I wasn’t always a runner. But after the birth of my second child — and a pregnancy preceded by near-fertility treatments and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) — my body no longer felt like “mine.” For so long, I traded autonomy for motherhood but couldn’t recognize the feel of my own skin.

Then, one day, those feelings of discomfort bubbled up inside and burst out of me in an all-out sprint. My daughter had just turned five on the day of her baby brother’s birth (they share a birthday) and, of all the things I’d done — planning for pregnancy, becoming pregnant, giving birth, and managing postpartum depression (PPD) — none prepared me for the detachment I felt from who I am, or who I thought I would be by this time in my life.

But something happened that day. That sprint, which I loathed, filled the void where endorphins should be. There was no doubt about the fact that I, in no way, enjoyed that first run or how I looked doing it. But it awakened something in me I’d never felt. Lungs sizzling, legs threatening to give out, and an overall accomplished feeling I don’t think I’d ever had with other things. I truly felt alive.

Those first weeks and months of navigating a new lifestyle meant plenty of fails that took years to correct. Now, as a marathon veteran with dozens of races (5k to 50k) under my belt, here’s how you can learn from my mistakes to become a running pro in your own right.

Start slow — no, really

It’s tempting to step outside, breathe in the fresh air, and take off, but that’s not a good idea. Not only will you have trouble regulating your breathing but it could trigger muscle cramps, side stitches, or cause any number of injuries. When I first started running, I wanted it to take as little time from my day as possible, despite not knowing what I was doing to my body. There is impact in every step that affects the run, how you feel, and how you’ll feel long after the run is over. 

Start with a walk, warm up with dynamic stretches, then transition to a light jog before doing sprints. As someone who’s had stress fractures, tendonitis, shin splints, and (literally every running injury), trust me on this one.

Invest in the right shoes

There’s nothing more important for a new runner than properly fitted shoes. Go straight to a running specialty store, get shoes fitted for your specific type of arch (which will tell you how much support your feet need for a “stable,” pain-free run), and never look back. Seriously, your feet will thank you.

Set a goal

Even for a new or timid runner, goals matter. The best way is to find a race, be it in person or virtual, find a training plan to prepare, and do it. It’s that simple: commit. A 5k is a great place to start. Not only is it walker-friendly, but it’s far enough to test your physicality but not so far you’ll regret signing up. My first 5k showed me I am far more capable than I give myself credit for. I even placed in my age group. You can, too.

Do not — I repeat — don’t compare your progress with a seasoned runner

Running is a competitive sport, even if you’re only competing with yourself. Don’t make the mistake of comparing your new journey with that of someone who’s been at it since middle school. Do, however, challenge yourself. If you know a seasoned runner, ask to join them for a portion of one of their long runs. This doesn’t mean run at their pace, but it might do what goal-setting does — show you what you’re made of.

Join a running club

I worked at a specialty running store for over two years. We fit our customers with proper shoes, and welcomed a weekly run group who ran anywhere from 3-10 miles at any given time. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but you might make lifetime friends bonding over a sport you both hate to love (or love to hate).

Listen to your body

Do as I say, not as I do. I have run half-marathons with stress fractures and full marathons with tendonitis and blisters. KT (kinesiology tape) only goes so far. Take care of your body and it will take care of you (or so I hear). If something is bothering you during a run, don’t push through it. When you’re new at running, everything hurts, and it’s hard to differentiate what’s worthy of seeing a doctor. Trust your gut. Chances are, if it feels off, it probably is. Take a rest day and see if it subsides and Epsom salt baths are your new best friend.

Stretch, roll, and repeat

Stretching before and after a run will help prevent a lot of common injuries. For muscles, invest in a foam roller to help push the lactic acid out. You’ll recover faster and feel fresher faster. It’s not going to take all the soreness away because running is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. 

I’m not a doctor but I know that all of these things worked for me. I started running as an asthmatic at 30 years old, months after giving birth, with no history of physical activity. I was severely overweight and unhealthy. I knew my kids needed a strong mom who would show them what adversity looks like — what perseverance looks like. Running helped me regain a sense of self and showed me all the things I never thought I could be, or do (like run a 50k). And in time, it’ll do the same for you.

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