Your First Run

How do you get out for your first-ever run? Step one: abandon all reason, says once-reluctant newbie Marc Parent.

by Marc Parent

Illustration: Marcos Chin

Here is what I call the abandon-all-reason-and-do-it-now approach to your first run ever. Explained simply, what you have to do is this: abandon all reason and do it now. Is that simple enough?

Put down whatever you are holding, tell anyone in the immediate vicinity to hang on a second, walk calmly through the nearest exit, and when you hear the door close behind you, get going.

Three rules: go only about as fast as a two-year-old at top speed; stop when you feel tired, no matter how short the distance; and then walk back.

It’s OK if you want to wave and point ahead as if trying to catch a bus in order to disguise the rather personal fact that you are running for no other reason than to begin the long, slow journey to a healthier mind and a happier body. I know how embarrassing it is to suddenly care about your health when it looks as though you’ve ignored it for so long. I’ve been there. But no
one has to know.

If you’re feeling self-conscious just hold out your wallet/purse, look into the distance and repeat the phrase, ‘Wait! I think you dropped this…’

The abandon-all-reason approach is good not only for your first-ever run, but also for your first run in years, or your first run after a potentially run-ending hiatus, or really any run when you just don’t feel like running. The trick is to not think too deeply about it. If you’ve never run in your life, or you haven’t run in a long time, well, my friend, this is one of the most dangerous paragraphs you’ll ever read.

You can either put this off until you get the perfect shoes/weather/outfit/opportunity, or you can start calling me names and head out of the door now. You have a few minutes, you have an able body, there are hundreds of people out there who may have dropped their wallets/purses. Now go after them and change your life in the process!

Now that you’re a runner (allow me to be the first to congratulate you – and yes, you may call yourself a runner after just one brief, slow trot), how do you get out again tomorrow, next week, next month, next year? You know why you should stick with it, but if you don’t know how to stick to it, you might as well build a wall of happy ignorance around yourself and eat a whole bowl of chips. There’s nothing worse than knowing why you should do something without knowing how. Any idiot can tell you why you should stop eating the chips, but try to find the genius who can tell you how. 

Despite a litany of fits and starts, I somehow survived the long, excruciating run-hating period, and made it to the other side with an ability to tolerate and even (on good days) enjoy successive sweat-soaked miles. I know – weird, beautiful. Pass the tissues.

Discipline played only a minor role in my transformation. I relied on a hodgepodge of tricks, cheap thrills and occasional deep thoughts, which are laid out here in no particular order of importance. They are all important. I made my fair share of mistakes when I started running five years ago, but I’m still in – so I must have done something right. And if only one of these points keeps you from quitting, then, as they say, this will all have been worth it.

Keep it comfortable

Easy may never be the first word that comes to mind when you think about running, but it should be in the beginning. If you suddenly realise your gut has reached the edge of your desk and you hit the road in a panic to try to erase the problem with a desperate, blistering run, you may go out a few more times (provided you don’t injure yourself), but at some point shortly thereafter, you’ll give up. On the other hand, if you go out and stop the moment you grow uncomfortable, you’ll think running is easy because it actually will be. Your long-term chances of continuing a brief, easy habit are much greater than they are for a desperate, punishing one.

Don’t worry about speed

Go as slowly as your pride allows. Yes, as slow as the people you ridiculed before you tried this yourself. If you run alone on deserted country roads, you’re at an advantage. And you can always speed up when the rare car passes. The driver doesn’t care how fast or slow you’re going, by the way. Everyone knows you can run faster, but you can’t run faster for long… and long is what you’re after.  

Tell someone

March right up to your most unsupportive acquaintance and inform them you’ve started running. This is preferably a person who is as lazy as you were just before the first run (one run and you’re no longer lazy!), someone who will chuckle or even make fun of you. Ridicule is a strong motivator. Ask anyone who
has achieved anything in life to tell you about the teacher who told them they’d never amount to anything.

Get new shoes

I had a hard time with this one because there were decent shoes lying all over the house. Not running shoes, but I didn’t want to spend £100 on something I wouldn’t use in a month. Which is exactly why you should buy them. Get the expensive ones that will shame you, from the wardrobe floor all the way across the room, into a run.

Find a running partner

It doesn’t matter if she/he is faster, slower or right on pace. You have to have one. This is almost more important than the shoes. But unlike shoes, you don’t need a partner for every run. I see my partner, Gerry, once a week or so. He’s an affable tyrant. I need an affable tyrant. Every new runner does. 

Keep your blinkers on

Believe you’re the only person in the world who runs this well. Don’t be in any hurry to learn your pace and put it in perspective. There is only one road: the one you’re on. There is only one body: yours. Until you hear about a guy named Dean Karnazes, you’ll think you’re moving mountains.

Eat those chips

If you give them up at the same time you start running, you’ll grow to resent the running. One battle at a time. Fix the plumbing, then paint, then insulate. If you do everything at once, you’ll do them all badly. 

