Ever since completing my first 5k the summer before entering seventh grade, I have called myself a runner. I competed on the Varsity team seventh through twelfth grade in both cross country and track, and I’ve been around the sport long enough to know the training lingo, understand what times are impressive for which distances, and to feel unproductive if I don’t run at least 5 times each week.

Because I have been running consistently for a little more than ten years, I forgot what it was like to start a running plan from scratch. I had taken many short-term breaks from the sport for injuries or off-season recovery, but those “breaks” were either two weeks off of running or simply cross training instead. Coming back from these rest periods was not that challenging because my body was still maintaining some physical fitness. It typically took me about a week to feel revived and ready to get running in my typical fitness routine.

Two recent changes in my life have made feeling like a runner really difficult though. I now remember what it is like to start from ground zero, and I wanted to take this experience to encourage all of the people out there who are considering giving running a chance.

At the beginning of June, I had a laparoscopic surgery done and was not able to workout (at all…) for a minimum of four weeks. The day after the procedure, I was encouraged to “move around but not push it.” Still feeling slightly dizzy from all of the medication, I walked about half a block at snail pace. And this was a huge accomplishment.

After the four weeks were up, I started walk/jogging. I would walk 1-2 miles with a few 200 meter jogs dispersed throughout the workout. This was a challenge, and I couldn’t believe I was so out of breath after jogging what would only be half a lap around a track.

I was understanding of my recovery process and knew that getting back into running would take time. However, a week after introducing the jogging into my routine, I moved to Colorado. At 5,500 feet. Any confidence or encouragement I felt from that first week back was crushed when I attempted a jog here and continuously had to stop to walk. My heart was beating out of my chest. I literally couldn’t breathe.

Now, almost two months after my surgery, I am still not in as good of shape as I wanted to be. Running two miles can feel like a marathon some days, my legs are always sore, and I forgot what it feels like to be able to breathe normally while on a run.

If you need any more evidence to prove I can empathize with you, I am sure I have some.

At first I became discouraged by this fact. I wondered if I would ever really enjoy the sport again because, let’s be honest, running is not fun when you start out. I got upset with my body for not keeping up with what my mind wanted it to do. I also contemplated whether my other health issues were playing a role in my inability to adapt to these simple workouts.

Then I realized that instead of seeing this situation as a limitation, I could see it as a method of understanding other runners–other people who are in the beginning stages of running, who are also in pain and wondering why the heck people actually enjoy this method of fitness.

So, here I am: letting you know I understand, giving you advice that I also need to give myself, and hoping you will feel encouraged.

Running is a process. That first half-block walk two months ago was a huge accomplishment for me. Now, I am upset about only running a couple miles. Instead of focusing on how far you are from the end goal, focus on how far you have come from the beginning. When you see progress, you will be motivated. Appreciating an extra 100 meters is necessary. If you have yet to see much progress, still remember that getting into running can be a slow process.

Running has many benefits. Not only can running help burn calories and keep you in shape, it also releases endorphins and gives you a chance to escape your daily routine. One of the main reasons I love to run is because it lowers my stress level. Whenever I feel anxious or upset, running is a healthy method of escaping those emotions. It also clears my head when all of my thoughts are running rampant. If getting in shape is your sole reason for joining the sport, realize there are many other methods of getting fit. However, running has many more benefits than that. On the days I feel out of shape and in pain, I need to remember the other reasons I run. This will keep me encouraged.

There is a whole community of runners. One of my favorite parts about running is the connections it sparks. Some of my closest friends are the people I ran with. My first date with my fiancé was going for a run. To me, running is a way to bring people together. If you are feeling discouraged, invite a friend to join you. Battle out the deep breaths and sore quads together. There are also a ton of running groups you can join. Once you feel that there is a sense of community with the sport, you may keep coming back for the relationships just as much as the actual running itself!

I hope these tips encouraged you. I know that I needed to tell them to myself to keep pursuing this long road ahead. You may or may not have a history with running, but either way, give it a try. Remember the benefits. Take each day in stride. Invite a friend. Look at how far you have come.

Running is a journey, and maybe that is the best part about it 🙂