Zakia Haywood is the director of community services at New York Road Runners.
I am a runner. Running, for me, is therapeutic. It’s tranquil. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other allows me to let go of the day and move forward.
I’ve run the Boston, Chicago and New York City marathons. I spend hours planning my training and race schedule for the coming year. I sometimes get up in the morning before anyone in my house is awake to squeeze in a run. Running isn’t easy, but when you reach your goal, you feel great.
I don’t keep this to myself. I coach. I’ve always wanted to be either a teacher or a counselor and coaching others allows me to be both. I’m lucky because my job is my passion, to get all kinds of people—children, senior citizens, everyone—up and running!
Most of the people I coach have never run before. They laugh at me when I tell them I’ll get them ready to run a race. They tell me they can hardly run a half block to catch a bus. That’s in the beginning, though. When I see the people I work with get stronger, run faster, run for longer, it’s as big a reward for me as it is for them. I’ve coached women who have struggled to walk any distance at first go on to run 3 miles in under an hour. When they started, it took twice that long. Then 90 minutes. They get better and better. Every time I see it, it’s pure joy.
I do this because I want to eliminate the stigma around fitness—it’s not just for people who are already fit. It’s not just for athletes. Anyone can do this. You can do this.
My mission is to get you from the couch to the 5K! A 5K is a 3-mile (5 kilometer) race. How far is a mile? It’s four laps around a standard running track, or 1,600 meters. Have I lost you already? We runners use a lot of lingo. Don’t worry. If you don’t understand it today, you’ll learn. What seems impossible in the beginning becomes second nature. You learn through doing.
If this sounds like a challenge you’d like to try, think of it like an adventure.
You may have been an athlete once, or maybe you’ve never worked out in your life, or maybe you just don’t like to sweat. Wherever you are today is OK. It doesn’t matter where you start—what matters is that you start.
I tell the people I train that they can work up to a 40 miles in 40 days challenge—that’s just about 1 mile a day for eight weeks. It’s a great way to focus on a goal and get comfortable with running regularly before you tackle a race. But before you hit the track, there are important things you need to know and do to get started. These tips will help you get motivated and make sure you are starting your journey off on the right foot: