Northern Wilds Magazine
Author Walter Rhein often runs with his two daughters. | WALTER RHEIN
Along the Shore

How to become a runner

Run when you can, walk when you have to

There is a strange psychology to running that I’ve never fully come to understand. I’ve done more than 25 marathons and I still find that the hardest part is lacing up my shoes and taking the first step. Yet, the euphoria experienced upon achieving a finish line always seems to provide enough momentum to make you sign up for the next event.

Running is simple.

There’s no need to invest in a gym membership or purchase expensive equipment. All it takes is time, and we all benefit from the kind of silent, reflective moments that come during a run.

When people ask for tips on how to get into running, I always start by dismantling the first great misconception: the truth about running is that you don’t have to run.

At least, not all of the time.

Many people hear the word “run” and what they think is “sprint.” The word that should come to mind is “jog.”

A dozen years ago I met a man in his 80s who was running his hundredth marathon.

“Do you have any advice?” somebody asked.

“Run when you can, walk when you have to,” he said.

Good advice, both for exercise and for life. The trick to running is to keep moving. Whether you’re going five kilometers or 50, if you keep moving, eventually the race will end.

The old saying goes you must walk before you can run.

So walk.

The trick is to make your training part of your daily routine. Your running needs to become a habit like brushing your teeth. Keep track of it. Keep track of your time not your miles. That prevents you from getting discouraged if the conditions were poor or you were fatigued.

You shouldn’t say, “Today I ran five miles and yesterday I ran seven.”

Instead, say, “Today I ran for an hour, even though I also ran for an hour yesterday.”

Be positive. Find victories and celebrate them. This is another good piece of advice, both for exercise and for life.

Seven to 10 hours a week is a good amount for a marathoner. Three to five is good for general fitness. Start out conservative and see how your body responds. Take rest days when you need to, but don’t give up.

The other great misconception about running is that it is a physical challenge.

It’s not.

It’s mental.

You have to keep going.

Your legs are going to hurt, and you’re going to be short of breath, and you’re going to get hungry, and you’re going to be pushed to your limits. But if you keep moving, the race will end.

Run when you can, walk when you have to.

I think the most amazing thing about running is that it shows you that you’re capable of a lot more than you ever thought possible.

You’ll start to think things like, “If I can run 6.2 miles, why can’t I run 13.1?”

Then you’ll do it, and you’ll discover that you can.

Then you’ll think, “If I can run 13.1 miles, why not 26.2?”

Then you’ll do that, too.

Running doesn’t get easier, but you do get faster and you go farther. I think the thing that makes running addictive is the little whisper you start to hear which suggests that you can do more.

It seems like every day we’re surrounded by thousands of screaming voices telling us what we can’t do. Those voices fall silent on a run, and you hear the little whisper, and the whisper says, “Yes, you can.”

But you won’t hear the whisper when you’re lacing up your shoes.

And you won’t hear the whisper when you take your first step.

You might not even hear it on your first run.

But if you keep with it, you will start to hear it, and all the other voices will become diminished.

So, run when you can, walk when you have to.

You might be surprised to discover that you don’t have limits after all.

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