud of him. He’s definitely learning why I told him to start out running barely faster than a walk, though; he did what you talked about (“I’ll just run at my ‘natural running speed’”—um, right), and nearly killed himself early on. But he’s adjusting and doing really well with it.

I can’t say I love running, at least while I’m doing it. Well, that’s not true: I love sprinting. (If only I were still young enough to be on a high school track team . . . and if only they didn’t mind slow runners . . . I’d be in such luck.) Now that I’m past Couch to 5k and get to just run, my favorite days are my fartlek (speedwork) days where I get to sprint some. But I don’t love running slowly. What I do love when I run multiple miles slowly is the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something I never would have thought myself capable of, and I love the burst of endorphins I have afterward. (Oh, and my oblique muscles kick ass from just running.)

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Emily • December 13, 2007 at 12:56 pm

I tried the CoolRunning Couch to 5K program for awhile. I got stuck part way through, though, because I was running pushing a stroller and that is just HARDER! :) Also, I decided that running wasn’t my thing. I was always athletic as a kid/highschooler/college student but I never did like running. Turns out I don’t like it now, either. :) I like tang soo do and yoga better…now if I could just find the time (working around two small children) to do it! :)

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MB • December 13, 2007 at 1:15 pm

I was ‘thisclose’ to getting on a track team in jr. high but Mommy Dearest wouldn’t allow me to join because I had asthma (oy, let me count the ways I’ve been screwed up).

I really want to be a runner. I’d love to be able to say running is “my thing.” I was never able to get into when I was thinner but I’m going to start the couch to 5K after the 1st (along with the rest of the world).

Oh, Magic 8 Ball … will I be a runner soon? (Please say “without a doubt”).

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Mia • December 13, 2007 at 1:19 pm

I guess I was lucky. I just started doing it one day without giving it much thought ahead of time, and that was over 7 years ago. I’ve never had an injury, but occasionally the arch of my right foot bothers me. I started off running very, very slowly, but not stopping. I just continued to lower my speed until I found the right pace. I looked pretty silly to begin with, so I’d run early in the morning or after dark in the evening. My body responded so quickly, and before long I was running at a good clip. I LOVED how I felt, and that’s how I knew it was for me. That said, some days I absolutely don’t feel like running (and don’t!) but after a while I begin to feel stressed out and have to get back into it.

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Laura • December 13, 2007 at 1:32 pm

I started running at 200 pounds, too, with C25K, in summer of 2006. Now I’m 150 and have run 7 miles as my longest run.

Critical to my success–an iPod shuffle, Brooks motion control shoes (if you’re a heavy runner, motion control are a must), two sports bras worn at the same time (I was a 38DD when I started, am now 34D and still wear two bras at once), dri fit socks (also a must, I’ve never had a blister), and Champion running clothes from Target (cheaper than running store clothes but just as good). I also tracked my runs in an excel spreadsheet so I could see my progress. Some weeks were better than others, but it’s consistency that is key.

One thing I wished I done sooner–started reading Runner’s World magazine. I just started reading it a couple months ago, and even though I’m not an elite runner by any means, I get so much inspiration reading about other runners. I am hoping Santa gives me a subscription this year.

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CookieMonster • December 13, 2007 at 2:46 pm

One follow up question:

you say “running is your thing”

well, was it always? Or did it become that when you were exercising?

PQ – Hmmm, I’d say walking was always my thing. When I tried to lose weight a couple times before, I always walked. I really hated running a mile in PE in high school, but that’s just because I wasn’t fit enough to do a mile. Now that I can do it, I enjoy it.

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K • December 13, 2007 at 4:20 pm

I started running at something like 190, and have never had a joint injury, but:

If you consistently get blisters, don’t necessarily blame your socks. Get a gait analysis, or have your feet looked at by your doctor.

I spent three years running with chronic blisters in the arches of my feet. Tried different socks. Tried different trainers. Eventually decided I was just going to have to live with it…

Now I’ve just found out I have flat feet (so the too-high arch supports were rubbing) and can get orthotics (inserts) for my trainers which should solve the problem. I feel a bit stupid for not working this out earlier!

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Theresa • December 13, 2007 at 4:23 pm

The Beginning Runner’s Handbook worked for me. It has a lot of good info for the beginning runner, or even the beginning walker.

