After a brief yet depressing post-shower encounter with a full-length mirror half a year ago, I decided to take up running.
My encounter with the mirror came at a time when several family members and people close to me died from a myriad of reasons in a short span of time. When you experience a wave of death like that it’s impossible not to think deeply about your own mortality. It wasn’t just my sagging body, which absolutely disgusted me, but when I looked in that mirror I felt like I, at 27, had a choice to make. I can continue to be a fucking slob and ignore my health or I can do something about it.
I’ve since cut out a lot of drinking, shitty food, and other unhealthy habits. I still partake, yes, but it’s maybe five times a month rather than 95 percent of it. For me, running on a regular schedule is harder than all that. I’m no good at it, and I hate it. My pacing is all over the pace, I do it in sweatpants, and I’m a smoker so I suck air immediately. Even after I learned that it’s a bullshit way to lose weight I still have committed to go out there three times a week because it feels like exercise.
Even if it’s not the best for me, it’s at least something. I don’t have to buy a membership, I don’t have to interact with people, and every once in awhile it reminds me how good exercise can make you feel. Still though, I suck at it—but as I am a journalist, I called someone to see how I could make this easier on myself.
I rang up John Bingham, a runner who has written several books on the subject. Bingham immediately congratulated me on my decision to start to running. He told me that he started running in 1994 when he was overweight and inactive. He was depressed and tried quite a lot to get him out of his rut, he found that running was what did that for him. When I asked him why I should keep running he gave me a simple answer—one I kinda already knew myself.
“It’s always better to be active than inactive.”
OK, that makes sense, but how does one do it without being absolutely miserable?
Where should you run?
The first thing he told me is to put aside that social anxiety and find a local running store where you can learn from people who don’t suck. Here is where you find the best places to run—the internet is, obviously, a good source as well—so you’re not that weird scared person running down busy streets at 4 PM. Trails and long unbroken paths are your best bet for starting out.
Get yourself some good shoes, dummy.
At the start of this stupid journey I, being an idiot, thought that Chucks would be fine to run in and ended up hurting both my ankles at once. A double sprain obviously makes walking super painful, but it also has the added bonus of making you look goofy as fuck anytime you move—a beloved coworker even thought to make a meme out of it that pops up anytime someone writes the word “running” in our Slack.
Don’t be like me… don’t be a meme.
Routine is key.
Bingham said the timing is going to be up to whatever works for you, but if you’re running in the afternoon make sure to eat some lunch—another rookie mistake I made. The time of day isn’t important, says Bingham, but the fact that you stick to a routine.
“It doesn’t matter if you run ten miles a week or a hundred miles a week, the idea is you gotta to integrate that activity into your lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to run 10 miles this week and not run again for three weeks. You’ve got to find a way to find that consistency, it’s gotta be important to you. Think of it like brushing your teeth.”
So scheduling is important, but let’s be honest here, if you’re reading this article you’re most likely someone who doesn’t get up early. So, while we all think of runners as these early birds we gotta understand us slobs will probably have to run in the evening. Don’t run in the afternoon especially if you live somewhere hot—another rookie mistake I made. On the weekends though, when you’ve escaped your daily grind, you can try and drag your ass outta bed and hit the road for nine or ten like a productive member of society.
Don’t run to get high.
If there was one thing that kept me going, even after I learned that running wasn’t the best way to lose weight, it was the idea of the runner’s high. The runner's high is this mythical beast that my running friends keep telling me about—this feeling you get during a long run after you break through the wall. Well, I put this idea to Bingham and he straight-up laughed at me.
“Runner’s high is one of those mythical creatures like the Loch Ness monster,” he said. “There is, in fact, a certain physiological effect that happens as you get to the top of your aerobic threshold that people have described as a runner's high. But to physically get to the place where you can run long enough and hard enough to get to that point, well, most people don’t ever get there.”
So, there you have it folks—run for you and to be active but don’t run to get high cause you’ll forever be chasing that dragon. Just run if you want to run. It gets easier—even for us slobs.
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.