We’ve all probably experienced the ups and downs of a weight-loss journey. That first day when you’re super-committed, when you practically dance out the door in your new running shoes, ready for a life change. Ten minutes later, you’re limping back into the house, feeling exhausted. Or maybe you pushed through a miserable 30 minutes of running, but afterward, you’re so sore that it takes a week for you to recover, and by then, you’re back to your old routines. That’s the typical story when someone decides to start running — it was certainly a story my sister Colleen had played out a dozen times over the years. Then, in 2020, with her 30th birthday on the horizon, she decided this time would be different. This time, she was going to figure out how to walk before she ran. And that made all the difference.
With more than 75 pounds lost since that first walk just 10 months ago — and her first 5K run completed — she’s feeling healthier than ever. As a big sister, I couldn’t be more proud, and as a fitness writer, I couldn’t be more impressed.
Here, she shares her best tips:
Commitment doesn’t happen with a casual resolution to lose 5 pounds. At the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, like everyone else, Colleen was feeling stressed and bored. Her initial ‘why’ wasn’t to lose a specific number of pounds: It was to feel better. “At the bakery where I work, everyone was stressed, and I was in the worst shape I’ve ever been in. Mentally and physically, it was just starting to wear on me,” she says. Then, she figured out the ‘what.’ It wasn’t spin class or weightlifting, it was nature. “I knew I had to do something to break out of the headspace I was in. I grew up playing outside, I always felt better in nature, and I knew I needed to get back to that.”
In the past, Colleen tried to start tough workout routines: long runs and back-to-back-to-back fitness classes. They would work for a few days, but typically, the soreness or the mental stress of sticking to time-consuming routines caused her to stop altogether. This time, she started as small as possible: Taking the dog for a walk every day. “This was not typical of me and my personality because I tend to like to start something and go really hard, really fast,” she admits. “But this time, I let myself do, like, a slow build. Even now, I’m still letting myself do a slow build. And that’s, I think, where the ‘sticking with it’ is coming from.”
“I know that technically, running is accessible as a way to get fit since you can do it anywhere,” she says. “But it’s not that simple: It’s not accessible immediately; you have to work your way up to it.” Too many people end up quitting after a single run doesn’t go according to plan, but starting with a gradual run/walk progression is a great way to build running while burning calories for a longer period. Consider the difference between running out the door and returning home, huffing and miserable, after 5 minutes versus heading out, walking for 5 minutes, then running for 30 seconds and repeating that 10 times. You’re still only running for five minutes, but you’ve also walked for nearly an hour — and walking is a great form of exercise regardless of the run time.
“With my work schedule, I’m free in the afternoons because I start very early in the morning. I started with taking the dog for a walk and coming home, but after a couple of weeks, I realized I had time to go out again, without her,” Colleen explains. “So for that second walk, I’d go without the dog, and I started trying to add a tiny bit of jogging. I’d walk a few laps around a field, so I started trying to run just one side of it each time I did a lap.” After she was comfortable sprinkling in short run bursts, working her way up to a minute of running for every four minutes of walking, she started adding in different obstacles, like running up the embankment next to the walking track.
While it can feel disheartening to see other people out casually running, easily outpacing you as you struggle through a final mile, remember everyone started somewhere, and everyone’s journey looks different. “I used to be really self-conscious about being slow,” Colleen notes. “Now, I realize no one actually cares how fast I am — no one else is paying attention to my pace! When I realized I didn’t actually have to be fast, that was a huge burden lifted.”
“There are so many times where I’m like, ‘I hate this so much,’ but I usually realize that I’m also kind of enjoying myself,” she says. “This week, it was freezing out, and no part of me wanted to get outside. But l finally went and did it. Once I’d warmed up and gotten moving, I honestly forgot that it was even that cold out. It turns out when you actually work out regularly, which I have now for 10 months, it gets easier!”
In the past, Colleen admits she would often see some progress, then get derailed by work or life stresses. This time is different: This time, she’s figured out that a few days or even a couple of weeks of “relaxed” eating and less exercise doesn’t mean her fitness is gone forever. “Now that I actually enjoy exercise and I can feel the difference in how I actually feel physically and mentally, it’s a lot easier to get back on track. I know what works and what I need to do, and having that plan makes things simple,” she says. “I took a break around the holidays, and that would have stressed me out, and I might have given up entirely in the past, but this time, it was just like, ‘OK, you had your fun, now it’s time to get back to cleaner eating and running regularly.’ It only took a couple of days before I felt back to normal — and the couple of pounds I put on over the holidays came right back off.”
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.