Another good resource for sports bras for larger-breasted women is title nine. They aren’t cheap, but the have a good selection.

And really, listen to your body. Your cardio-vascular system increases in fitness faster than your bones, muscles and ligaments adapt to the pounding they receive from running (I’m parroting what I’ve read). When you’re starting out, give yourself a rest day (or cross training day) after every run. If a shin or knee is starting to ache, don’t be afraid to take an extra rest day or two.

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Rina • December 13, 2007 at 4:53 pm

You start by alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of running for a total of 20 minutes. Eventually the jogging intervals get longer and the total time increases, and whallah! You’re running!

Read that again slowly – is there a typo somewhere? You get up from your couch and alternate jogging with running? And as jogging intervals increase, that’s called running?

I be confused. Help!

PQ – Oops! That should be “90 seconds of walking.” Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve changed it.

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JLS • December 13, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Any good running store can also help you pick the best pair of running shoes for you. If running in front of someone at a store, doesn’t appeal to you… try it anyway. A trained person can watch you run and get you the right amount of support in shoes. A good pair of shoes makes a huge difference in comfort, and its cheaper than a gym membership!

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Cindy • December 13, 2007 at 9:16 pm

Hi PQ,

I thought I was ready to try running (jogging) this fall, but a week or so into it and I was in serious pain (knees and hip). It could be my age (46) or it might be something worse, but whatever, I have not dared to attempt it much since (aside from running across the streets in the city, or running across campus or up a flight of stairs when I need to get to class—I even pay for those shorter trips, often). I have my physical next month, so I’ll be checking with my doctor. I REALLY want to run, so I am hoping we can find a plan that will work for me. Of course, last year when I asked her about running, she was very discouraging, saying how bad it was for most people. SO I don’t know why I think I’ll get a different answer this year. I am relentless, that’s all I know. Maybe I’ll wear her down and she’ll offer me some new stainless steel knees. We’ll see. But thanks for the post on running. Perhaps I’ll get there someday…

PQ – My aunt has knee problems and can’t handle running. I know some people do stuff like cycling or swimming instead. If you do get some stainless steel knees, sign me up too. Mine still sometimes hurt from the damage I did when I was morbidly obese.

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Crabby McSlacker • December 14, 2007 at 10:03 am

Very smart (and funny) advice.

I have knee problems to this day because I started off running with no clue what I was doing. We lived on top of a hill, so I’d run downhill on pavement in cheap sneakers a couple of miles, run a bit on the flat part, and then walk back up again. Started having knee pain at 17, and 30 years later, it still kicks up whenever I try to start running again.

On the other hand, there were a LOT of stupid things I was doing when I was seventeen–this was the least of them.

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KateG • December 14, 2007 at 10:20 am

I’ll add another endorsement for Marathoning for Mortals. I’m training for a half-marathon and I like the advice in the book, and the training schedules. (Of course I should probably report back once I’ve completed the half-marathon!).

But I agree with PQ – especially on the holding back and stretching advice! It does make a huge difference. And listening to your body. I found I could not really run until I was under 200 lbs, but I am shorter and older than PQ plus I’ve had knee injuries. But I would encourage others to do what feels right to their bodies.

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Jenn • December 14, 2007 at 11:41 am

A few years ago, I actually hurt my knee training to WALK a half marathon…how sad is that?! :-)

I was feeling so good, I started jogging on my walks and ended up with right knee chondromalacia. So, the orthopedic surgeon told me that running was not for me. :-(

I just find it really difficult to get my heart rate up where it needs to be by just brisk walking alone. So, I tried jogging again and my knee started acting up. I started exercising on an elliptical and WOW…I love it. My heart rate gets up to target and I get some upper body at the same time with minimum stress on my knees.

I’m so glad that running works for you, but as you said…it’s not for everyone.

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kyle • December 14, 2007 at 2:53 pm

awesome entry PQ! More people should give running a try…I do have to disagree with you on the part that says running isn’t for everyone. I think running can be for everyone but most people don’t make it through those initial painful 3 months. Once you can get over the agonizing beginning I think almost everyone will find that they love it so much more than they had ever thought possible. So far, in my experience with people that have stuck with it at least for a couple of months, they’ve all ended up hooked!

and I second everyone who says get a good bra!!! that’s VITAL!

I hope somebody reads your post and decides to take up running as a new hobby. that would be DULCE!

