If someone had told me two years ago that I would become a runner, I would have told them they were crazy. I did not grow up in a fitness-focused family. My dad and my brother were sports boys, playing baseball and soccer. But I did not have a female fitness role model. My mom’s workout routine consisted of jumping on a trampoline to bad ’80s music. This is what I learned in my childhood years: To lose weight, you diet.
As I got older, I tried for years to “become” a runner. I remember being 12 years old, “running” at my grandmother’s beach condo in Monterey during my summer vacation. I think I made it a mile and crashed. Although I was an active dancer, there is a cardiovascular difference between dance class and running a mile. I could feel it in my bones, my muscles, my lungs—and I quit before even trying. I repeated the “try and fail” technique for the next 15 years, going full force and then burning out.
After the birth of my son last year, I realized that although I had been “thin” most of my life, I was not lean; I was not fit. I huffed and puffed just going up stairs. The number on a scale does not necessarily represent one’s personal fitness level. And after gaining 40 pounds during my pregnancy, my weight loss stalled at 15 pounds. I didn’t understand why I was holding onto 25 extra pounds—I wasn’t eating a ton. I decided it was time for me to really become a runner. Instead of being envious of my running friends, I needed to take charge of my own running destiny.
So at eight weeks postpartum, I found a “couch-to-5K” program on the Internet, and made another attempt at becoming a runner. At first … I could only jog 30 seconds at a time. My legs felt like lead. My knees ached. My hips hurt. After two weeks of that, I added 30 seconds to my running time. Then 90 seconds. My old self would have quit by this point, thinking that I was wasting my time because I wasn’t running fast or far enough. But I knew that I had to start a relationship with running, spending quality time on my feet to reach my goals. What was amazing was to watch the pregnancy pounds melt. Especially after I added strength training to my routine.
By the time my son was nine months old, I had only seven more pounds to lose and yet I already fit into my smaller pre-pregnancy jeans. That was when I knew that I was building muscle and leaning out. And more than anything, I had become a “runner.” I am now daily running three to five miles and adding mileage each week. Although I’m not fast, I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. I am just beginning this relationship with running, and it feels incredible.
For those who desire to become a runner but may feel intimidated or overwhelmed, here are a few tips.
1. Get checked out by your doctor before starting a fitness program. I got my “ok” at my six-week check up. For mothers who are newly postpartum, always wait for your doctor’s approval. Those first six weeks are so important in the healing of your body after labor. For those who have been sedentary for some time or have any chronic conditions, it’s imperative to schedule a check-up with your physician before working out.
2. Start slow. I was only able to jog 30 seconds in the beginning. I never thought I would be able to go further than that. Take your time.
3. Let running become a part of your identity. This may sound silly, but if you don’t believe you are a runner, you will not become one. Buy a copy of Runner’s World magazine. Read articles about running. Talk to experienced runners about their journey.
4. Incorporate strength training into your fitness routine. Before I started adding strength into my workouts, I could only jog so long and so fast (clarification—it wasn’t fast). After squats, lunges and core work, my speed picked up. Good-bye, 12-minute mile.
5. Don’t give up. Even if you have a minor set back like an injury or illness, get back up and get outside when you are able. If you are going to become a runner, you will be doing this the rest of your life. Get up and get moving.
Sarah Martin is a certified personal fitness trainer and owner of Smart Fitness, a local mobile training service and the mother of a 1-year-old son. She lives in Aptos, Calif., and trains all types of clients. For more information, visit smartfitnesssc.com or fitmamacita.com. Or, call 831.331.0646, or e-mail [email protected].