I began to run about five or six years ago. At the time, I was around fourteen years old, and I could barely make it a mile or two without having to stop, take a breather, and whine about the growing aches in the various parts of my lower body. My mother has been a runner her whole life and I owe much of my career as an athlete to her impressive display of discipline and dedication. No matter how much I complained, she managed to help me along the way, and eventually persuaded me to take my interest in running to the next level.

I joined my high school cross country team as a freshman, which led me to also join my school's outdoor and indoor track and field teams. Since then, I have completed a half marathon (I am currently training for my second) and also participated in several decathlons. I am not a collegiate athlete nor do I compete on a regular basis, but I have learned a lot from my journey as a runner. As someone that started pretty close to the bottom, I have a few tips to help you start running, too.

1. Force yourself to do it.

Running is not easy. Running is far from being easy. There is no real "easy" way to start running, and there will almost always be some sort of pain involved. The key is to force yourself to go for your run. Or walk. Or a mix of both. Whatever your starting point is, get out there and do it. There will be many days when you would rather do anything but lace up your sneakers and leave your dorm room (or house or apartment; you get my point). Sometimes, the couch is calling your name and there is nothing you want to do more but curl up and watch Netflix or read a good book. A huge part of running is maintaining your base, or in other words, running consistently. This means forcing yourself to get outside and do it, even if its cold, even if its rainy, even if you feel a little crappy or tired. Generally speaking, there are very few times that a run has made me feel worse (Disclaimer: don't go for a run if you are deathly ill or otherwise on your deathbed).

Get out there, even if it's only for a mile or two. Similarly, when you are first starting out, do what you can. Don't feel discouraged because you can only run two miles before feeling like you're going to fall over. If you stay consistent, two miles will turn into three, and three will turn into four and so on and so fourth. If you can only run three times a week, start with running three times a week. As long as you stay consistent, and force yourself to actually get out there and go for your run, it will get easier

2. Find running shoes that work for you.

A good pair of running shoes is absolutely essential. Trust me. Over anything else, I highly recommend going to a store and talking with someone about running shoes before you invest in a pair, as they can get quite pricey. Online research can be helpful too, but I personally think that you don't really know how a shoe will fit you until you actually put it on and jog around a bit. Another thing to consider is the shoe that works for you might not necessarily work for your best friend. It doesn't hurt to ask around and see what the people you know wear for running shoes, but keep in mind that everyone's feet are different.

Another very important thing to consider going into the shoe-buying process is that running shoes aren't always the most stylish choice of footwear, and you should 100% value comfort over the cutest color-combination. You won't care how good you look a mile and a half into your 5K when you've got five blisters all over your feet and your toes are cramped. Go for comfort, appropriate width, arch support, and whatever else you need

3. Train for something.

A great way to start running is to train for a 5K. A 5K is equal to 3.1 miles and is one of the shortest "long-distance" races. They are very popular and happen all year round. If you are very new to running, I would recommend signing up for a 5K several months in the future, so you have ample time to train and build up your mileage. If you are nervous about doing one all alone, enlist a friend or two to train with you. Running tends to be a very personal activity, as it is all about personal motivation and drive, but it definitely doesn't hurt to have someone accompany you on your runs.

Research training options and make sure that you train at a pace appropriate for you. Also, don't feel the need to pull out some outrageous time the first time that you compete. When I joined cross country as a freshman in high school, it was literally just about finishing the race for me. Competition was not something that I focused on until I felt comfortable racing at the distance. Work up to it. Competition is very rewarding, and I highly recommend at least trying it out. 

4. Mix it up.

Find fun and interesting running routes that make you excited to run. One of the reasons that running is so important to me is that it gets me outside and in the fresh air on a regular basis. I recommend planning out your routes before you leave home, just so you have a general idea of where you are headed. If you are very familiar with your area, you can try running for a set amount of minutes with less of a plan. For example, you could set your watch to 30 minutes or 50 minutes and make a route on the fly for a particularly adventurous day. A diverse amount of running routes of varying lengths will give you options, which is always nice. Some days you are up for the long run with considerable hills and other days, when it's a real struggle to even be running in the first place, you just want something quick and flat.

It also can be fun to try a speed workout on your local track. These can definitely be killer, as they involve multiple intervals of fast-paced running and calculated rest time, but they do pay off in the long run and make you faster. Ideas for speed workouts are available on the internet, and if you are in training for a race, it is a good idea to incorporate them into your weekly running routine. 

5. Progress is progress.

No two running journeys are the same. Don't get down on yourself if it takes you a little while to see or feel progress. Be proud of yourself for getting out there and giving it your best shot, for getting out there and doing it. Try your hardest to only compare yourself to other runners in the realm of competition, in a way that pushes you a little harder, opposed to making yourself feel inferior. Not everyone is a world class athlete, and that is completely okay.

Senior year of high school, I was captain of my cross country team. I also was the last one on my team over the finish line at our State Championship meet. I was never the best, but it didn't matter. You don't have to be the best to call yourself a runner. You just have to get out the door, stay dedicated, and stay disciplined. It isn't easy, but as someone that's been doing it for a while now, I can confirm that it is extremely rewarding and you will learn a lot about yourself. Running is a priceless activity to me, and I hope that it will become the same to you.