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How to Run

When You're Not a Runner

It’s easier to run when you’re skinny. It’s easier to get skinny when you run.

PLEASE NOTE: The following is excerpted, with some tweaks, from the chapter of the same title in The Real You Is Skinny.


“How to Run” is definitely a lofty title for such a tiny article. It might have been called instead “How I Became a Runner,” but the funny thing is, not long after publishing this article online, the Associated Press (I assume you’ve heard of them?) put out a major news article containing advice from an official “running expert” saying virtually the exact the same thing! Literally, I wondered if he had taken the original article from my old blog and re-written it.

I don’t say this to draw suspicion on anybody; rather, I want you to know that the following advice not only worked for me, and for countless of my readers, it also lines up with what apparently is “expert” advice.

Please allow me to invite you to become a runner, in a shorter time, and taking easier steps, than you thought was possible.  Or at least that’s what I, and a large number of my readers, found to be the case.

Getting Started

I would gladly sit here and type out some dry, factual advice about running.  Frankly, I’ve learned a thing or two about the process over the years, both from experience and from my studies, and it would be rather easy to do so.

I assume, however, that you’re not looking for that.  If facts were all you needed to get you in shape, you’d have become a pro athlete long ago.

How about we instead talk about the process of going from a non-runner to a runner and, perhaps more importantly, some of the rewards of doing so.

So here’s how to get started, even if you’ve never run farther than it took you to almost catch that bus that time.

Please note: this article was written over a space of months, while the transformation was happening, and not after the fact.  The writing style is affected accordingly.

Why Run?

Running, more than just about any other exercise, burns serious calories.  It is also one of the few exercises that genuinely does live up to the promises of all those supermarket health magazines that you can “rev up” or “supercharge” your metabolism.

By the way, “Jogging” and “Running” are the same things for the purposes of this article.  “Jogging” becomes “Running” over time, so long as you keep it up.

There is probably no better exercise than running if you need the pounds to come off fast.

It’s also cheap to do, it’s among the safer sports, it allows you to catch some scenery, and you can do it anywhere, anytime (have you tried running in the rain? It can be so tranquil and awesome).

First Steps (No Pun Intended)

I’ve pretty much hated running, and been quite pathetic at it, since before I learned to walk upright.  Well, and after I learned to walk, too.

Remember the running test you had to perform in Physical Education class?  I remember it as the only test I knew in advance that I was going to fail.  (well, that and Organic Chemistry, but that’s outside the scope of this conversation…).

Nevertheless, when I decided that it was my turn to lose weight, I chose to start running because I know it really works at getting a person in shape.

Good news: as I have gotten more in shape, running has gotten much easier, and now, some days, I actually enjoy it!  Really, often I just set out running, and for the first little while I get this feeling of “Wow, I’m really flying effortlessly along!”  That feeling is amazing.

Want to feel the same? Here’s how:

The First Month: Start with What You Can Do—and Just Do It!

If you need to run 1 minute and then walk 2 minutes to catch your breath, and then run another minute and walk 2 more … do it! That’s perfectly valid, and it’s how I started.

Soon, you’re able to run 2 minutes and walk 1.  Then you can run 5 and walk 1.  And then 8 minutes.  And so on. A couple of months into my weight loss program —when I needed to lose quite a bit of weight—I was able to run more than 20 minutes before needing to walk.

Think about that.  Is anything stopping you from achieving the same?

Try to Run a Little Farther Each Time.

Athletic woman jogging on track

Imagine being able to do this for more than 10 minutes. You can.

This is an awesome and interesting way to increase your ability.  If you regularly run on a track or circuit, all you need to do is run a little farther than you ran last time.  It can be incremental, but the results can be monumental.

If you prefer to run in a circuit or loop in the city or suburbs, one way to increase your distance ability is to try to run one more block than you did last time before making your turn to start back home.  If you instead like to time yourself, try to last one minute longer before stopping to walk than you did the last time. If you run at a track, aim to complete one extra lap around the track each time you head out for a run.

