How to start

A month or so ago, I got a great question from TriMOEngr:

Given that the comment was on a post about my complete and utter failure at my first solo orienteering meet, she's a brave woman to ask me for advice.  On the other hand, since I started pretty much from ground zero with all of the fun things I do, maybe I am the right person to ask.  The following is what worked for me:

1. Set a goal - I don't like putting myself into situations where I'm likely to flounder, but I hate wasting money even more.  Find a goal event and register.  It will help motivate you to keep going even when it's uncomfortable (and it will be uncomfortable, either mentally and/or physically).  My first mountain biking experience resulted in surgery, but having the Berryman Adventure Race in my sights inspired me to get back on my bike and keep trying.

2.  Make a plan - There are tons of resources on the internet for training plans.  Check them out.  Find something tailored for beginners. As a non-runner, I found the Couch to 5K plan invaluable.

Muskegon KOA
Ok, this is actually Twilight, but picture me with a mountain biking book in my hands.
3.  Read all about it - My friends laughed at me for reading books on how to mountain bike, and while it's true there's no substitute for actually doing something, I always feel better when I can vicariously experience it first. I credit my obsessive reading of adventure racing blogs with my comfort level at Berryman.  I'd never done such a long race, but I knew what to expect--the good and the bad.  Running blogs taught me more about the importance of pre-race pooping training, and mountain bike race reports terrified me were a handy addition to pre-rides.

4.  Seek out opportunities -  I took an orienteering class at The Alpine Shop, attended several group mountain bike rides, drove 2 hours to participate in an adventure non-race, dragged my husband to orienteering meets, and went to a mountain bike clinic.  These were all low-cost ways to get some valuable experience.  There are loads of group rides going on all the time.  Check with your local bike shop, advocacy organizations like GORC, or groups like 

5. Join the crowd - The endurance sports community is one of the most open, friendly, accepting groups I've encountered.  Many are evangelists for their sport--they've seen the light, they want you to as well.  Other athletes are a fantastic source of advice, inspiration, and company.  Even though I didn't feel "worthy", I joined a local tri club and a women's bike group, and the friendships and training experiences I've had through these connections have played a big part in any improvements I've made.  Plus, I've had a blast!

Photo credit: Robin Rongey

6. Keep it real - Be honest about your skill level.  I'm probably over-critical of myself, but I always want people to know what to expect.  I've been lucky to make all kinds of friends who are willing to ride and run with this slow, scared person.  I won't lie, it can be very frustrating for me to be the person holding other people back, but I'm reassured by the fact that they knew what to expect and chose to run or ride with me anyway. 

7. Get out of your way - It's fine to be scared or nervous or shy or insecuse, but it's not ok to let those stop you from reaching for your goals.  If your comfort zone is the couch, you need to get off of it.  I promise that there is infinitely more joy in trying something big than in hiding from your fears.  You'll like yourself a lot better, too.
Sidenote: I have the most awesome friends ever.  Who else would, upon hearing that you failed to find the picture of him sitting on the toilet in a field, would email you the link to put on your blog?
8. Just go man - Don't overthink it.  Don't wait til you're in shape.  Don't wait til you have a running partner.  Don't wait til the weather is just right or you can afford the best equipment.  Just go, and most of these things will come to you.  I spent months watching Craigslist for a road bike; it wasn't until I joined the tri club and met a friend who happened to be selling her bike that I found one I could afford.  If you wait to do something until you've met some other criteria, you're sacrificing the opportunity to have fun and improve.  There is no perfect time.  There is only now.

9. Listen - Be humble.  Experienced people often like to share their knowledge.  If you already know everything they tell you, good for you.  If not, pay attention.  You don't have to follow the advice, but listen to it.  You'll probably learn something.  Either way, appreciate the fact that someone more skilled is willing to be out there and share their sport with you.

Photo credit: Luke (AKA Captain Awesome) Lamb...there, ya happy?
10. Jump right in -  Do something that scares you.  If everything scares you, that gives you lots of options. If you get a chance, take it. More than once in the past year I signed up for something and then stood on the starting line freaking out and wondering what the hell I was doing there.  I've never once regretted going.

What speaks to you, or what did I miss? What advice would you give someone starting out? What did you find most helpful as you started running or riding?


  1. Great advice Kate! You left off number 11. Takes lots of pictures and blog about it. It's a great way to spread the word and have something to look back on yourself.

  2. I like the idea of not over thinking it--so many of us are prone to do this! And we all need to step out of our comfort zones now and again. Great post.

  3. Nice, I was thinking about a post similar to this as a follow up to my Adventure post. Maybe I will still write it or maybe you are going to get blog jacked. I've done it before, and I am not above dong it again!

  4. Hey! Where's my "Captain Awesome" photo credit for the last pic?!?

    Great post! I loved it, and it's all so true. What's cool is that now you're the seasoned veteran dropping knowledge bombs and passing on what you've learned and experienced. It's the circle of life... Kind of...

  5. Will have to re-read this when time allows as I really appreciate the thought that went into it. Funny enough, Columbia Multisport Club is going to offer an orienteering course. I'm not sure how much I want to dive into the "adventure" side of all of this, but I'll see if I can make this work with my schedule.

  6. Love #8...I think it's the one thing that is helping me do a 50k in a mere few weeks....when I'm not at all ready to run a 50k! :)

  7. ALL of this is perfect, but I LOVE 7 & 8. Dead on.

  8. I can only speak for running but I think you gave great advice. I'll take advice from you any day. Have a super weekend Kate!

  9. Beautiful post with great and important advices. My favorite is n° 8: I learned this lesson (about running) too late.

  10. I am so happy to read this post! I'm going to start working on my sister to train for a 5K--she's been losing weight and I think is going to be ready. Your advice will be great for her!

    I also just read your prior post. I'm sorry I missed that one. Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Days (and weeks) happen for sure. I hope all is better now!

  11. Great post!! Love the pics...especially the toilet one:)

    Great advice...I'll be sure to take it with me!

  12. This was fabulous. You need to submit it to an adventure mag. Love #8.


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