One thing I was most excited about when it came to quitting teaching was the opportunity it would give me to start running more, especially more in the mornings.
If you would have told me that fact six years ago, though, I would have laughed in your face and called you a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. You see, I’d DREAMED about being a runner for a long time–I dreamed about being one of those people who would just lace up her sneakers and go out in the drizzling rain for a six-mile run when she was upset, or the kind of person who would run along deserted trails on the weekends just to get a sense of conquering the mountain within (or something crazy like that)–but I’d never even come close to pursuing it because to me, runners seemed born, not made, and besides, running just seemed, well, hard.
The dream got worse when I saw a girl from my high school who seemed to be just that kind of runner–wiry and petite and caramel-skinned, I saw her running up and down all the streets near the high school, near the shopping square, along The Boulevard…everywhere I drove, there she was—Running (with a capital R).
And I envied her.
But because I was far too busy during high school to pick up one more thing (no, really, I was—ask anyone), I never got into running and brushed it off as one of those silly dreams that you dream sometimes, like how I used to want to be a famous landscape architect and design European gardens.
But then I got my first set of “real” running clothes from my new in-laws for Christmas the first year after we were married, and on a whim, I signed both Matt and I up for a marathon four months out from that date.
And while I’d like to tell you that it was all hunky-dory from the beginning and that I always knew that it was one of my Real Loves in life, that’s not *exactly* true. In fact, before I started marathon training, I positively DESPISED running, and it was just something I did at the gym first thing to “get it over with” until I could get to doing what I really wanted to do (which was lift weights with all the muscle heads). And once I did get into the whole marathon training plan, it only took until the second week in for me to think I’d possibly just made a very expensive mistake (since we’d already dropped the $200 to save our place in the race).
But now I’ve been running consistently for almost five years, and I can honestly say that I love it—maybe not every single second of it all the time, but I love running in general, and I hope to continue running until my body no longer lets me.
So, to help pass along some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned over these many years of being a runner (and being able to commiserate with people who consider themselves “non-runners” and who think they hate it in general), I’ve put together a little guide with some tips to help you to enjoy running more. Hope you find it useful!
How to Enjoy Running More
1. Get outside.
The number one way to enjoy running SO much more is to stop running on a stinkin’ treadmill already. For years, I was a treadmill runner who would put in 1-3 miles every time I went to the gym and hate every single second of it. Once I took my first run outside, I was astonished at how much faster the time passed and how much more pleasant that time felt. There have been countless studies linking being out in nature with greater wellbeing, so do yourself a favor and stop doing your running at the gym (unless the weather absolutely forces you to).
2. Run with someone else.
Something that really helped me at the beginning of my journey as a burgeoning runner was that Matt was running alongside me for much of it. Having someone to talk to while running (and someone to moan to who actually understands about how sore you feel) is priceless. Also, having a running buddy makes you much more accountable so that when one of you feels like skipping, the other one can act as a motivator, and vice versa. It’s also helpful to run with someone who’s just *slightly* faster than you are (like Matt was compared to me) because it forces you to push yourself and pick up your pace more, which builds muscle faster and challenges your body more. Now that I’ve learned that I love running period, I don’t need an accountability partner so much, but it was absolutely crucial for me at the beginning of my journey.
3. Sign up for a race.
I have found over and over again that unless I have a race I’m working towards, I tend to go a bit easy on myself on my runs. For instance, I might have the intentions of going out on a five-mile run on Saturday, but if I don’t have a race I’m prepping for, that 5-miler might turn into a 3-miler (or even a no-miler). The fact is, signing up for a race is motivating because it gives you a deadline to work toward, a distance to work toward, and a sense of excitement/anticipation around the whole act of running. And maybe this is just because this is how I went about it, but I actually go against conventional wisdom that says to just sign up for the smallest (read: shortest) race you can, and I say sign up for a race that scares you. The first race I ever ran was a marathon, and it was the terrifying nature of an-almost-impossible-sounding challenge that really brought the runner out of me. While I wouldn’t necessarily tell everyone to just jump into the marathon like I did, check out this checklist of how to know if you’re ready to sign up for a half marathon.
4. Run with music.
I actually never ran with music for my first couple years as a runner, but when I did pick it up one summer, I was astounded at how much more fun it made everything. Because I don’t often listen to music at home anymore (and I basically only listen to audiobooks in the car), running was my one time to really just jam with my tunes. And if you’re the kind of person who listens to music a lot, I’d say to download some of your absolute favorite new songs onto a running playlist and only let yourself listen to them while you’re running. According to some studies, running while listening to music decreases your perceived effort by 15%, so if you’re all about making running easier, try it out. (On the same note, sometimes running without music can be incredibly mind-clearing, too. For more info on running with or without music, check out this post.)
5. Start with no expectations.
When I started training for the marathon, I set absolutely no time expectations for myself whatsoever, which, in hindsight, was probably one of the smartest things I could have done. Because my only goal was to finish (and eventually, to do the whole thing without stopping to walk), I could just go at a pace that felt natural and easy for me, which allowed me to gradually build up my distance without injury and without *too* much soreness. Of course, I gradually got faster as I went along, but just being able to go out on a run with absolutely no expectations was really liberating, and it let me just find my own rhythm and settle in without stress. So, if you have a running watch or some other similar tracking device, leave it at home or don’t look at it until the end. (For more on the perks and pitfalls to running sans technology, click here.)
6. Challenge yourself.
Seemingly against the advice I just gave in #5 is the tip to sometimes challenge yourself and push your body past its limits, and I like to do it in the form of small “games” while I run. When I feel like I’m too tired to keep on running and want to walk, I tell myself that I “just need to get to that next lamppost” or that I’m going to full-out sprint with all I have left until I reach the trash can up ahead. Even if I do end up walking at the end of my self-set marker, I still have pushed myself more than if I’d just given in immediately to my body’s impulse to stop. The fact is, sometimes (many times, really) there are times when even runners who love it don’t feel like running. That’s when you say, “I’ll just get my running stuff on and go for 5 minutes. That’s it,” or I’ll head out the door and tell myself that I don’t have to go for my expected 3-mile run and that I can just go for as long as I feel good. (Spoiler: I almost always go out for the intended distance because once I’m out, I’m usually in it to complete it.) So don’t let yourself off too easy when the going gets tough.
7. Run longer distances to get in the zone.
This is so counterintuitive, but running for longer distances might very well make you like running more. When I first started out, I just wanted to get my running over with as fast as possible, and I ALWAYS quit before I’d gone anything over 3 miles. Basically, cardio was the necessary “medicine” I made myself swallow before I got to the real “treat” of exercise I’d come to do, and I hated running for YEARS (although I still made myself do it). But, aside from taking my runs outside (which made the biggest difference), the thing that made me love running the most was finally experiencing “runner’s high”–the rush of endorphins and feeling of body-numbing that ONLY COMES (for me, at least) when I hit at least the 3- or 4-mile mark. Once I’m into mile four, I can basically keep on going until my next “wall,” which doesn’t usually hit until mile 8 or 9. So, once you’ve worked yourself into good enough shape to do two or three miles without stopping, you’ve worked yourself up enough to start doing longer runs of 4 or 5 miles, which is where you’ll really start to feel the endorphin kick (especially if you’re just doing easy, slow miles with no time expectation).
What tips do you have for enjoying running (or exercising in general) more?