Put off thinking

Draw no sweeping conclusions about running while making your way up a large hill, if it’s hotter than 25C, during or following a cramp, on the scales, or before the ibuprofen kicks in. While you’re at it, jump to no conclusions about your spouse, children, friends or pets at these times, either.


What you need is to see people cheering for you. You need to run with a gang of strangers and then eat bananas with them – the best, you’ll swear, you’ve ever tasted.

If you’re still sitting comfortably with your feet up, re-read the opening paragraphs. The first run is the shortest, slowest, craziest one you’ll ever do. Or if you’ve been a bad runner for a long time, you can turn it around in five minutes. It may feel like a silly, pointless exercise, but that’s only true if you never repeat it.

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Discuss this article

I got a new running jacket for Christmas from my parents, my dad being a reluctant ex-runner after a hip operation. My motivation is now my new, posh jacket - Ronhill: recommended! - and debriefs with my dad afterwards. I think even he is motivated to attempt a steady trot around the block! 

A great article - thank you. 

Posted: 31/12/2012 at 12:44

I am definitely going to get back into running in the new year. No more excuses. I will pull on my running gear and get out there, looking forward to the day when it is no longer tight and actually fits nicely around my newly slim body! Well, that's the hope anyway!!! 
Posted: 31/12/2012 at 13:56

Great tips for the starter and re-starter.

Also might find it helpful to use the 'Good Selfish' tip, which is don't let your friends, children, partners, parents, co-workers, neighbours etc etc stop you, as your strength of mind can be seen to challenge the way things are now. Read the Mary Oliver poem 'The Journey' extract here below'


It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver.


Good luck!

Posted: 31/12/2012 at 18:00

Posted: 31/12/2012 at 18:02

"Ask anyone who has achieved anything in life to tell you about the teacher who told them they’d never amount to anything" May I suggest you follow your own advice and start with Mo Farah? It was his teacher who told him he had a talent and encouraged him to run. It's very easy to pick on teachers RW, you're better than that. 
Posted: 01/01/2013 at 11:37

I've made my first run a 10k mad i know its in 11weeks any advice and training programs will be most welcome. I can just about run 1k at the mo could really do with some advice.
Posted: 01/01/2013 at 19:11

Go for it Corinne - 11 weeks will be grand just by increasing little amounts each week.  Even if you break you weekly milage up across the week to make each run more managable.  Also, if you get as far as about 8k by the week before the race the adreneline and excitement of the race will carry you over the distance. Very best of luck
Posted: 01/01/2013 at 23:03

Did my first ever run yesterday and started a 0-5k program today

I'm using an iPhone training app that starts with 15 second runs, because I can't yet run for even one minute! Still, I'm on a 12 week plan and I have to start somewhere... 

Posted: 02/01/2013 at 15:04

Great article! It's motivated me into brushing the cobwebs off my running gear & get back out there! Having 5 children & my own business has taken all my time & maybe this is what I time!!! Sat behind a desk all day & eating everything in sight has taken its toll! I'm 44 & it's time to look after myself!!!
Posted: 03/01/2013 at 05:30

I remember both! The teacher who told me I was good at English,

and the PE teacher who shouted at us run around a field 20 times telling us we weren't going fast enough

I took English Lit A level and never ran again until now because I thought I was rubbish......I'm not, but as a kid I thought the teachers knew it all!

 Have been out for my 3rd run this year and loving it.

Just go and do it! 


Posted: 04/01/2013 at 10:57

Loved this article!  

I'm trying to get myself back into running after a 2 year lull.Had a day off and had been procrastinating all afternoon about going to the gym/for a run but finding excuses. Read this and within 10 mins was out running.

I was only out for 20 minutes, but felt pleased with myself for having done it and fully motivated to get up tomorrow and go to the local parkrun.

And, I'm having chips for tea!! 

Posted: 04/01/2013 at 16:41

Excellent article.

 It got me out of my armchair, went for my first run for years on New Year's Day and will be out again on Sunday morning. Just hope I can keep motivated. 

Posted: 04/01/2013 at 21:08


Have a look at the Bupa website, they have a excellent run/walk programme which will slowly ease you to a 10k in 10 weeks.

 Good luck and well done!


Posted: 05/01/2013 at 10:25


I have recently started running. I was bought a pair of training shoes for £20. I would still be deciding what pair to buy had it not been for a friend who bought them for me. I kept promising myself to go out and buy some which I never did.

Although, now I have a pair. I enjoy going for runs when ever I can. Maybe I start to fast. Another friend said to start off slow.

I would like to run a marathon but this is my first year which I read somewhere "you have to be running for a year before considering a marathon. This is my first few weeks of a journey that will hopefully help me to acheive my GOAL  

Posted: 05/01/2013 at 23:49

It could almost have been me who wrote this... It is how I started and the more people I told, the more I couldn't stop.  Even when someone said to me, I wouldn't have the guts to be seen by people I know, running around town, like you do... as I was 18st 6Ibs, I kept going.  After 8 months and -6 stone, I was still running 3-4 times a week and still am, nearly 2 years later.  I often compete in races, just for the fun, as I am not fast enough to ever win anything. 

