As I work with my son who is interested in running, I’ve had to think back to the days when I really became a runner in 2005 and how I did it.
I had just moved to Stratford, Conn. and I was not ready to really get out there and just do it. Basically I had spent the last five to six years where drinking was my main hobby, eating poorly was among my most consistent routines and my finances were tight. But I was also newly married — still wonder how that happened considering my habits and where I was in my head — but I wanted to be in better shape for my wife and for our lives so we could spend more of it together.
Anyway, I chose to try distance running because I wanted something I could do easily that didn’t require me to drive to some place to work out and my friend, Alec, was already into running and that seemed to have helped him find a better place in his life.
So here’s that story and what I learned from it and maybe these things can help you, too.
So the first thing I did was buy an affordable set of running shoes from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I got a pair of Asics, they weren’t too expensive, under $50, and they were comfortable and felt like pillows for my feet.
I had an old Timex watch with a stop watch function that I used to wear for hiking back in the days I lived in Utah and was much fitter, so I strapped that on in the morning, wore some old sweats and a ratty old t-shirt I had and with my new shoes headed out the door in the morning, being sure to tell my wife what I was doing in case, well you know, it had been a while since I exercised so I was a bit concerned about my heart.
Anyway, it was really flat where we lived in Stratford. We lived near the old Shakespeare Theater that Paul Newman helped create in the town, though it was shuttered at this time. The good news is that it was mostly flat not like my neighborhood now. I gained more elevation on my runs last year than Everest.
Now, here’s where I did something smart. I turned my watch on and started to jog down the street. I told myself just run for two minutes and see what happens.
Well, it was difficult but I made it two minutes plus another 30 seconds and then I walked for about a minute and jogged for a minute until I hit about 10 minutes. Then I turned around and just walked back to the house. Didn’t try to run any of the way home. I just walked back.
I got out again Sunday and did something similar. But instead I tried to run for three minutes straight and then walk and jog until I hit 10 minutes and turned around and walked home.
So for a week or so I did this, each day extending how long I ran and then walking home until I was running the first 10 minutes and walking home. Of course the walk home usually took me a little bit longer than the outward run, but it was worth it.
It was about the time I hit 10 minutes that I bought a notebook and started keeping track of how far I went and how long I jogged. I would record the name of the side street I ran to and the time in the notebook. And then, on my way to work, I would drive the route so I’d know the mileage. Eventually, I got to the point where I started running home. Again, I started by running my 10 minutes and turning around and then I would run for two minutes and then add another minute or two each time I went out.
It was about this time that I bought some actual running shorts and some shirts to run in. I also started reading about running. I bought Runner’s World Complete Book on Running and was reading that magazine along with New England Runner, which was a great publication.
I started to really like the way I felt running and I just wanted to go farther and faster and so I started paying attention to my food and began eating better. I started making sure to get vegetables with dinner and was making my lunches for work. I was eating simply in the morning, either cereal or eggs and toast. My wife and I were making more of our dinners so they were often more healthy than eating out, though we did do that, especially since we lived next to a pizza place and a Chinese restaurant, called China House. China House was great by the way, they got their supplies in from New York almost daily and the restaurant was run by a cute young couple who always remembered what we ordered last.
For me, lunches were the most difficult back then, but what I started to take with me was a ham or turkey sandwich on wholewheat bread with hummus for dressing instead of mayo. When I didn’t take a sandwich I ate a salad at the Grand Deli across the street from our office at the Connecticut Post.
Anyway, about two and a half months into running consistently, I decided to run a 5K. Back then you could sign up for them early by either picking up a sign up sheet from one of the sponsors or the race manager or downloading it from the internet and filling it out and mailing it in. So mostly you just signed up and paid that day.
I will never forget this part. I told my wife I wanted to run a 5K and her response was, “You’ll die!”
I was stunned by this pronouncement. I thought I had been getting into pretty good shape. But I assured her I would not die, though I admit to having some doubts because of this. I did, actually go see a doctor to ask about if it was safe for me to run a 5K at this point. And they checked me out and said I was fine. I was at this point 34 years old. My wife later admitted she thought I was talking about a marathon.
Anyway, I had a month to train for the 5K and I got ready for it by slowly adding mileage and eventually running about 4 miles in one run the week before the race.
Race time came and it was exciting. There were lots of people running that day in Stratford and I didn’t finish last. I think I ran about 32 minutes that day. It was a great experience and I loved the T-shirt I got for the effort. So I was hooked and I signed up for more races.
Connecticut was great for racing. There was a 5K just about every weekend and I have friends who have run a 5k in all 169 communities in the state. I did not do this, but it was really cool that you could find a 5k to run in every month.
My first 5k I believe was the MADD Dash in Stratford, Conn. The race is now in its 30th year and they plan on running it again in August. It was a great experience for me in that I got to see the big crowd of folks and I believe the area high schools used the race as a test for their cross country season.
Anyway, it was difficult for me, but I chugged through it and made it to the end where I was greeted by a relieved and proud wife who had brought some of our friends along.
It was cool back then, too. Hi-Tek Racing, which managed this race and lots of others that I liked running in, printed out and posted the timing results right there so you could see where you finished. HiTek is still going strong.
After that first one, I was hooked and I soon signed up for others, running in the Bigelow 5K in Fairfield, Conn. Bigelow Tea, by the way, was founded in Fairfield and is still headquartered there. I got to interview Cindy Bigelow, the company CEO a few times and feel lucky to have gotten that opportunity to meet a business person of her caliber who is also a decent human being.
I kept it up and eventually got my times down to under 25 minutes.
But life happens and I fell off the road, so to speak. But I’m back now and doing better.
I know this is a long post, and I’m sorry about that.
But here’s the point I’m trying to make.
If you’re interested in getting into running and haven’t done it, this is my recommendation to get started:
- Check in with your doctor and make sure you’re okay to start tackling this.
- Get some decent shoes. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be for running.
- Before going out to walk or run, do some stretches and warm ups. There’s great info on the web for this. You want to establish a pre-run routine.
- Start by walking and timing yourself. Pick a place you enjoy or just go out in your neighborhood and work up to a 20 minute walk.
- When you start running, start by setting a goal of jogging for a minute. It really doesn’t have to be fast, just faster than a walk. After hitting that one minute, walk the remaining 19 minutes.
- Extend your jogging time by 30 seconds to a minute over the period of a few weeks and eventually you’ll be running for 20 minutes. And then you’ll be on your way.
- Remember it’s also supposed to be fun and, unless you’re gunning to be a pro or win some races, you don’t have to run every day, nor do you have to run the entire time you’re out exercising. It’s really okay to stop and admire a sunset or a view while you’re out running. This is really your time.
Basic Gear to start
Shoes Get a decent pair but they don’t have to be expensive. Try them on and jog in them for a bit.
A watch or phone with a stop watch feature. Timex and Casio are good options if you don’t want to use a phone.
A couple pair of athletic shorts
A pair of sweat pants.
Some shirts you don’t mind sweating in.
Maybe check out a book on running from the library or buy one used.
Read some magazines on fitness and running
Get an app like Nike Run Club or Strava to track your runs or use a notebook.
Keep running, keep writing