From the Michigan Runner Girl archives: This post, by MRG contributor Heather Quinlan, originally appeared here on Sept. 15, 2014. Heather has an amazing story — you can listen to a recent podcast episode featuring a conversation with her here » — and she shared some great tips that have helped her start and stay running. (You can read her other MRG posts here »)

By Heather Quinlan
MRG Contributor

September, it’s good to see you…REALLY good to see you. I’m not going to dwell on what August was or was not for me, both health- and running-wise. However, I will say that this teacher is glad to be back to school because it puts me back into a MUCH needed consistent routine. The first week back to work is in the books and I’m proud to say that each day I’ve stuck to the meals and snacks I planned out, and I didn’t wuss out on a workout because I was “tired” from being back to school (as all my teacher friends know, the struggle is real!). I found my strides during both shorter and longer runs last week, and I ended the week with a three-pound loss. Yahtzee!

image-11But on a few occasions last week, I was brought back to thoughts of how my journey with running began, how it’s progressed, and what I’ve learned. I am often asked at Finding Her Happy Pace, “How did you start?” I wish I could give a simple straight forward answer with specific “Runners World”-like details on how someone overweight — no, obese…no, morbidly obese — starts running. But I can’t. I’m not a running coach, doctor, expert, seasoned runner, etc. With that being said, however, I’m still a runner with unique experiences. So what I can give you is this: the unofficial, perhaps somewhat unconventional top 10 running tips from me, a girl who was once 380+ pounds, dreaming to run for 30 seconds straight, but didn’t know much at all about running. All I knew was the “proper” features of the “ideal” runner – you need to be thin, you need to be fit, you need to have a “runner’s body. I needed all the things that I didn’t have.

image-12However, what I didn’t know then, and fortunately know now, is that the most important “feature” you must have to be a runner … is heart. Having heart, that deep conviction in your soul that tells you “Yes, I want this!” and “Yes, I can do this!” will get you very far, not just in running, but in life. So here are my tips, straight from my heart.   

Tip #1 – Plant the seed

One of the wisest choices I made before even contemplating doing this “running thing” was to be a spectator at a race. You don’t need to train for a certain amount of days, maintain a certain weight, or look like Shalane Flanagan (even on her worst day) to take in the camaraderie and spirit of a race. My first time experiencing a race planted a seed within me that said, “Hey, this looks, sounds, feels pretty amazing. I want to do this someday.” It was nothing I had to prepare for, yet the feeling I had when I saw people I could relate to running/walking along the race path was indescribable and will always travel with me.

Tip #2 – Stop comparing yourself to other runners

This … this is a hard one. But it’s necessary. Let me put it simply: they’re not you and you’re not them.  There have been so many times over the last 3+  years that I’ve looked at other runners (maybe of similar pace, size, etc.) and thought, “Why aren’t I _____________________ like them??” Comparison is the thief of joy. Plus it will rob you of the progress you deserve because during the time you could spend making yourself better, you’re using energy to wonder why you don’t run as swiftly as Lolo Jones. Ummm … No. They’re not you and you’re not them. Remember that. Repeat that. Constantly.  Over and over. There will be a pop quiz over tip #2 at the end of this post. It’s kind of a big deal. Hint, hint.

Tip #3 – Do something that scares the crap out of you

See that girl in the photo at the top of this post? {Fall 2010/Fall 2014} That was after finishing her first 5K ever. No training, no experience. Just a tiny passion, just starting to bloom, that wanted to do something totally out of her element. That girl was me. Register for a 5K. Yes, you. What’s that you’re trying to tell me? “But I’m not ready.” You’ll never be “ready.” Show me someone who is ever truly ready for anything in life, and you’re showing me someone who doesn’t exist. Prepared, OK, I’ll give you that. So don’t sign up for your first race and have it be in a week. But ready? You’re ready. See tip #1. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already had an experience where you felt like you wanted to tackle running in some capacity.  So why not take the next step and sign up for a race? When I registered for my first half-marathon, the Detroit Free Press International Half in October 2011, I was 380+ pounds with the experience of one 5K (that I mainly walked). What was I thinking? Perhaps I wasn’t. Maybe that’s part of the process.  Don’t think about it, just sign up. Let it scare you. If you want something badly enough, give yourself the crazy opportunity to achieve it. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Tip #4 – Just start

