For those of you who read these running articles but don’t actually run...

You have a world of opportunity ahead of you. Just take it one run at a time and enjoy it

You don’t need medals, gadgets or fancy gear to be a runner. You can be one now by changing your mindset and believing you can do it. Photograph: iStock

I met a lady last week who told me she always reads this running column but is not a runner herself. Curious, I asked her why. “I’m building up to it,” she said. “I know running would do me good but I just can’t seem to get started. I hope someday I will.”

So for this lady, and anyone else who aspires to be a runner but still hasn’t actually gone for a run, today’s article is especially for you.

What’s holding you back

You are probably expecting me to tell you to get your running shoes on, start today and follow a couch-to-5km training plan. Yes, that works for many people but I’m guessing you would already be running if that approach worked for you. But most likely there is something else holding you back. It might be a fear of failure, a lack of confidence, an old injury, a busy schedule or indeed the belief that you won’t be able to do it. Ask yourself what actually is stopping you from getting started. Maybe you are waiting for the perfect time to start.

Why do you aspire to run

The truth is you may never start running if you wait until all the more “important” things on your to-do list are complete and the time is just right. So instead, ask yourself: what is drawing your attention into this world of running? Maybe you have friends who run and you want some of their energy, fitness or enthusiasm? Maybe you need headspace and fresh air and walking don’t give you the same buzz as it used to? Maybe you just want to feel better, stronger and more confident in your own skin. Could it be the medals and the race days that attract you? If you consider what benefits running might offer you, or better still what you might miss out on by not getting started soon, that might spur you on to re-evaluate your list of priorities.


Be sensible

Before you rush to get started now, there is an element of common sense that should prevail if you are going to start on this running path. You do need a base level of fitness and have no underlying illnesses, injuries or weaknesses that would prevent you from giving running a go. Generally, if you are able to walk briskly, comfortably and pain-free for 30 minutes, you can start to build running very gradually into your walks. If you are not sure, please do speak to your GP before you make the move from walking to running.

Start with the basics

For running to become a positive part of your week, you have to enjoy it and be sensible in how you maintain your motivation, as well as build your stamina. There is no shortage of tips, resources, clubs and training plans out there to help you progress once you catch the running bug, but first you need to get started, build confidence and actually want to keep running. If you have the support of a running buddy or a beginner’s training plan you wish to follow, go for it. But if the thought of launching into a couch-to-5km structured schedule seems much too daunting just yet, let’s start with a more informal approach.

Your first run

As you are reading this, consider where your first walk/run will take place. What time of day will it be? What will you wear? Will you run alone or with someone else? It is really helpful to be able to picture yourself running to help overcome these mental hurdles that have been holding you back so far. You might see yourself running in your local park, a country road or indeed somewhere a little farther from home if you are feeling self-conscious at the start. Imagine yourself running slowly for a minute along this path. Just a minute, nothing more. If you can envisage it happening, you might just start to believe that you can do it.

Getting out the door

The next step is to replicate this image of you running in reality. Go out for a walk on the route you pictured and when you come to that location you envisaged running, just start slowly. Run for no longer than one minute and return to walking. If you fancy it, try another one-minute running segment close to the end of your route. This might not seem like a lot but it is a great start. Gradually these running segments will feel more comfortable and you can add in extra ones along the route as the weeks go on. You will feel your fitness, confidence and motivation improve. When the time is right you may then feel ready for a more structured training plan to help you progress even more. But you get to determine when that might be.

Give it a try

By the time you are reading my next column, you can be a runner and have a different perspective on what I have to say. But you have to take the next step yourself. Remember why you are attracted to running and what you might miss out on if you don’t start soon. You don’t need medals, gadgets or fancy gear to be a runner. You can be one now by changing your mindset and believing you can do it. Yes, it does take time to progress but it only takes one run to start. So set yourself up for success. Start small. Celebrate each minute and don’t for a second compare yourself to another runner. You have a world of opportunity ahead of you. Let’s take it one run at a time.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Her winter term of running programmes and classes start Monday, November 1st.