What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Running

How my misconceptions made running unnecessarily intimidating.

Before I started running, I had a very warped image of what the average runner looked like.

I lived in downtown Chicago at the time, and I had seen people jogging along the lake and through Lincoln Park. To me, they all looked like paragons of fitness, speeding down the trails in the blink of an eye.

I was interested in starting to run myself, but I felt like I was completely outclassed.

I was in my mid-to-late-twenties, and so far I had spent my adult life entirely out of shape. I smoked, drank, and hadn’t exercised since the mandatory physical education classes back in high school.

When I compared myself to the adonian runners in the park, I wanted to give up on my running goals before I even began.

An anxiety disorder amplified my concerns. The end result was that I let my worries about running get the best of me for an embarrassingly long time.

It took months of staying inside and thinking about running before I finally worked up the courage to actually go outside and do it.

Once I finally started running, I quickly realized that I had completely misjudged the “average” runner.

Most Runners Aren’t Experts

The reality is that most runners in your local park aren’t experts. A surprisingly large number of them are beginners, and probably feel just as self-conscious about running as I had.

When I was completely out of shape, everyone around me looked like they were moving incredibly fast. During my first few runs, it continued to feel that way.

But then, a funny thing happened. I started to get faster too.

Of course, I expected that I would improve with time, but I had no idea how quickly the improvements come.

When I started running, I couldn’t run a mile, even at a pace barely above my walking speed. Within a month or so, I was running distances of over three miles, and my speed was starting to improve as well.

I still had plenty of room to grow, but by that point, I no longer looked like a total beginner, and I was no longer the slowest runner in the park.

That’s also when I started to realize that everyone else wasn’t actually running all that quickly. Sure, there were a few insanely fast runners around, but most people were running at a pace that I could match, at least for a short distance.

Now that I’ve been running for years, I have a much clearer image of what the average runner is like.

Most of the runners and joggers you see are not star athletes. They don’t have Olympic aspirations, and likely won’t ever even enter a race.

Instead, they’re just normal people working some exercise into their lives. Many of them are nearly as new to running as you may be, and even some of the more experienced runners may still approach the hobby in a completely casual way.

As I got better at running, the people who used to look insanely fast to me suddenly seemed to be moving at quite an achievable speed.

These days, I’m still far away from being fast enough to win a race, but I’m typically faster than most of the runners I pass on my way around the local lake.

Consistent running leads to steady improvements, and those improvements add up more quickly than you might expect.

As a brand new runner, it’s easy to feel self-conscious about your speed, but it’s actually far less noticeable than you imagine. Believe it or not, you’re likely less than a year away from catching up with the ability of many of the other runners that you see.

Don’t let intimidation hold you back as it did for me. When you start running, you won’t be a beginner in a sea of experts. Instead, you’ll be a beginner surrounded by a wide variety of other beginners, experts, and everything in between.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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