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Finding Your Start Line

This week’s post takes a spin on the nutrition and mindset work we’ve been talking about and is all about fitness. My favorite fitness activity, to be exact. This week we’re diving into RUNNING with Dr. Michelle Quirk.


Have you ever thought, “I am not a runner, I could never run, or there is no way I’d run a race”? You are not alone! I used to think all of those thoughts too. Before we delve into the topic or even lace up a pair of sneakers, let’s erase any preconceived notions we may have about who is a runner and who is not a runner. The idea that we have to be a certain size, shape, height, build; the idea that we have to be fast; the idea that we can’t walk. It took me quite awhile to clear my mind of these thoughts and to believe that I AM a runner. The beauty of this sport, is that all of us start somewhere, and that somewhere may be at mile 0 and time 0! 


We know there are many health benefits to a consistent fitness routine, especially one that includes running. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve our physical health, mental health, cognition, and sleep. It can lower our risk of: cardiovascular events, hypertension, diabetes, and many cancers, as well as improve our brains in terms of better cognition and lower risk of dementia.

And, we needn’t all become marathoners or be fast runners to reap these amazing benefits. One study points out that running even five to ten minutes a day at speeds <6 miles per hour (<10 minutes per mile pace), is associated with reduced risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, regular runners had a 30% lower risk of dying of heart disease over a 15-year period.1

The guidelines for physical activity tell us to “do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.” This is based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.2 That equates to about 20 minutes a day. We probably spend at least that much time each day scrolling on social media and/or in the coffee shop drive thru line. 

For individuals who want to get started with running and who currently enjoy exercise like cycling or swimming, for example, I often suggest introducing a five to ten minute warmup jog prior to their aerobic exercise session. This can also be done before a group fitness class as well. A short warmup jog around the block or on the treadmill before class is a great way to dip the toes into running waters! 

“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”

Bart Yasso

In consideration of all of these wonderful health benefits, we come to a question that is often asked: “How do I start?” Here are my top 5 tips:

Find your why

For tip #1, we just need a pen and paper. No running sneakers required yet. 

I would recommend writing down answers to the following three questions in a journal:

  • What is my motivation to run? 
  • What is my running goal?
  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

These answers will come in handy later. If training gets tough, or if we think about quitting, we can refer back to the why and to the goals. I find it is easier to keep moving forward toward my goals when I remember my why.

Get fitted for a pair of running sneakers

Tip #2 refers to your most important gear purchase: the running sneaker. I would recommend going to your local running store to get fitted for a pair of sneakers. It is perfectly okay to show up and tell them that you have never run a single step and that you want to get started.

It is important to keep in mind that my favorite go-to sneaker, may not be your favorite, and vice versa. You will likely be asked about your running experience, if any (and truly, saying that you are just starting out is A-okay!) and any previous or current injuries. Most stores have a treadmill, so that you can be observed while jogging. This helps in determination of gait which may influence choice of shoe.

Start low and go slow

I’ll unpack tips #3 and #4 together. When I started running, you would have thought I was trying to win an Olympic medal, huffing and puffing my way home with a beet red face a few times a week. I would try to go further and faster each time I went out for a workout. It hurt; it wasn’t that fun; I wasn’t really getting any faster even after sticking with it for a few weeks. This led to giving up on running (multiple times over the course of 5 years, I might add). Had I known then what I know now, I would have told myself that while I appreciate the eagerness to run farther and faster at each workout, that there is a physiologic and psychologic approach to this whole thing to ensure success, so that you stay in it for the long term, which is the goal, after all.

By starting low, I recommend setting easily attainable goals regarding time commitment to this new venture. For example, “This morning, I will jog for 10 minutes.” If you already enjoy another cardio fitness routine, such as cycling, you can try jogging as a short warmup to your cycling workout. If you set your initial goal as something very reachable given your busy schedule and given that this might be new for you, you will set yourself up for success. 

By starting slowly, I mean that this might be a walk. Or a jog/walk interval. Or a very slow jog. You might think, “This isn’t running,” or “How exactly is this going to work?” But truly, starting low and going slow will lead to consistency and quick improvements. 

Conversation pace

Instead of trying to run at the pace you went for your elementary school 100 meter dash all those years ago, tip #5 is to find a pace that we can comfortably sustain. Many runners and coaches call easy pace: conversation pace. I tend to use these terms interchangeably as well. By going at this speed, you want to be able to have a conversation with your running buddy if you have one (person, pet, or imaginary friend), without becoming short of breath. Alternatively, if you’d rather not converse, you want to be able to sing a song without getting out of breath. If you desire to belt out Springsteen’s, “Born To Run,” I completely encourage it.

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”

Oprah Winfrey 

For now, I’ll leave you with a challenge. Maybe you’ve been thinking about running a 5k with a family member or friend. Maybe you have a half marathon in the back of your mind. Maybe you’re already running but want to meet a certain time goal. Maybe you used to run cross country in high school, but that level of fitness feels far away at this moment.  I would encourage you today to find your why and set your goal. Then, write these down and tell a friend (and tell me!)! Let’s get going. You’ve got this. Happy training!


Further Reading:

1http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/64/5/472   

2https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2018/11/14/14/37/the-physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans 

The information provided here is for general information and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional/medical advice. Before taking actions based upon such information, please consult the appropriate professionals. Consult your primary care physician before undertaking any fitness or exercise regimen.

Michelle Quirk is a board certified pediatrician, certified run coach with the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), marathoner, and triathlete. She developed Mindful Marathon to help others discover how they can embrace running and prioritize their well-being. She develops customized training plans for every type of runner—new, old, somewhere in between—and helps to fit those training plans into busy lives. With her help, Michelle’s athletes find their edge and achieve their goals. You can find out more about Michelle and coaching with her at mindful-marathon.com  

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