It’s seriously satisfying (maybe even fun?) to watch yourself improve, and the increased effort each time you go out helps make you a more athletic (and slender!) person.

Total Win.

Alternately, Try to Run a Little Faster Each Time.

I often run a local scenic loop of 1.75 miles.  I time myself and try to make sure that each time is just a little bit faster than the last, even if by only a few seconds.  Seeing the improvement in time makes it much more rewarding, and it gives me a reason to push myself … this is far more motivating than just saying, “Yeah, so I ran it again … yawn.”  And it burns more calories.

If at all Possible, Find a Partner.

You will run twice as far, probably, if you run with a partner.  This is largely because you won’t want to be the first one to stop and slow down the run.

But there’s more to it than that.  It is actually easier to keep running if you do it with a partner.  Something about running with a friend just gives you more energy, and it makes the time so much more enjoyable (yes, “enjoyable”… running can be enjoyable, especially with a friend).  Plus, you can fit in some talking between huffs and puffs.  This not only distracts you from what might otherwise be tedium, it delivers a greater aerobic workout from the run, because your lungs are working extra hard to keep up with the conversation—but you won’t notice it because it’s fun.

Running with a buddy makes the time go by faster, and it makes you get more out of your run.

So find a friend and get skinny together!

Wear the Right Shoes for Your Feet (Yes, there are different Kinds)

Are you an over-pronator, under-pronator (“supinator”), or neutral runner? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you might be wearing the wrong shoes and thus hurting yourself. You would also be making your running harder than it needs to be.

We talk about this on our Best Shoes for Running page, which you are strongly enouraged to visit.  Figure out what kind of shoes you think you need, then pick up a pair.  If you’ve been wearing the wrong shoes, this will be a serious revelation.  An epiphany, really.

Any of the big name running shoes is fine as long as you get the shoe that has the right features for your feet. Each brand fits differently, too, so don’t forget to try different models.

Finally, spend some money.  A few extra dollars for high quality shoes is a tiny price to pay to avoid injury!  This author speaks from experience.

Give Yourself Rest, Especially in the Beginning when You are Just Getting into Running.

You can’t run several days in a row without your body making a fuss.  Especially when you are just starting out, your muscles will be sore in places you didn’t know you had muscles.  Let your body heal and strengthen by giving it a day or two of rest before you work out again.  When you stop feeling sore the following day is when you no longer need to rest in between runs.  Even then, don’t exercise more than about 5 days a week without giving your body rest, or you may be flirting with injury  :-/

Realize instead that, if you are exercising, you are on your way to developing a slender, athletic body.  Give yourself a little time to recuperate, and your body will reward you with encouraging gains in strength and form.

Yes, you read that right.  Exercise makes you hot.  And more capable of world conquest.

What’s not to like?

So Much For the Basics:  How Cool Can it Get?

Although I previously mentioned being able to run for up to twenty minutes without walking (which I thought was pretty amazing!), I soon discovered something even more amazing! I accidentally discovered that, after some conditioning, I didn’t have to stop at all.

Runs used to always get noticeably harder the longer into them I was.  If I could keep it up for five minutes, by Minute Six I would say to myself, “That’s it.  Time to walk.”  Late into a longer run, I would have to stop to walk every few minutes.

And I STILL lost weight, so I was perfectly fine with that!

However, one day, I decided to head out for an extra long run, planning to run about four miles (the longest I’d ever run)  Around forty minutes into my run, I had already stopped to walk probably ten or more times.  I was about to pause to walk walk again, out of habit. But for some reason, the idea entered my mind: “I guess this isn’t actually killing me. Maybe I can keep running for a few more minutes.”

I did keep running—for an additional 22 minutes without walking—and I set a new personal record: 5.1 miles, my longest run ever! Even then, after an hour, I didn’t actually need to stop; rather, it was getting dark and I felt like it was time to pack up and go home.

Did you catch that?  the point is: if you keep on running, you will get to the place where your heart and lungs are strong enough that they can more than keep up with your run.  The time will come when you don’t NEED to stop to walk.

