The first step is the hardest

I’ve been asked several times by friends to set them up with training plans. Usually, the conversation starts like this:

“So…you run, right?”

Yes, I run. I also study. Sometimes, I watch TV. But no one asks me for advice on that.

I find it a little unnerving how people are always so impressed someone can run for any length of time upwards of five minutes. Sometimes, I feel like asking these impressionable people how far they ran during any one kindergarten play date. I’m willing to bet they’d be impressed with themselves.

The well-meaning friends and acquaintances who ask me for help are on the right track. The thing is, they often don’t want to hear what I have to say.

“Start slow, with one foot in front of the other. Run until you’re tired. The next day, run a little more.”

There’s no magic pill. No matter how many fuel belts or brightly coloured New Balance sneakers a person buys, the reality remains: in order to be good at running, you need to run.

We’re a few weeks into New Year resolutions, and many have dropped off already. The reason is simple. It’s gotten tough.

Running is much like any other kind of exercise in some ways. It’s exhilarating at first. The sheer speed a human body can travel by its own means is remarkable. But then you look down at your digital watch and see only two minutes have passed, and you’re already panting like it’s the last mile of a marathon.

In some ways, running is different from any other form of exercise. All you really need are a pair of shoes to get going. Even then, some people prefer to run barefoot — but that’s a whole other issue.

I realize many people find the first few kilometres difficult. I certainly did. But the first few are the kilometres that count. After you’ve learned to run three kilometres, five isn’t so far away. And after you’ve completed your first five k, there’s little can hold you back from doing more.

The running community is great, too. Ask anyone who’s come out to a long run with the cross country team, or who has been persuaded by professor Andrew Titus to lace up a pair of sneakers. Runners want other runners to succeed. My first half marathon was in Sudbury, Ontario, with a bunch of “masters” runners (40 and over) who schooled me. I was 15, and yet they welcomed me with open arms and a bottle of Gatorade at the finish line. For some reason, I even got a medal but I have a nagging feeling it was for participation, and not the “junior” title it carried. This spirit of acceptance is a beautiful phenomenon, so I don’t question it.

Many people use running as a means to an end: weight loss. If this is your thing, great. But I think running should be enjoyed for what it is – a beautiful and rigorous act of the body enhanced by the emptying of the mind – occasionally to the point of “runner’s brain,” where you’re so exhausted, anything seems like a good idea.

Don’t force yourself to run. Some people simply aren’t fond of it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re not made for it. We all are. And I guarantee you, when you cross the finish line of your first five k, everyone will be cheering, and you’ll feel like a rockstar.

St. Thomas University’s cross country and track and field teams will host a 5k fun run April 6. For more information, please contact Sarah Peel (hdspw@stu.ca)

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