Hit the Ground Running: 5 Tips to Crossing the Finish Line When You’ve Never Run Before

As the members of Brooklyn Creative League are gearing up to run the Rock n’ Roll Brooklyn Half-Marathon on October 8th, we thought we’d give a shout out to members (and readers) who have never run before! Here at BCL, we’re big on work-life balance. Staying fit and healthy is important to the members of our coworking community. Since I’ve started running, many of my friends and relatives have asked me how the heck to even start! So, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my beginner’s guide on how to hit the ground running- literally! Oh, and before starting any new workout, please consult your doctor.

Check me out crossing the finish line after my first Marathon (that's 26.2 miles people!) in Central Park this past February! #stillproud

Check me out crossing the finish line after my first Marathon (that’s 26.2 miles people!) in Central Park this past February! #stillproud

Just last year, I had never run a full mile without stopping. I have very clear memories of middle school gym class, begrudgingly walking around the track on mile day, kicking pebbles and shaking my fist in the air. As a slightly overweight 12-year-old, running a mile seemed like torture and my attitude on this matter didn’t change for fifteen years. In fact, if you were able to go back in time and tell 12-year-old me that in fifteen years she would be in the middle of training for her third half-marathon and had already finished one full-marathon (in a slow, but respectable 4:59) she would have laughed right in your face and then most likely slipped her headphones back on and blasted some highly age-inappropriate black metal to drown you out.

In the past year, my life has been transformed by running. I’ve managed to lose weight, sleep better, manage mild anxiety, and better organize my day-to-day life. This is how I went from couch-potato-netflix-marathoner to crossing the finish line in five easy steps.

1.) Choose Your First Race Distance, and Select a Training Plan.  

If you’re like me, you’re going to want to go big or go home. The first race I chose to attempt was a half-marathon. However, if 13.1 miles intimidates you, think about trying out a 5k or 10k race to get you started.

I was persuaded to run a particular half marathon by my former boss. She was referred to a training program that she then referred to me. As per her suggestion, I chose to follow Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Half Marathon Training Program. Upon first glance, it seemed to make sense: Scheduled workouts that increased in distance steadily over the course of twelve weeks. There were rest days and cross-training days built in, and, as the title suggests, it’s designed for newbies.

A quick Google search of “half marathon training programs for beginners” show a wide variety of results, with Higdon’s plan right at the top! When it came time to train for the full-marathon, I went with his Full-Marathon training plan. I cannot recommend it enough. For more details on his plans and philosophies I strongly suggest picking up a copy of his book.

Next, take the time  to plug the workouts from your training schedule into your planner or calendar. The calendar I use most often is the one built in on my phone. I simply plug my runs in and set an alert. That way, if I ever forget, my phone reminds me midday that I have to put in miles today. If you want to get hyper organized, consider scheduling specific times for each workout: Tuesday, 3 miles 6:00 AM; Wednesday, 4.5 miles 8:00PM.

My mom, my auntie and I after I talked them into signing up with me to run the RnR Seattle Half this past June. This was both of their first half-marathons! Check out our bling! 

My mom, my auntie and I after I talked them into signing up with me to run the RnR Seattle Half this past June. This was both of their first half-marathons! Check out our bling! 

2.) Sign Up For a Race!

No, I’m not kidding. Signing up for a race, paying money, and having a due date in your calendar is quite possibly the best motivator you can have to make sure you keep up with your running schedule. No matter if you’re running a 5K or a marathon, actually putting your name down will keep you accountable.

If you’re running a 5K, the options for “fun runs” are more plentiful. Consider a color, black light, or otherwise themed race. The idea is that even though you’re running and working hard, the event is so sense stimulating that you hardly realize you’re working out. The fun doesn’t end with 5k’s, though. Other distances offer their own brand of fun. The Rock n’ Roll race series, for instance, are quite the events, with live music all along the route and a celebratory concert and free beer for finishers at the end. My very first race was the Rock n’ Roll Brooklyn Half-Marathon, and I had so much fun that I traveled across the country to do the same race in Seattle this past June.

After my first race, I was hooked. But I didn’t know where to find other races to sign up for. Thankfully I found this website that is essentially a catalogue of all the races in America, scheduled throughout the year. If you don’t already have a race in mind- you can do some “calendar math” and find a race in your area that is scheduled for around the time your chosen training schedule should be wrapping up. From this website you can check out individual race websites to learn more about specific events.

