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Yes, It’s Okay To Look Like A Beginner

I started running on a regular basis more than 14 years ago. Those painful, out-of-breath runs are still seared in my memory. The cotton shirts that rubbed in the wrong places and the shorts that I quickly realized were not made to handle sweat are not a distant memory.

As a new runner, I knew that I looked nothing like what I saw in magazines. I didn’t dress like those women, my body didn’t look like theirs, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up with them for even a mile. With what I saw in magazines and books as my examples of what a runner looked like, I set out to try to look like a runner. I figured I would then be able to consider myself one and no one would know that I was new. I desperately wanted to fit in and feel a sense of belonging. I felt my novice abilities made me stand out.

In those days, floral print running shorts were all the rage—so I bought them. I saw runners commonly noshing on “bars” so I purchased every flavor I could get my hand on and replaced my mid-afternoon snack of an apple with a bar. Food wasn’t just food anymore—I had to refer to it as fuel. Instead of drinking water, I needed to hydrate. Even the language I spoke was important in making sure no one knew I had only started running months prior. I got a job at a running store selling shoes and eventually decided to tackle my first half marathon, a distance I thought sounded respectable and hard. No one would think I was new if I am running 13.1 miles. Insecurity drove many of my decisions in those days.

I know now that I should have embraced the fact that I wasn’t a veteran. There is beauty in loving where you are at in your journey. A beauty that has nothing to do with comparisons. I was a runner the moment I decided I was one and a runner’s body looks just like mine and yours.

I recently purchased a road bike and took the first ride, if you will, on my way towards becoming a triathlete. My excitement on the morning I prepared to go for my first ride was met with some insecure thoughts. The me of past would have let those thoughts steal the joy from the situation I was in. The older me, though, looked at those thoughts from a wiser angle and knew that looking like a beginner isn’t a bad thing. It is something I want to embrace.

I wanted people to know as I rode past them that I was new. It’s akin to when you are in the left turn lane and at the last-minute a car tries to merge in front of you. Your first thought after seeing their out-of-town license plate is one of grace instead of frustration. When I said “on your left” a bit too loud and scared a woman up ahead, I wanted to say as I passed, “This is my first ride, I’m so sorry that startled you.” I’m working on gauging how loud is too loud and how loud is not enough. When I got to the top of the hill, three miles from my house, and had to stop and inch my bike around to make the turn to go back down, I wanted the people passing me to know, This is my first day, let’s encourage instead of screaming “Get out of my way.”

I didn’t buy the clip-less pedals for my bike yet, I’m learning the gears first. I’ll then buy the shoes and pedals and move up to that level once I’ve gained a little experience. The old me would have bought ALL the gear, anything I needed to look like I had been doing this for years. This me, however, wants to take my time, to embrace the space and place I’m in right now as a beginner.

In my first week I learned that a tiny bug hitting your face at 20 mph hurts—no wonder cyclists wear glasses! I want to purchase the things I need because I’ve learned that they improve my ride, not simply because I’m trying to look like someone I’m not.

Everyone, even professionals, had a day one. No one starts with experience, it’s gained through miles. Don’t bemoan your beginner status, celebrate it.

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Dorothy Beal is the creator of the #irunthisbody and #IHaveARunnersBody MOVEments and the owner of, a website that sells fun running tees and jewelry! She is a mother of three who started running in college as a way to lose weight literally and figuratively and got hooked in the process. In 2003 she completed her first marathon and has run 31 of them since. Sharing her passion for running is one of the things she most enjoys behind being a mom. You can find her writing about life as a runner on her personal blog at and follow her on Instagram, where she shares her life in photos @mileposts.