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doris • December 15, 2007 at 9:52 am

I need to lose about half of me too, and I have lost > 20% so far in 5 months time :)

I also started by walking, and then slowly ventured into running. I have to admit I run very slowly, someone who walks fast enough can just overtake me easily, and my heart rate sucks even I run in such a slow pace.

But I feel so good that I can run! I have been obese since 7 years old, “run” was never found in my dictionary. I had never thought, never thought that I would like running one day!

I am aiming to run 10K race in end of March next year (not many 5K races in my country, so I have to pick the 10K for a start), hoping to meet the loose qualifying time of 90 minutes :)

PQ – Good luck, Doris!

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GroovyBabe • December 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

I tarted jogging a couple of months ago and can now jog for ten minutes. There is nothing like the after-glow of jogging, it makes all the effort worthwhile. I love it. I am 214lbs and my weight was an issue but its raised my fitness levels so much that I havent looked back.

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Queen Bee • December 15, 2007 at 10:17 pm

“You’re going to break yourself.” *snerk*

“Doctor help!”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m broken!”

:)

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Lucy • December 16, 2007 at 10:58 am

Hey Pasta Queen.

I’ve been reading for a while but have been insprired to post a comment today. I started off at 246.5lbs and now am around 190lbs and today I ran 2k at the gym. I don’t think I have ever ran that far before and I am so excited! Think running is going to be for me. Thanks for you inspirational (and funny) posts!

Lucy

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Ashley • December 16, 2007 at 8:00 pm

I guess I won’t shake you but I will tell you that like a couple people above, you’ve inspired me to start the Couch to 5K after we move on December 26th (crappy timing, I know!) We’ll have a gym in our new building and I’m excited about starting that and sparkpeople.com! You’ve inspired me because I know that I can do it. I’m currently 244 after having my beautiful son 4 months ago. I would like to be 220 by April and so on and so on. I would like to get down to 180 and then see how I feel. Thanks for your inspiration, and humor in it all! Any recommendations would be highly appreciated, after all I would trust someone who’s been there over a doctor! LOL (That’s kinda sad, considering I’m a nurse!)

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Ian C • December 17, 2007 at 2:20 am

Personally, I cannot run as it wrecks my ankles, but my advice to those who are just starting out running would be to start off slowly and work your way up. Also, you must have good running shoes or you can injure your feet.

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Nancy • December 18, 2007 at 10:06 am

I did the C25K over the summer, and I’ve been running ever since. I highly recommend Thor-lo socks.. Those are the best hands down. I also go for the Champion stuff from Target since A) it’s cheaper, and B) no sense in spending so much money to get it all sweaty! I’ve lost a total of 18 pounds through running and changing my diet. I have to take 2 weeks off thanks to some oral surgery, but I will be back in no time. I also recommend Yaktrax (yaktrax.com) for winter outdoor running… heck.. even walking or shoveling your driveway. they are about 30 dollars, but a wise wise investment!

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Joanne • January 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Pasta Queen you rock! Am still trying, doing the jogging thing, and I like the couch to 5k plan. I’ve done some 5 and even 10ks when lighter and fitter, so I know I can do it again. Go girl.

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Michele | aka Raw Juice Girl • November 2, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Glad I happened upon this post!

I’ve lost over 100 pounds and have had some trouble finding exercises I can do because I have a very bad back (due to domestic violence) and also a fallen arch. I can pretty much walk 1-3 miles at a time, do an hour of yoga at a time, and I’ve found rebounding to be something I enjoy and can do as well.

Lately, though, I’ve been considering running. Not major running – like I have to run a certain speed or leave someone in my dust – just jogging/running along happily while trying to get rid of the last bit of fat/tone up a bit.

I’m not sure it’s for me but I might try it out sometime soon. I appreciate you sharing your experience. I definitely know what not to do now. :-)

Thank you for the resources as well!

*smiles*

Michele

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Russell • May 3, 2010 at 7:31 pm

As someone who until recently *hated* running and now loves it I can’t recommend the book “Born to Run” enough. It’s a fascinating look at ultra marathoners among many other things.

It got me to look into the barefoot running phenomenon and while I’m not a barefoot runner I did adopt the toe instead of heel striking stride and it has changed my life. Not for everyone I’m sure but I encourage you to check it out for yourselves.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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