So many feel they need a specific program in order to begin running. The Couch to 5K program, from what I’ve heard from various sources, is good for beginners. I’ve never used it. Now that I’ve been running for a few years and train for longer distance races, I do use various training programs that work for my fitness and running needs. But to start, you don’t need a program. You just need to start.  I’ll never forget the very first time I ran on the treadmill. It was maybe a month or so into my journey and up until that point, I did a lot of walking. Sidenote – never ever utter the words “I just walk.”  Walking is one of the BEST exercises you can do for your body, no matter your level of fitness or what your health goals are. Walking is cool. So I had been doing a lot of walking to start because it was helping me lose weight and it was a building block along my journey in many ways. But one Saturday morning at the gym, and I can see it now, after walking on the treadmill for a good 10-15 minutes, I decided to take a leap of faith. I stepped to the side of the treadmill and I bumped the speed up a bit and without trying to think too hard about it (and probably convince myself to not do it), I jumped back on and ran for an entire 30 seconds. It felt like both the scariest and the most fulfilling thing I’d done in quite some time. It felt so crazy good, about two minutes later I did it again for 30 seconds, and then a third time. “Heather, how did you start?” Slowly. Timed running intervals (of a walk and run) have been my friend from the start. As you can see, I started with very short bursts of running that have gradually progressed over time. Although I have proven to myself that I can run for longer periods of time and distances without stopping to walk, I STILL utilize interval running into my training and races from time-to-time. There is no shame in it whatsoever. Only progress.

Tip #5 – Take care of your feet and respect the rub  

Not all feet are created equal. Not all shoes are created equal. Not all shoe brands are created equal.  Not all runners are created equal (see tip #2… I told you that was an important one). By far, hands… well feet down, the best thing I ever did to help my body agree with running was to get the proper running shoes for MY feet. And the only way to do that is to go to a proper running shoes store and get a (often) free foot analysis. They’ll take it from there. Why are running shoes so expensive?!  Because your feet are important and they’re (hopefully) the first thing to touch the pavement when you run. Think about how much pressure you’re putting on your feet with every stride and strike?  They’re worth it and so are you. Now get yourself a good pair for YOUR feet. You can mail me a thank you with a picture of you looking all precious in your new running shoes later.

If you are even thinking about starting to run, I am about to save your life. Go and buy a $6 Body Glide.  Before you run, apply that stuff like it’s going out of style. Anywhere you think skin will meet skin, make it meet a solid application of Body Glide. You’ll thank me later. You will be so thankful, you’ll want me to be the godmother of your future children or grandchildren. During the 94 out of 100 times that I remembered to apply it on runs lasting more than an hour, I will be forever grateful. During the other 6% of the times when I regretfully forgot, please allow me apologize to the general public for the way I walked for a couple of days thereafter. I’m not sure I looked or felt human. The chub rub struggle is real, folks. Respect it.

image-13Tip #6 – Treadmill vs. Outdoors – YOU decide

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations as to why one would choose to run outdoors over the treadmill and vice versa. I will say this – try both (never be exclusive to one mode over another), but do what fits you better. Personally, I enjoy the treadmill and in many cases over the years, it’s helped me to run faster when I do run outdoors.  I like that the treadmill offers me consistency with my pace and the ability to challenge it when I need to. Yes, you can do these same things outdoors, and I’m thankful for my Polar heart rate monitor with GPS to help me, but don’t think that the treadmill is never an option. It’s a great option.  It really boils down to what you need/like most. P.S.: whether you’re opting for the treadmill or to run outdoors, chances are good the “but people are looking at me” thought will cross your mind more than once. Yes, people might look at you. But that’s pretty much the extent of it.  Someone once told me that something like 99.6% of the time, people are never thinking what you think they’re thinking. Get where I’m going with this? If you decide to bust out some run intervals on the treadmill… do it. Trust me, nobody is analyzing or judging you. Who has time to do that when they’re trying to survive their own workout? If you’re working out and/or out there running, you’re a champ in my book. Be proud and keep doing it.