Since realizing this, I purposefully set longer and longer goals for myself each time I ran.  The strangest thing is: the longer of a goal I set, the easier of a time I had running!  This reveals that, often, “tired” is all in your head.

Here’s an example: a few weeks after the above-mentioned 5.1-mile run, I set another new record, running 6.6 miles and only stopping to walk twice.  Later, I shattered that record, running 8.5 miles.  That’s 1/3 of a Marathon!

The weird thing was, for the first seven miles of the 8.5-mile run, I found running to be easier than was the entire previous 6.6-mile run!

It’s not that I was in better shape.  Rather, it was that, in my mind, when miles five and six rolled around, instead of thinking, “OMG this is a long run, I need to stop and catch my breath!,” I was thinking, “Six miles down? Okay then, only two and a half more to go.”

As wacky as that sounds, for some reason, my brain didn’t allow me to start thinking, “ Almost there; quit soon.” Instead, I was thinking, “Only a little bit longer” — which provided me with actual physical energy.

Note on Increasing Speed

Knees up, spirits up

Knees up, spirits up

After becoming able to run longer without stopping, I wondered how to improve my speed (if was going to enter a half marathon—yes, that was my goal—I wanted to cross the finish line before they packed up and went home).

In a fit of juvenile inspiration, I picked up a running magazine at the bookstore (those magazines always used to seem like they were written in a foreign language).  I read about how to get better at longer runs.  The magazine said to try interval training: go hard for two minutes, then jog for two minutes, go hard for two, jog two, etc.  Apparently, this is supposed to train your body to realize that it has more to give, even when it’s tired.

I tried it.  It was actually really cool!  Although the fast running moments were hard, I didn’t feel like I was going to die, and I felt quite speedy!  My head actually swelled a little when I blasted past walkers while I was charging full speed ahead.  The slower moments were really great, allowing me to catch my breath.  Added bonus: my usual circuit, which I’d never run faster than 17:30 before, I finished in an even 16:30! Not only was the interval training supposed to make me faster generally, It was already making me faster instantly.

Highly recommended.

Month Three: What is Happening to Me?

I keep learning about running as I do it more! These days, I’m actually starting to like running! I can’t believe it!  I mean, I still don’t “like” running the way you like a hobby or pastime, but I do find myself getting excited about running.

This is not so much because the running is fun (let’s face it; it’s still no picnic) but because getting good at running is fun! Better than fun, getting good at running is elating.

Growing up, I was usually the worst runner in my class. But today, I actually went to a local running store and inquired about how to sign up for a half marathon. This weekend, weather permitting, I plan to see if I can make it around a local scenic trail that’s more than ten miles long.

I have butterflies in my stomach thinking about it.

Not because I’m scared to try but because I think I might actually be able to do it!

Me, the lifelong fatso!

I just want to cry, this is so wonderful and marvelous to contemplate. It’s like I’m the character in a rags-to-riches fairy tale, only it’s better than that because riches couldn’t make me as happy as becoming skinny is making me.

Month Four: Day of Reckoning

Say hello to the world’s newest HALF-MARATHONER!

OMG OMG OMG I actually did it! In less than half a year, I went from fat to fit!  Holy cow, is this really my life?

I just ran 13.1 miles, shattering my previous record by 2.6 miles (I used to be unable to run 2.6 miles at all!).  Oh, I am just so elated, it’s better than Christmas and my birthday combined!  I have been so emotional since my finish. Several times today, I’ve had to blink back tears as I’ve thought, “I’m not just someone who dabbles in running.  I’m not even someone who goes for the occasional long run. I am a runner!

Oh, I feel dizzy, it is so overwhelming.

PRE-RACE: I awoke at 6:15 after a restless night.  I was so nervous, wondering, “Will I be able to do it? Will I fail?”  I met up with my friend B, who agreed to run the race with me.  B is fitter than I am, and a good 15 pounds lighter, but she had never run more than nine miles before (the record she set with me, four days ago, on a casual fun run—wait a second, did I just say a nine-mile run was casual???).

