Think You’re Not a Runner? Think Again

This post is by Amy Karet of

We’ve all heard how great running is for your mind, body, and spirit. I never really believed it until I took up running a couple of years ago. I was stunned by the transformation created in every aspect of my life.

After about a year of running, I was fitter, cuter, more confident, and more energetic than I’d ever imagined possible. I was calmer, a better mother, wife, friend, and employee. The change was dramatic.

But it took me 34 years to get there. I’d always been a wannabe runner. I would see these lithe, energetic people bounding down the street and wish I was one of them. But I wrote it off, deciding I was too fat or not athletic enough to run. Plus, the few times I’d gotten over myself and did run, I wound up panting, exhausted and hurt. I decided I was not born to run.

But then, a beautiful friend helped me get started the right way, and her beautiful husband introduced me to the book No Need for Speed by John Bingham. With their support and encouragement, I learned a few things that will help you go from wannabe to runner, too.

Invest in a good pair of running shoes

I heard this for years and ignored it for years, and I wore my regular old shoes every time I started an ultimately-failed running program.

But this time, I went to a running store (I know, I know. It’s embarrassing and intimidating to step foot into a place you obviously don’t belong. But I’ve found that runners love other runners, and veteran runners love helping new runners. You will be surprised and heartened by how helpful and non-judgmental they are). They figured out what kind of stride I have and whether or not I pronate or overpronate (I do one of them, but I can never remember which one.)

They got me the right shoes, and I cannot tell you what a difference it made. You’re going to be sore when you start a running program. There is no getting around that. But you shouldn’t be in pain. The time I finally broke down and got the running shoes was the first time I was able to run without pain.

Take it s…l…o…w…

This is important for everybody, but it’s especially important if you’ve ignored step number one and don’t have good shoes. Starting out slowly will decrease your chances of getting hurt, and increase your enjoyment of the process.

As complete beginners, we try to run the way we’ve seen people running: quickly and efficiently. We race out of the gate, trying to run as far as we can, as fast as we can. We end up at the ends of our driveways, panting, flushed, knees hurting, and hoping our neighbors will buy the story that we were being chased by a killer hornet.

When I say go slow, I don’t mean pretty slow. I mean painstakingly, little-old-ladies-in-walkers-are-passing-you slow. I mean molasses. I mean you are running so slowly that you could easily get where you’re going faster by walking. Slowly. If you think you’re running so slowly you couldn’t possibly go any slower, slow down just a little.

My friends call it trudging. Because when you’re first starting out, how fast you’re going or how far you can run aren’t important. What is important is getting your body used to the motion of running. It feels like you’re going nowhere. It feels stupid and silly. You already feel dumb running in front of your neighbor’s house, and then, if you’re trudging, it takes you five minutes to get past it.

It feels dumb now, but it will save your knees and your lungs and your pride in the long run. You can take off sprinting today and spend the next week discouraged and unable to walk, or you can trudge today and the day after tomorrow, and then again two days after that. (You shouldn’t run every day—your body needs time to recover.)

Not only should you run slowly, you should not run the whole time. When I was just starting out, I would walk for about two minutes and run for 30 seconds to a minute. If you’re trudging, this shouldn’t be too painful. If you are gasping for breath at the end of your minute, you are going too fast. At the end of your minute, you should feel like you could do it for another minute. You can. Just not today.

Over a period of weeks, you will be able to slowly decrease the amount of time you spend walking and increase the amount of time you spend running.

Run your own race

My mantra for the first six months of running was “It’s not about them. It’s about me.” I was worried about what the neighbors were thinking, or what the guy on the treadmill next to me was thinking. I was worried that they thought it was stupid of me, this little overweight drama club girl, to be trying to run.

When these thoughts started taking over, I’d look straight ahead and repeat my mantra.

There is always going to be someone faster or slower than you are. There will always be somebody with better or worse form. There will always be someone with cuter running clothes. There will always be the girl who looks like she knows exactly what she is doing, and you will feel stupid.

But it doesn’t matter. You are here to run your own race, live your own life. Put on your blinders and go for it full-on.

Celebrate little accomplishments

Soon, your body will get more used to the motion of trudging, and you will be able to do it a little faster. And a little farther. Before you know it, you’ll be doing two minutes of running and thirty seconds of walking.

I live just a few blocks away from a park and I used to think to myself, “Someday, I will run from my house to here.” It is not an impressive distance by any means (I’ve never actually measured it, but I know it’s less than a mile. Probably less than half a mile). But the day I ran all the way from my house to the park, I stopped and cried. I’d always wanted it, but I never thought it would happen for me. It wasn’t a world record, I didn’t do it quickly, but it was my personal achievement, and I celebrated it.

Don’t wait to call yourself a runner

I thought I wasn’t a real runner because I was too slow. Then, I got a little faster and decided I wasn’t a real runner because I didn’t do races. Then, I entered a race but thought I was too overweight to be a “real” runner. I finished a half-marathon, but then I decided that real runners run full marathons. Who knows what will happen if I ever lose my mind and decide to do a full marathon?

But after the half-marathon, I realized that a runner isn’t someone who runs races, or runs a certain speed or distance. A runner is someone who makes the decision every day to put on their shoes and go out there and put one foot in front of the other.

A runner is someone who fights those demons in her head, heart and soul and does it anyway.

A runner is someone who runs.

I promise you, if you get out there with some good shoes, take it slowly, run your own race and celebrate yourself along the way, you will be a runner, too.

When Amy isn’t trudging or pretending to be Diego with her kids, she is learning to embrace who she really is at her blog,

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  1. Thanks Amy for the beautiful words. I’ve been running for years, completing a dozen or so races a year, but I still don’t consider myself a runner. I’m a touch overweight and completely slow. Although I completed a marathon in April, I don’t lump myself with that group of elite individuals–runners. You make some wonderful points, but I think it might take some serious mental effort to start seeing myself as an actual runner.

