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I've run seven marathons. I once ran two, back-to-back, on two different continents in six days. Which is crazy in any context, for sure, but even more so when followed up by this statement: There was a point not that long ago when I couldn't even run a full mile.
Let's bring it back to 2007. As a rising college sophomore working at a summer camp in Connecticut, I was committed to integrating running into my regular routine despite hating the act completely. At the time, I was halfway through a weight-loss journey, down 35 pounds, and logging miles felt like an accessible way to continue my progress and incorporate fitness into my routine...without needing to drive 30 minutes to the closest gym.
Did I mention I was committed? Every single day, I would lace up my sneakers, throw on a pair of black spandex from Target, and hit the ground running. (At this point, "running" feels generous. I'd say a fast-paced walk/jog is a better summary.) My "single mile" would take roughly 14 minutes. Seven weeks of "miles" later, I cross-checked the distance with my car, only to find out that I huffed and puffed my way through a half-mile. A half-mile that was tough. A half-mile that felt hard as hell most days. A half-mile that took me 14 minutes.
I didn't even care. Because at the end of that summer, I told someone "I like running," and my world changed forever from there. Soon, that half-mile became a (real) mile. I signed up for a 5K. I totally freaked out the moment I clicked "register" before my first half-marathon. I had all the nerves preparing for my first full. Me, the girl who could barely run a full mile without wanting to quit, a marathoner. Me, now a woman who said the sentence just a few weeks ago: "The marathon is my favorite distance." (Related: 6 Things I Wish I'd Known About Running When I First Started)
I get asked "how do you stick with it?" a lot. As a certified run coach (I studied for my certification last year, hoping to help others progress the same way I did), I'll be honest: It's not always easy. There are certainly days when I lace up my sneakers, get out the door, and about seven minutes in I throw up my hands and call it—knowing that the run just isn't feeling especially awesome. But then, there are the good days. The days where maybe it feels eh, but I finish it anyway. The days where I run 6 miles to my favorite yoga class. The days where I run 18 around Manhattan, soaking in the sites and feeling so grateful for my body and how far I've come. And so, I'm going to let you in on my secrets—because to be honest, I wish I'd had this sort of wisdom back when I started my running journey over a decade ago.
1. Set small, actionable goals.
My running goals were always small and feasible. It wasn't like on day one of striding, I thought to myself, I want to run a marathon. It was quite the opposite, actually. Normally more along the lines of, I just want to get through this run without walking. Or, I'm going to pick up the pace between those two lampposts. By setting smaller goals, nothing ever felt completely out of reach.
When I signed up for my first 5K, I probably was running about two miles four days a week, so pushing that distance up to 3.1 felt attainable. Same sort of vibe for the half-marathon, and then the marathon. Each of them, I was covering more and more miles and knew that the event would be a challenge, but one I was capable of achieving physically. The last thing you want to do is push the envelope too fast, too soon. I find that time-based goals, rather than distance ones, are a great benchmark for beginners. Maybe it's "today I'm going to move for 20 minutes," without worrying about the mileage. You may be surprised at what you're capable of doing.
2. Make it routine.
This applies to anything, not just running. When you make something a constant in your life, it feels less like a chore and more like part of who you are. At first, new routines can feel daunting. This isn't to say you need to get up and run every single morning. But for me, after committing to doing it five days a week, I now feel off if it's not a part of my day. (Related: How I Run 20 Miles Before Work)
3. Find your beat.
Whether it's a Drake-fueled playlist, your favorite podcast, or audio coaching from an app like Aaptiv or Peloton, having the right fuel in your ears can make the run feel more enjoyable. In fact, turning up the jams while you work out can help you stick to your exercise routine, according to a University Health Network study. I dabble in all three of the above options and lean into audio coaching on the days when I lack the motivation to tackle miles at all. (Here, more ways to make long runs enjoyable—straight from Boston Marathon finishers.)
4. Find your squad.
Running is 100 percent my time for release. When I'm sweating, putting one foot in front of the other, it doesn't matter what happened earlier or what's going on later. All that matters is being present in the moment. It took a few years of running on my own to be open to the idea of running with other people. Now, it's my favorite way to hang out with some of my girlfriends. (Here's how to get started: 4 Ways to Choose the Best Workout Buddy for Your Fitness Squad)
Recently, I coached a friend of mine training for her first marathon and looked forward to our twice-weekly runs as an opportunity to catch up. Knowing I was going to link up with someone else also kept me accountable to show up in the first place. Granted, it helps if you and your friend(s) hover around the same pace. But regardless, it's such a fun thing to share—that feeling of accomplishment, once the miles are done.
Believe me, with the right goal, running schedule, tunes, and squad, soon the marathon will be your favorite distance, too.