Running for the Rest of Us

Much to Do With Hate, but More With Love

I used to loathe running, runners, and running accessories.

Attempting the act itself pushed my lungs to the brink of explosion. I assumed the people enjoying it belonged to an exclusive club of arrogant, neon-wearing, healthier-than-thou, naturally blessed athletes. Then, of course, there was the most offensive of all running paraphernalia: those disgusting toe shoes these people inflicted upon the world [photo intentionally excluded].

And yet, somehow this past New Year’s Day, I found myself crossing the finish line of the Brazen New Year’s Day Race to receive my 15th race medal in one year!

How did this happen? How did I go from being the girl who broke the heart of every gym teacher by sauntering through the 400-meter “dash” to an avid distance runner?

I am by no means a natural athlete. Before becoming a runner, I never enjoyed any sports or exercising. I spent many years a little bit overweight. I ate mostly junk food. I was, by physical standards, an average American. And now I’m a teetotaling vegan athlete. Change is possible.

Learning to love running took some time and persistence, but it’s definitely doable. Here are my tips for success.

  1. Exorcise Before You Exercise

If you don’t run regularly, but you’d like to, chances are you have some demons to exorcise. I know I did.

Most of my hatred for running grew out of my experiences in public school gym classes. Memories of the discouraging words of gym teachers past were the demons I had to confront.

First, there was the obvious bullying, where gym teachers would shout epithets like “slow poke” or “lazy bum” to me and the other kids at the back of the pack.

The other forms of discouragement were a bit more insidious.

One mistake made by gym teachers is using running as a form of punishment.

Talk out of turn?

Take a lap!

Forget your uniform?

Take a lap!

This inevitably created a very negative association with running in my young, impressionable mind.

Another mistake made by gym teachers is barking commands at all of the students to run as fast as they can. Running is an ability you can develop over time, starting out slow and building gradually. My gym class made no allowances for this.

Maybe your demon isn’t a past gym teacher but rather a discouraging parent or a cruel peer. Or maybe it’s just something you picked up from the media. Who told you you’re not an athlete? Who told you you’re not good enough? Who told you running is hard? Who told you running hurts? Who made you believe you “hate running?”

Gather up all the negative thoughts you have about your relationship with running. Now, throw them on a metaphorical fire. Forget all of it.

It doesn’t matter if you got out of breath running “the mile” in gym class, or if your face always turned red and everyone laughed at you (yes, this happened to me). It doesn’t matter if you’d tried 100 times before to get into running and never succeeded. It just doesn’t matter. Only you get to decide what to believe about yourself.

Get rid of all that mental junk that’s not serving you so that you can start fresh on your running journey. I’ve found the biggest obstacles to running are mental, rather than physical. So get your mind clear — you can do this.

2. Pick the Right Goal

Having a clear goal will help you get started and stay motivated throughout the ups and downs of your running career.

Think of all the reasons you want to get into running — do you want to lose weight? Eat more without gaining weight? Climb stairs without running out of breath? Run a mile without stopping? Collect race medals? Be very specific about why you are doing this.

You can pick any goal you want, but I advise having at least one goal directly related to running. For example, I’ve found that “finish a 5K” or “run a mile without stopping” make for effective goals.

You may have a goal of losing 10 pounds, but with so many variables affecting your weight, setting a goal like that can be discouraging when it comes to running. If you follow a running schedule, you will be able to run a 5k; you may or may not lose weight in the short term.

I can share from my experience that the many times I failed to establish a running routine in the past all started with the desire to change my appearance. In college, I just wanted to be thinner, and running seemed like a painful but effective way to get there. Unfortunately, I kept giving up.

My success in running regularly came only when I decided that I would run to improve my ability in running — that is, to strengthen my body. I stopped worrying about how it would affect what I looked like, and spent more time thinking about how it would affect how I felt and what I was capable of accomplishing. My first goal in running, for example, was to be able to finish a 5k.

Any goal that truly motivates you is worth keeping in mind, but having at least one specific to your running metrics can be particularly helpful.

3. Make It Simple

If you want running to become a regular routine, you need to make the whole process very simple for yourself.

First, let’s talk about supplies. You don’t need fancy running shoes. You don’t need fancy running clothes. I started running in a t-shirt, baggy track pants, and shoes from Payless. Now, I’ve decided to invest a bit more into my love of running, but it’s definitely not a requirement to get started.

What you don’t need to worry about at this point is doing everything right. You just need to get on that trail, and the simple act of getting dressed to run in whatever you have will help overcome that starting friction to get you there.

Second, you need a simple schedule to follow. There are training plans all over the web to help you reach your running goals. I started by using Couch to 5k. Then I moved on to Couch to 10k (but started halfway through). Now, whenever I’m training for a race, I search the web for something like “12 week half marathon training program,” and then I pick one to follow.

These training programs tell you exactly how far or long to run each day. It removes all the decision-making from how far or how often to run. The fewer decisions you have to make, the more likely you’ll stick to a running routine.

In the past, I would just go out on a run, end up running too far, feel sore the next day, and then completely abandon the effort.

Training programs make the whole process much easier.

3. Ditch the “Dreadmill”

Allow me to share a cautionary tale of failure from one of my early attempts at running in college. As I stated before, I just wanted to be thinner (mostly due to low self-esteem induced by unhealthy media images, but that’s a topic for another post), so I’d go to the campus gym, hop on the treadmill, and run until I couldn’t take it anymore, sporting a look of agony on my face the entire time.

Sound familiar? If you view running only as a means to an end, you’re unlikely to enjoy it.

Now, running is truly a treat for me. The main difference? I actually take the clichéd advice to “enjoy the journey.”

For me, this means running outside surrounded by the beauty of nature whenever possible. I don’t run up and down city streets. I avoid the treadmill unless its raining. I savor the trails through the hills or along the beach. I’m lucky to live in California, I admit, but wherever you live, there are some gifts of nature to be appreciated. Try to find ways to enjoy them during your runs.

Sometimes due to weather or time limitations, I do find myself on the treadmill, but I’ve discovered ways to enjoy these moments as well. Craft a motivational music playlist to enjoy on your run. Enjoy the air conditioning you get to experience while running inside. Appreciate the ability to control your terrain.

Whether you're outside or inside, smile. Embrace the journey of strengthening your body through running.

4. Ignore Everybody (including me)

I’m borrowing the title for this section from Hugh MacLeod’s excellent book (that has nothing to do with running) because it’s great advice.

When you start getting into a regular running routine, people will notice and start commenting on it. Some of them may support you, and that’s great! However, you may also encounter some detractors.

Some naysayers will just directly tell you at your age or in your condition or with your history, there’s no way you can run a 5K or a marathon.

The more subversive of the naysayers can be more dangerous. These are the people who, upon learning of your running goals, say things like, “Really? Personally, I just don’t have that need to prove anything to myself.”

They’ll say, “Come on, can’t you skip the training run for happy hour?”

To rise above the detractors, you just need to remind yourself that some people think small. The solution? Ignore them.

You will also encounter many people who want to give you advice.

“You need to get this brand of running shoes.” 
“You can’t eat vegetables the night before a run.” 
“You shouldn’t be running on cement.” 
“You can’t get enough protein on that diet.”

These people may be well-meaning, but if any of their advice discourages you or doesn’t ring true, you should feel free to ignore them. That goes for all the advice I’ve given in this post, as well.

Listen to your body. Listen to your heart. Ignore that which doesn’t serve you.

Now Get Out There!

These are my tips based on many failed attempts, and one final successful attempt at cultivating a love of running.

Your mileage may vary. ;)

Now strap on whatever old sneakers you have and get out there!