How to run: A guide for people who think they can't

Ever say "I wish I could run?" Lisa Jhung's new book aims to provide a road map to find the inner runner in all of us. 
Image: Woman getting ready for a workout
In today’s running boom, it’s easy for a prospective runner to get turned off by the overload of information that’s out there.Marija Jovovic / Getty Images
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By Amanda Loudin

When 28-year old Aaron Adams first started running, he found it boring. He needed music to “get through” a run, and even then, he had to just about force himself out the door. The same holds true for 45-year old Beth Baker, who made it a whole two blocks on her first run before she began crying in frustration.

Today, both love the sport and couldn’t imagine a life without it. But it was a process to get there —different in each runners’ case. “When I first started, I felt ashamed that it was so hard,” says Seattle-based Baker who is now a running coach. “It seemed like running was something everyone should be able to do, and yet I couldn’t.”

Regardless of their difficulties getting started, both Baker and Adams persisted, eventually finding a way to approach running that worked for them. Lisa Jhung, an experienced runner and journalist who writes about running, understands how hard it can be to get started, which is why she authored the newly released "Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running Even if You Think You Hate It".

It seemed like running was something everyone should be able to do, and yet I couldn’t.

Beth Baker, running coach

Let go of the intimidation factor

As a runner, there’s one thing Jhung has heard non-runners repeat over the years: “I wish I could run.” To her way of thinking, everyone can run if they can figure out how to make it work for them. “I felt like there was a way to break down the barriers for people,” she says. “I wanted to help people find their way in.”

This is the premise behind "Running That Doesn’t Suck", a fun read that offers up a road map to finding the runner in all of us. “Non-runners often think of runners as people who are out on the roads by 5 a.m., having tackled the day by 7,” she says. “This makes running intimidating and leads to people feeling bad about themselves if they aren’t doing the same.”

Instead, Jhung encourages want-to-be runners to let go of the intimidation factor and stop beating themselves up. “If you run at all, celebrate that and don’t’ let excuses get in your way,” she says.

In the book, Jhung encourages people to first and foremost, understand who they are and what makes them tick. “If you’ve tried to become a runner in the past but got frustrated and quit somewhere in the process, chances are you were forcing yourself to run in ways — times of the day, locations or types of surfaces, in certain company — that didn’t mesh well with your personality,” she says in the introduction.

Jhung offers up a “know-thyself-to-become-a-runner’ quiz in the early pages of the book to afford future runners a chance to home in on what type of approach might work best for their individual needs. The results help readers to then navigate the book and learn more about different “ways in” to running.

For instance, if when taking the quiz you answer “yes” to the question about wanting more time to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, Jhung points you in the direction of headphones when you run. Do you have introverted tendencies? Then make sure a portion of your runs are performed solo, giving you that quiet time you crave. Dig nature? Then get yourself to a trailhead for a run in the woods. If you’re the opposite and find running outdoors intimidating, then opt for the treadmill or perhaps a local track.

In Adams’ case, ditching the headphones was actually a breakthrough. “I started immersing myself in my location, paying attention to the sights and sounds,” says the Charleston, S.C.-based clinical research coordinator. “It helped me pay attention to my body and how I’m feeling. Now I’ve found that by processing my thoughts and emotions on a run, I’m more mindful throughout my day.”

For Baker, it was a matter of going back, time and again, to the same one-mile loop near her home. “Eventually, the endorphins kicked in and I felt like I was actually a runner,” she says.

Start where you are

In today’s running boom, it’s easy for a prospective runner to get turned off by the overload of information that’s out there. Take the widespread training plans for races available online, for instance. It’s easy to think you need a plan in order to succeed. “Running doesn’t have to be rigid like that,” says Jhung. “Be more flexible with running if that’s helpful to getting out there.”

Also in play in many cases is that idea that, if you need to take walking breaks, you’re not really running. “Be kind to yourself,” says Jhung. “If walking is a part of your running, that’s great. No one is judging.”

Eventually, the endorphins kicked in and I felt like I was actually a runner.

Beth Baker

Jhung is a big believer in starting where you are with running. In the book, she reminds readers that this applies both physically and in terms of your personality type — and that by starting with where you are with both, you can develop an individualized approach that will work. She offers up four categories to figure out your correct starting point, and includes a plan for working with each.

At the end of the day, if you want to run, Jhung’s book will help you find a way to make that happen. Eventually, you may even come to love it. That’s where Jhung is with the sport, but it wasn’t always the case. “I hated it in high school,” she confesses, “so I get where people are coming from.”

Today, however, running plays a front-and-center role in her life. “It’s a motion I crave and need,” she says. “It gives me space when I need it, a community at other times, and it makes me feel good physically and mentally.”

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