My first steps as a runner were mostly walking.
One April morning almost nine years ago, while half-asleep and hunched over with self-consciousness, I skulked out onto the street for my first run. Or, to be precise, my first run-walk-run. I jogged awkwardly for ten minutes along Thomas Street and St James’ Gate, then walked for ten minutes down to Heuston Station, before jogging the final ten minutes back home. Those ten-minute runs exhausted me, and the walking break brought welcome recovery.
Apart from my physical condition, my biggest obstacle was self-consciousness. “The entire city of Dublin is looking and laughing at me,” I thought to myself with the sort of logic I now know to be complete rubbish – nobody notices runners or walkers any more, and certainly not in the middle of a running boom. Happily, I did something quite unlike me – I actually overcame my self-consciousness and went out for a second run-walk-run two days later. And then a third. I was hooked.
Over the next three weeks I made that walking break shorter each time. And then one day I joined up the two running periods and found that I had run non-stop for 30 minutes. A whole half-hour! Since then, finishing marathons has given me great satisfaction, but that first 30-minute run brought its own sense of pride and accomplishment. (The next milestone was a full hour run, about a month later; I was buzzing after it.)
Walking is a tried and trusted gateway drug for a long, healthy running habit. A few three-day weeks of run-walk-run (or even walk-walk-walk, depending on your current physical state and the advice of your doctor) accompanied by a better diet is a great way to ease yourself into running and start getting fitter, healthier and slimmer.
Your walk doesn’t need to be the frenetic arm-pumping action of Olympic race walkers, but it still needs to be more effort than a leisurely stroll. Aim for ‘brisk’, which in real life would be like walking with a sense of purpose towards somewhere you need to be, but not rushing.
You need to differentiate your exercise-walking from your commute on foot or your pop-round-the-shops. The satisfaction and accomplishment of finishing your exercise is the addictive ingredient that will hook you, so you have to identify and appreciate it. Wear a tracksuit (with a rainproof jacket and warm layers if necessary) and running shoes – don’t take your work-out walk in jeans or normal shoes. Carry a small bottle of water so that you can stay hydrated. If possible, take your walk-run at a regular time of the day, so that you build it into the rhythm of your daily routine.
Ruth Field, blogger at The Grit Doctor and author of the popular guide Run, Fat Bitch, Run, suggests in a recent Irish Times column starting off with a one-hour or one-and-a-half hour walk as many times a week as you can manage, until you can start jogging for five minutes during that walk. Then gradually extend that five-minute jogging period over the following weeks until eventually you are jogging the complete circuit.
So, start your running career or your fitness regime by walking. It really is that simple and effective. You may feel self-conscious the first time, but if you come back for more and stick with it then you’re well on your way to reaching your goals. And walking out your front door this evening may end up with you running across the finish line of a marathon!