Tip #7 – Cut yourself some slack      

You are going to have runs that suck. I think it’s a part of the rite of passage of running. Embrace them.  Let them suck. I’m sure this doesn’t sound the least bit motivating, inspirational, or informational, but it’s real life. So when you do have those moments, allow yourself to have them. My Grandma used to always say “It is what it is,” and when it comes to running, that sage advice applies as well. Just don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s good to have expectations, but the second you start determining your worth as a runner or a person based upon whether you met those expectations is when you need to remember it’s not always about the product but the process. And I’m a work in progress, aren’t you?

Tip #8 – Take a break from time-to-time

From time to time, one of the best things I can do for my running is to take a break from it.  Sometimes running is like a relationship status on Facebook – after some awkward courting, you’re finally “in a relationship” with it then things are going great and suddenly you’re “engaged,” then maybe you realize you moved a tad too fast and suddenly “it’s complicated.” That’s OK! As long as your relationship with running doesn’t involve as many breakups as Elizabeth Taylor had marriages, I’d say you’re good to go. One of the many beautiful things about running is that after a break in the action, you’re never as rusty as your mind wants you to believe. It’s like riding a bike … just with feet.  And no helmet.

Tip #9 – Visualize your inner gazelle daily

image-14Maybe this is weird, maybe this is normal, maybe I am about to confess something totally embarrassing, but I visualize myself running DAILY. Whether I’m training, finishing a race, or chasing the ice cream man (I may or may not have done this before … no judgment), I’m always thinking about myself as a runner. Why? Maybe it is because I truly love running or maybe because it’s become a part of who I am. Maybe visualizing myself running has become as much of a daily habit as brushing my teeth because it’s now second nature, and just as pivotal to my daily hygiene routines. Or maybe it’s because if we don’t take the time to see ourselves doing the activities we desire and subconsciously crave, then how will we make those images come to life? In my opinion, I don’t think you can. So take some time weekly, even daily to think about yourself, YOU and only YOU (see tip #2… just sayin’), as a runner doing, fighting for, and achieving the running feats your heart desires.


I know I’m not an elite runner. I also accept that I never will be. I admit that I stop to walk from time to time and I understand that my pace is in the back of the pack. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a runner, and the minute you lace up and mentally join the party, you are one too. On the whole, the running community that I’ve experienced, both in person and virtually, is one of the most accepting, loving, supportive communities of people I’ve ever known. That alone will get you through some rough days. But yes, there will be a few that wish to make abundantly clear their opinion about the “runner vs. jogger vs. walker” debate. Respect that they have an opinion … and keep it moving.

Last week, I went to my local running shoes store to get a new pair because I have The Detroit Women’s Half coming up in a couple weeks (yay!) and then The Detroit Free Press International Half coming up in a little over a month in October (double yay!). As I was trying on my new pair, the sales associate helping me, very kindly and with no ill intent meant at all I might add, said to me “So, are you a walker?” Within a year or so into my journey, I had to learn real quickly that due to my weight and body frame, I would need to adapt some thicker skin in regards to running. I don’t “look” like a runner.  I’ve been on an outdoor run before and been harassed by people driving by, actually more than once. I’ve been given funny looks when I talk so confidently about my running experiences. And although I didn’t find it offensive when she assumed I was a walker, my first instinct wasn’t to say “yes” or feel awkward about my ability to run. My first instinct was to kindly yet confidently correct her. I replied to her “No, I’m a runner.” And guess what? So are you.

image-15P.S. See many of you soon on Belle Isle for the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon and 5K! Half-marathon #7 running alongside many awesome ladies in The D. I’m ready!    


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