Running and "pun"ning- my two favorite things!

Running and “pun”ning- my two favorite things!


3.) Gear Up.

I found out the hard way that if you don’t have the correct shoes, you will suffer. Maybe you’ve tried before but it hurt your knees or hips so bad that you decided running wasn’t for you. You may have a genuine medical problem and should seek a lower impact workout. But, if you don’t, the problem may not necessarily be your body; it might be your shoes! Check your local listings to find a running store in your area. I went to the Footlocker Run Store located in Union Square in Manhattan. A sales associate monitored my gait while jogging (briefly) on a treadmill and was able to determine the correct running shoe style I needed to provide the best support possible for my body while running. She fitted me with some awesome Nike’s to correct my pronation and gave my knees some serious (and much needed) relief.

As far as what to wear while running, I believe with everything I’ve got that you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on the most stylish stretchy swag. You can easily run in a ratty t-shirt and sweatpants if you’d like to. However, if you’re like me and you haven’t yet achieved the mythical unicorn that is the “thigh gap”, you’re going to want to invest in some sort of running shorts, capris or leggings that fit close to your body. This will make your run more comfortable and will prevent chafing of the inner thighs. And if you haven’t heard of them yet, prepare to have your mind blown when I show you these: Bandelettes are incredible thigh bands that don’t roll up or down and truly are the greatest invention known to (wo)man. I’ve been rocking the same pair all summer long and they’re a miracle.

If you use a smart phone, consider downloading a running app. Many running apps offer free versions and are an excellent way to track your runs using the GPS on your phone. I use the free version of the Map My Run app. The app checks in with you after every mile to let you know how long you’ve been running, what your average pace is and how fast your last mile was. At the end of the run you can see a map of your route, and all of your split times. It saves all your workouts so you can look back at your progress over the course of your training. And, if you do some of your training runs in a gym, you can just as easily add those runs into the app manually. Map My Run also has a social element, so you can share with friends within the app or post to your preexisting social media accounts when you want to brag!

My proudest screen grab- Thanks Map My Run!

My proudest screen grab- Thanks Map My Run!

4.) Start Running, Don’t Stop, Walk When You Need to, Repeat.

So now, you’re wearing the right shoes, the running app is ready to go on your phone and it’s time to go out for your first training run. My very first training run for the half was three miles. Having never even run one mile before without stopping, I was more than a little intimidated. And I felt a little foolish. But, I stretched out a little, turned on the app and started running- slowly.

Turns out, that if you know how to walk, you know how to run (at a beginner’s level. Elite athletes,  please don’t punish me). It’s relatively instinctual. Shoulders back, arms loose, knees slightly bent and go. A joke that I often say to my friends is, that on a bad day I’m not so much running or jogging as I am “walking briskly, with more bouncing”.

From what I’d learned from more experienced runners, it’s important not to stop moving entirely. This is an idea that I understood conceptually. Coming from a summer camp background, I knew that it’s a no-no to sit down while resting on a hike. It makes it too hard to keep going. Same goes for running. Even if you have to walk a little, you gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other for the entire distance you set out to do that day.

My first few tries, I could not run the entire distance. I would make deals with myself in my head: “If you run for the next half mile you can walk for a quarter mile,” and so on. But soon enough, I was running the entire distance. And come race day, I ran the entire 13.1 without walking once. And you can too.

My friend Jennie and I (that's right, two blondes named Jenni(e) WATCH OUT WORLD) after finishing my first half last October (not her first, clearly) 

My friend Jennie and I (that’s right, two blondes named Jenni(e) WATCH OUT WORLD) after finishing my first half last October (not her first, clearly) 

5.) Find support/ Become Self Motivated.

If you’re like me, you’re going to love running because it’s wonderfully meditative. One of my favorite things about running is being alone, tuning out, and connecting with my body for an hour or two. I catch up on podcasts and rarely listen to music. That’s why I look forward to my runs so much.

If you’re someone who is better motivated by other people, then joining a running class or group may be right for you! You can learn a lot from a class, have a mentor, make new friends and have someone to talk to while you’re running. My aunt, when training for the half we ran together in June, joined a running club and she loved every second of it.

It may take a couple solo runs and a couple group runs to determine if you’d rather motivate yourself or be a part of a group. But either way you go, it’s important to find out what drives you and do that.

Super Secret Step 6

Cross that finish line, selfie with your medal. You’re a runner now.