Posted: 06/01/2013 at 18:38

Really good article and great advice. After a couple of failed attempts on 0-5k plans I just started going out the door and running till i had enough. within a few months 5,10,15k's were a regular thing for me.

Posted: 07/01/2013 at 09:34

@Teacher Paul

Why be so sensitive? We have all had a bad teacher that takes a dislike to us, it does not make the others bad. It was a good article (I hope your essay marking is not so harsh).

Posted: 07/01/2013 at 09:36

I had been putting off going for my first run (in over a year) but after reading this article I decided to go and get my trainers, get changed and went out for a run.

I set out a course in my head before leaving, it was only 1.76 miles that I made it which involved splitting it over 4 parts running and 4 parts walking, I feel this is an achievement though as by doing it in 22 minutes then next time I will be able to see if I can go that little bit further and remove one of the parts of walking so each part of running becomes further slowly but surely.

Oh and the best part which makes me happy is that 1.76 miles is something like 2.8km which means to me that I am training towards my first 5k.

My own overall goal is the great north run 2013.

Posted: 07/01/2013 at 21:33

E -
I WANT TO GO FOR A RUN RIGHT NOW  - I'm a 'seasoned' runner normally and found this page to encourage a friend. it's all true. I bought new running shoes in the sales last week and can't wait to use them. The problem? I'm 8months pregnant!! BUT I'm already thinking about a cheeky little 10km in the autumn. Go for it everyone!
Posted: 15/01/2013 at 08:26

Fantastic post, I think I'll go for a run
Posted: 27/01/2013 at 18:04

I'm just about to start week 5 and i never thought i would make it this far or more importantly enjoy running so much. I remember when i started my first run, i felt afterwards that i had accomplished a marathon! My daughter runs with me being a brilliant x country runner and its been lovely spending extra time together.

This schedule truely works and i have set myself a goal to enter a Park run which is 5k once i've finished week 8. My health is so much better, i feel less tierd and have more energy! I've since past this schedule to my firend whos just started her week 1 and is really enjoying running. People are right there is such a thing as the running bug!

Posted: 04/02/2013 at 06:39

I read this article just after going out into the big bad world on my first run in January - the first time I've run in about 10 years. And even then it had previously only been in the gym on a treadmill.  I was very demoralised at how little I could manage and thought I was making a huge idiot of myself.

This article got me smiling and motivated again and tonight I'm going out for run no. 19 of 2013! In just over four weeks Ive gone from only being able to run for 2 minutes to being able to run for 25 mins and am on course to do my first ever 5K run in March. Hopefully in under 35mins. That's not bad for someone who also only gave up the cigarettes for good last September. 

I'm loving this new challenge (and all the new gear) despite the sweat, shin splints, freaky runners high and frustration at not being able to glide along, rosy cheeked and serene like some of them I see who are good enough to go out in daylight. Imagine, in broad daylight! I'm still at the 'running in hours of darkness, florrid, sweating, flailing mess' but I'll get to the gliding yet, you see if i don't. 

Good luck everyone - get off your arse and get to it  

Posted: 21/02/2013 at 13:38

I totally agree! Debriefs with your parents about running are the best. I don't think my Mum has ever been more proud of me.

Posted: 19/03/2013 at 23:45

Always one for excuses.....need new trainers (went to running shop and sorted my again).  Don't like a dirty pair of trainers if I am working out indoors ( bought two pairs!!!)

Went to Bournemouth last week, packed running stuff (wish I had taken a  jacket as didn't run one morning as blowing a hoolie and driving rain)  but did run for the first time for ages along the prom.  Slow.....walk and run, but felt fantastic.

Back home yesterday, gym today on treadmill. Feel guilty when I run outside as I have a gym membership and road running, or off road....

i don't want excuses to start creeping in.....

I have been looking at registering for my first race - 5K or 10K. I have heard 5K arusefully running races and I think I am more a plodder.....well least at at the moment.

Posted: 18/05/2013 at 20:16

What's with predictive text stuff! It keeps adding unhelpful words

again = gait 

arusefully = no idea what that replaced, but it was supposed to say I hear they tend to be faster...

Posted: 18/05/2013 at 20:20

Very inspirational. I haven't ran for nearly 2 wks until last night as my dog (my running partner) passed away about 2 wks ago, didn't think I'd run again for a long time. But after reading that, no excuses, I laced up and went out for my first run-with a new running partner, my other dog!

So, thanks a lot for the inspiration to get back in it again.

Posted: 29/05/2013 at 11:49

Thanks again for a great article. Always good with some motivation after a long summer holiday. I really need to get going again also.

Morten // Denmark
Brugte computere

Posted: 17/09/2013 at 09:07

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