    • Thank you. 🙂
      I know what you mean–it is hard to think of yourself as a runner when you don’t exactly fit the mold. But I’ve decided that there are like 20 people in the world (okay, maybe a few more) who actually fit the mold, and the rest are just like us.

    • Nice article Amy, but to Michelle: You’ve only been doing a dozen races per year .. yeesh … of course you’re not a runner. Kidding! None of the “runners” I know does a dozen races a year. I think I’m a runner and I’ve only done 7 or 8 races in my life. But then, I think your website: The Running Jewess, betrays you 🙂

  2. Tom Bickle says:

    Nice article! Loved it!

  3. Amy, fabulous post, best advice on being a beginner runner I think I’ve ever read, and I’m laughing out loud at the killer hornet. It really gives me confidence to start, especially the advice about biting the bullet with proper shoes.
    I have a girly question: I’m, ah, well-endowed, do you wear a sports bra, do you think it’s important?

    • Tess- I too have the same umm…”issue” as you and yes THEY ARE VITAL. I’ve been running for 6 months (after 30 years of wishing I could but not actually trying) and if it wasn’t for finding the Enell brand sports bras, I probably still wouldn’t be running. That brand holds the girls in place like nothing I’ve ever tried.

      I swear, I don’t work for them. I just a huge fan of their product. They are expensive but worth every single penny!

      • I’ve never heard of Enell–I’ll have to check them out.
        Tess, I agree with Laura. It is VITAL. I have a friend who actually wears two at once. 🙂 If it weren’t for my sports bra, I wouldn’t be able to run.

  4. Thanks so much for these encouraging words. About a month ago, I signed up for a 5K run that will take place in September. I’ve never been a runner, but knew I needed a goal. I’ve been thinking since I signed up I will never make it. But your post has got me motivated again. Thank you!

    • I’m glad! You will make it, and you will feel so incredible once you do. It’s really like no other feeling I’ve ever had. Good luck!!

  5. Yes!
    Great article!

    I am also a runner!

  6. An inspiring article that’s going to finally get me off my fat arse and hitting the pavement (albeit slowly). Thank you!

  7. I have been thinking about running and your article is the push I needed. I always thought I wasn’t a runner but my younger sister is, and if she can do it then there is no reason why I can’t. Did you follow a particular program, like Couch to 5k?

    • Exactly! I keep telling myself that the only difference between me and people who run is that they get out and do it.
      I used John “The Penguin” Bingham’s book, No Need For Speed. He’s written several books, and all of them have good guides if you’re just starting out. Runner’s World magazine often has beginner’s guides in their issues, too.
      Good luck!

  8. Hi Amy,
    There are lot’s of runners and bike riders where I live in the country. I did some running years ago, maybe it’s time to start back up again.

  9. Hey, Justin! I highly recommend it (obviously), especially if you’ve got a nice place nearby to run.

  10. Celeste says:

    Hi Amy! Great post!

    I think of you (not in a creepy, weird way LOL) while I’m doing my training for my 5K’s. When it gets too hard, I slow it down and start “trudging” and that has really helped. It’s been going better than I expected and I feel great so far.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. 🙂

    • I’m so glad to hear that it’s helping! I’m telling you, I love trudging so much that if I had another kid, I just might name him Trudge. 🙂
      I am honored that you think of me during your training (in a non-creepy weird way. LOL). Do whatever it takes to keep you going!

  11. I used to run more than I do now. 3-4 miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then of course I play in a basketball league on weekends, so that keeps me going.

    I definitely agree with your points here, get a good pair of running shoes, then focus on taking it one step at a time, running at your own pace. Next thing you know, you’ll be set to take on a marathon, heh 🙂

  12. Marathon, here I come! 🙂 It sounds like between running and basketball, you’re practically running a marathon yourself!

  13. Hi all – love the article! I used to call myself a runner and was for years, regualrly doing Half Marathons and ten milers, then got carried away with the idea of a marathon and all of the training that involved, and since completing it have hardly run at all. I just lost the enthusiasm and in my mind, felt that anything less in terms of distance was a step down or a compromise.

    It has taken me over a year to find some enthusiasm to get my trainers on again and get back out there, and it’s going to take me a while to get to anything even vaguely resembling the fitness I had before, but articles like this are a huge help and encouragement, so thank you from someone who needs that right now!

  14. Hi Liz,

    I’m so glad it helped! 🙂 I think I reached a point like that, too, where running wasn’t about the joy of it anymore. Instead it was about the numbers and feeling like I had to do it.
    I’m trying to slowly regain that sense of joy again, and I hope you do, too!

  15. Hi, Amy! Yesterday I read your post and couldn’t forget it, especially the words “It’s not about them. It’s about me.” Today I bought myself a pair of good running shoes, without planning to do so in advance. I hope it is going to be one of the posts that will change my life. Thank you!

  16. Thanks for the great article and I am one of those that does not consider myself a runner and to date this year I have completed 10 races (6 5K, 1 10K and 3 Challenge Races). I have two more 5Ks to do this year and I am tackling the half marathon here in San Antonio on Nov. 13. I even placed 3rd in my age group in my last 5K and got my first winning ribbon. I know after all of this I still don’t consider myself a runner but I keep trying and get out there and hit the pavement. I may not be the fastest but I am trying my hardest. I consider the runners that get out there and just go and go without any effort. I have to try hard and I have to take breaks and walk at times which is why I guess I don’t consider myself a runner. I keep thinking the time I can do a 5K without walking any of it I may be a runner.

    Thanks for the great article and I promise to change my mind set. I am a runner by your definition.

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