I sympathize and despite my love for running it wasn't that long ago that I was dragging myself out to my garage, hopping on the treadmill and just trying to convince myself I should stay on it for longer than 10 minutes. When I finally made it outside to run I often found myself dreading heading out the door or shortening my planned route upon realizing it was indeed hard work. I chickened out, wimped out, made excuses and proclaimed running as stupid. It was hard, it was sweaty and even if I managed to get going I couldn't wait for it to be over.
Even three years later, when 90% of my runs are something I look forward too, I still have moments of trepidation before a workout. If it's a long run or I know it's going to be a particularly challenging workout I'll find myself doing a lot of self talk and convincing leading up to it. What experience has taught me is that once I take those first few strides all that initial resistance melts away and after the workout, especially if it was a hard one, I'll feel amazing.
But to the new runner or someone in the contemplative stage that is building their walls up with excuses all I can say is that I've been there, done that, and if you want to make running part of your life I can offer a few suggestions that will help get you over the initial fear and turn running into a part of your everyday life.
- The first thing I need to let you know goes directly to those type A personalities out there that set goals and when they can't meet them simply throw the activity away as not worth their time. When you are new (and even when you are serious) most of your runs should not be about how fast you run (pace per mile or kilometre) or how far you run. Instead just decide how long you will be running. For example, when you head out the door don't say I'm going to run 5km or a certain pace, instead tell yourself I'm going to head out for 30 minutes. Each day will be different depending on your improving fitness, energy levels, outside temperature and conditions etc. When you force yourself out for a predetermined pace or distance you are setting yourself up for misery. Get a workout in based on time and ignore the rest and you'll be a happier runner.
- Change your route or your location. I love to run when I travel. Having a new city to explore on foot brings me great joy and it's a fantastic way to be a tourist. In my home town I have my usual routes, but occasionally I'll mix things up just to give myself permission to explore. I'll also head out on trail runs in the woods or head to the running track. Heck, even hopping on the treadmill in front of a TV playing the Godfather movie has it's perks. Give yourself some variety and you'll be less likely to get bored and as a bonus training on different terrain or on flat and hilly routes will be fantastic training.
- I often hear people say they can't run because of "bad knees, bad back, bad (fill in the blank)." For some this may be true but I think for many it's a built in hall pass on how to avoid trying something they are afraid of. Barring a bonafide physical ailment I truly believe we are all built to run. We aren't all going to be Kenyans gliding toward 2 hour marathons, but your body is designed from the ground up to be moved. Humans in particular are built for long distance running. We aren't a fast animal but we can go a long time. I don't care if it's walking, walk/jogging or running, you have to start somewhere but trust in yourself that your body wants to move around. If you don't use it, you lose it. Take honest stock of yourself, talk to your doctor if necessary, but realize truthfully if your running excuse is legit or not. If your using it to keep yourself on the sofa I promise your missing out on of the most joyful activities available to you.
- Try running at different times of the day. For me, even though I love sleeping in, I prefer to head out first thing in the morning. It starts my day off on a positive note and doesn't interrupt my other jobs or activities. There is something magical about running around your city while others are eating their Pop Tarts. You see the city wake up slowly, the sun rise and the world around you come to life. Others may prefer lacing up before dinner, after work, before bed (my least favourite as I have a hard time sleeping afterwards) or on their lunch breaks. We are all different, and once you find the time of day that suits you it becomes easier to look forward to your run.
- Find a Tribe. When I first started running I did the solo thing for about a year. My motivation came internally from a desire to change my life. I also didn't want anyone seeing me huff and puff and battle inner demons as I convinced myself not to stop and walk. Later on I found a group of people that were faster than me, fitter than me and were determined runners. That appealed to me in some way, challenged me and motivated me so I started running with them and have been doing so for the past two years. Recently I've been going out with trail runners, exploring new challenges. While I still occasionally run solo, especially when I'm just looking for quiet time, I find running with a group to be a great way to get yourself out the door. People notice when your absent, they ask why and you are missed if you don't make it out. I'd recommend finding a local running store that has group runs, or a local running club. Get to know other runners and you'll find that on days you don't feel like running your sense of obligation to the group may just push you to run anyway.
- Set a Race Goal. It's interesting as I've been leading a small running group recently with my wife and when mentioning to some people that they might consider targeting a 5K race as a goal most of them quickly declare the idea as not for them. For me, having a goal race in mind motivates me to train, and even better gives my training a focus. If it's a marathon I know I need to get in those long runs, if it's a 10K I'm going to need the speed work. Once I've plunked down some cash and registered for something I'm committed. It might work for you as well.
- Get Social. Once you declare a personal goal in public it's often harder to dump that goal. People will ask you how you're doing and you'll feel the need to have an answer. You'll also get built in cheerleaders from friends and family. If you're not wanting to make a declaration on Facebook (some people find these type of social media posts annoying) then join a social run tracking site like Strava where everyone there is only there for the purpose of posting their workouts and checking out yours. Think of it as your virtual Tribe.
- Be honest with yourself about what you want out of running. Whether it be weight loss, a goal race on your bucket list (maybe you've always wanted to run a marathon), fitness improvement or quality alone time having a clear sense of what you want out of running will go a long way to providing a reason why you should lace up those shoes in the first place. It gives you a purpose.
- Have a reward in mind. I recall when my dad quit smoking he took the money he would have spent on cigarettes every day and put it in a jar. Once he had enough he bought himself a Sony video camera he really wanted. He didn't just think about the camera, he went to the store, played with it, found the exact model he wanted and "bonded" with it before he started his journey. I remember that camera being used all the time as kids, long before most people had cameras like that. So maybe your running needs a similar reward. I remember for me telling myself that if I wrote every day for 3 months I'd buy myself that Macbook Air I really wanted (which I reasoned would help me write more) and that was a nice carrot to dangle. Maybe for you if you ran 3 times a week for the summer you might treat yourself to something special too. Maybe that pair of designer jeans you've been wanting but never wanted to buy because you wanted to wear them in a smaller size. Guess what? Running is going to get you there.
- Lastly, listen to your body. You've heard this one before, and if you're like most people you've promptly ignored it as cliche nonsense that doesn't apply to you. Nothing defeats the building of a running habit faster than getting hurt. My wife was a runner long before me and after an injury stopped running for four years before trying again. When you start running you will experience aches and pains. Thats normal. Be in tune though for pain that prevents you from walking normally or that doesn't seem to go away after one day. It's ok to take days off. I'd recommend for new runners to never run more than 3 times a week until you feel your body has adapted to the rigours of regular activity. Your muscles and aerobic ability will improve far faster than your ligaments and tendons and they will require time to adapt to the strain of running. For me, I feel it took two and a half years for my body to fully adapt to a regular running routine. I've been through one injury and had to stop for two months. Once running becomes part of your life, not running is agonizing. If you're wanting more activity in your week consider adding cross training like swimming, cycling or going to a gym.
Not everyone needs to have running as their primary form of fitness. Yes I sincerely believe we are all designed to run and I know its a fast efficient way to gain fitness, maintain weight and provide a welcome sense of calm in an otherwise busy life. Runners live longer, have better knees (yes it's true), are happier and get to eat more ( isn't that awesome?) of the great food they love. Your running habit is out there for you to grab onto. Those people you see every morning jogging along in their spandex while you grab your double mocha frappacino aren't really that weird. After all, you could be one of them.