In my mid-thirties, I had the very common feeling that I needed some form of regular exercise. I had dabbled in running through the neighborhood a few times before, but could never seem to make a go of it for more than a few days in a row. For the most part, the only running in my life was when I “ran” (meaning drove, of course) to a restaurant to pick up takeout for dinner.
With that background, it was hard for me to believe it when a good friend in our congregation told me that anyone can run a half marathon. My friend had already run several himself, so I knew that he could, but believing that I could was another thing entirely! He has always been more athletic than me in other sports, so it was hard to see how running would be any different.
But, as I would learn, he was right! He already knew some things that I didn’t, and I have been tremendously grateful ever since that he helped me learn them because they’ve been meaningful to me in more than just running. There were two main principles that helped me get started. The first is that progress will be steady, but slow for a while.
Authors Selene Yeager and Mallory Crevling state it very well in an article for beginners in Runner’s World magazine:
“It’s here, in the beginning, when many new runners stumble. You think, ‘Today, I’m going to start running!’ and out the door you go with the best of intentions—but maybe not the best preparation. Four minutes later, everything hurts, and you feel like you are dying" (6 Expert Tips on How to Start Running by Selene Yeager and Mallory Crevling, Runner’s World, December 23, 2019).
That description was certainly accurate for my initial attempts at running! I remember thinking that I could never be a distance runner after only a few minutes. Slowly, I began to learn that I was capable and that almost everybody is. As stated later in the article, “Every able-bodied person can be a runner,” says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach based in New York City. “Just start slowly and build up gradually.”
One of the most encouraging moments on my running journey was seeing how true this is firsthand. I ran in a Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon in Chicago less than a year after that conversation with my friend, and was blown away by the diversity of participants. Thousands of runners representing every age, body structure and type of running clothes filled the streets. There was even a man running barefoot in an Elvis Presley costume!
This lesson from running has been incredibly valuable in many other parts of life as well. Most of us aren’t immediately good at new skills and activities when we first try them. Learning new things takes time, but we can gain many rewarding and beneficial outcomes if we view slow and steady progress as the success that it truly is.
The second principle that helped me get started is that finding a pace you can sustain makes all the difference.
This was the most important thing I learned about how to run. I didn’t know anything about pacing myself when I headed out the door those first few times. I just went as fast as I felt like I should be going for it to qualify as “running.” This was a major contributor to those early experiences of feeling like I was about to die.
I wasn’t tracking my run metrics with any apps or devices at that point, but the pace I was attempting was probably around 8:30-9:00 minutes per mile. Thankfully with some more advice from my friend, I soon learned that a slower pace would make a huge difference in how I felt and how far I could go.
Amanda Brooks, running coach and author of Run to The Finish: The Everyday Runner’s Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock, and Loving the Run says in her tips for beginners that new runners should “not be afraid to walk, slow down to run farther, and not worry about how far you’re going—just go!”
During my first year of running I settled in at a pace of around 10:00-10:30 minutes per mile, and have stayed there for four years, running three times a week and completing three half marathons. It’s a pace that works for me, and supports my primary goals for running: regular exercise, healthy stress relief and a few distance-running events.
Like the first principle, this lesson has also proved to be meaningful and applicable in many other areas of life. We often feel pressure to accomplish things as quickly as others do, or as quickly as we feel that we “should be able to.” This can be true in school, at work, with our personal goals and even in our spiritual life. Many times, we simply need to find a pace that we can sustain and that will keep us moving forward.
My experience with running has taught me that getting a little advice from people who have experience can make a big difference in my ability to succeed.
My experience with running has taught me that getting a little advice from people who have experience can make a big difference in my ability to succeed. After about four years of steady running, it’s hard to imagine not having that part of my life now. But without some help to see that I could do it and how, it would have only been a short, frustrating experiment.
The book of Proverbs is full of godly wisdom that can help make the difference between failure and success in all areas of life—and most importantly in our relationships! In the tone of a caring Father who wants what is truly best in life for His children, God says:
“Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, and the years of your life will be many. I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble. Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:10-13 Proverbs 4:10-13  Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of your life shall be many.
 I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths.
 When you go, your steps shall not be straitened; and when you run, you shall not stumble.
 Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is your life.
American King James Version×, emphasis added).
If you’ve considered taking up running, I would highly encourage you to give it a try. There are many free or low-cost resources like the ones I’ve cited that provide very helpful guidance for getting started. Find a family member, friend or local running club; they can provide additional advice from personal experience. Remember the principles of starting slowly with a focus on gradual progress, and finding a pace that works for you.
Most importantly though, remember that you are capable of accomplishing meaningful and rewarding physical and spiritual goals. Our primary goals should always be aligned with living God’s way of life. When your goals do align and you have the proper guidance, you can succeed!