We were both so nervous and excited!  B, like yours truly, set no goals other than just finishing the race.

THE START: When the two of us crossed the starting line, I turned to B and gave her a high five. “We’ve already won, we crossed the starting line!” I exclaimed.  Seriously, just showing up and beginning the race was the hardest part, and now it was behind us.  We were already victors.

FIRST QUARTER: I couldn’t believe how much fun we were having! Before we knew it, we’d gone three miles and were having the time of our lives.  We were talking, laughing, remarking on other runners, remarking about how happy we were to be doing this together.  I’ve never run an easier three miles in my life.  I felt so fresh, it was incredible.  We passed the three-mile marker and I said, “Okay, now that we’re warmed up, we can start the ten-mile race.  Easy!”

HALFWAY: When we passed Mile Seven, B said, “We’re over halfway there!” I was like, “Yeah, cool, easy!”  But then I thought, “Crap, that’s a nice milestone and all, but we’ve already been running for about an hour and have almost as far to run.”  I started to realize that this wasn’t going to be a piece of cake after all.

THREE QUARTERS:  At Mile Nine, I was getting so. seriously. tired. I tried comforting myself by remarking to B, “Guess what? As soon as we pass Mile Ten, that’s only 5K left to go! A 5K run isn’t that long!”

If only it was like that.  I was freaking tired.

Over the next few miles, I had to walk several times.  I was getting way burnt out.  The worst part was, each time I stopped to walk and regain a little energy, my legs would want to seize up.  I needed to walk, but the more I walked, the harder it became for me to resume running.  I knew I had to keep running, even taking tiny steps, or I would crash and burn.  I promised B that once we hit the last mile, I would start running and not stop until we crossed the finish line.

LAST MILE: I planned to experience a surge of energy in the final mile, sensing the closeness of the finish line.

Instead, it just got harder.

With only half a mile to go, we hit a small uphill section, perhaps only 50 yards of gentle uphill, and I just decided, “Screw this hill. I need to walk.”

But I didn’t, because a fraction of a second later, I realized that to do so would be to give up. To admit defeat.  I thought, “I need to do this. I need to push myself or I will regret it forever.”

I had wanted to run the final mile at a fast pace, but I simply had no more to give.  I was spent.  I jogged slowly and pathetically.

But I never stopped.

THE FINISH LINE: With hundreds of people cheering, we managed to find a little extra strength and pushed hard for the last 200 yards.  We crossed the finish line, full speed ahead.

At that moment, we won.

It took us over two hours.  Over two solid hours spent running, are you kidding me?  It felt like the biggest thing I’ve ever done.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I did it.  I really did it!

I’m no longer a fatso, I’m a runner.

This just doesn’t happen to people like me.

. . . right?

Month Five: Oops!

I just ran 35 minutes and actually forgot to walk! This makes me laugh happy laughter.

Month Six: I Surrender!

Okay, I give in! I actually like running now.  As in, I often find myself in the mood to do it. It makes me happy.

I enjoy watching the scenery go by.  I enjoy feeling like I can do it and not die.  I enjoy knowing that I’m burning hundreds of calories each time I head out.  I enjoy getting all that air and sun (and even rain).  I enjoy when strangers see me out running and have no idea that I haven’t always done this.  I enjoy telling people that I went for a “short” run of “only” four miles. I enjoy that I have been given new life.

I am amazed.


I was a lifelong failure, a perpetual fatso.  Running was impossible.

Except it wasn’t.

The real you is skinny.

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About Alyssa (60 Articles)
Author of The Real You Is Skinny (the cult weight-loss book) and several professional publications which have been well received but would bore you to death, Alyssa Dahl loves writing about health and weight loss. Since writing TRYIS, she certified as a Clinical Weight Loss Practitioner and decided that this website needed to happen. She also occasionally says silly things on Twitter (@AlyssaMDahl) and loves to answer questions and comments---so please leave one below!
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