Running just might be the most efficient form of working out. You could do it anytime and anywhere, just throw on a pair of shoes and you’re pretty much set! You probably already run, to chase after a bus, to catch up to a person, chasing after your kids before they fall into the pool, etc.
With 2020 now in swing, resolutions have been made. It is probably safe to assume that one of the most common resolutions is to work out, and equally safe to assume that running is a big part of those plans.
Running has been my resolution for years, but it took me almost 3 years for it to truly become a habit. I only really started running regularly from November last year and I’m sharing here what I found to be incredibly useful in building this habit.
It wasn’t easy to build. I would run for a week and then stop for months before picking it up again for a bit and then stopping again for long periods of time. I was regularly demoralised.
I consulted fitness tips online before I began, hoping that I would somehow quickly build this habit and become an incredible runner. Thing is, there’s a lot of advice from professionals that seem to be angled towards the pros. Even when they say they’re for beginners.
Enlisting the help of friends is always a great way to begin something, you can motivate each other, guide each other. But if you’re like me and are more of a lone wolf, you might find these tips more useful. So from a beginner’s perspective, here are some useful tips to kickstart your running habit.
I will admit, like many, I didn’t really like running on the treadmill. It felt weird, I was moving but everything around me wasn’t. I also kind of hated the sound it would make and being in an enclosed room just did not feel as refreshing as running outdoors.
But I changed the way I looked at the treadmill. I stopped looking at it silly and treated it almost like a scientific tool.
Running on the treadmill, you are in complete control of the variables. From speed to incline, you’re in charge. These are very handy tools to have control over especially when you are starting out.
You don’t have to run up a painfully steep slope that tires you out halfway immediately. On a treadmill, the slope can be as steep or as gentle as you want it to be. You could even run on flat “ground” the entire duration!
The treadmill also provides very handy data to keep track of your progress. If you don’t have something like a fitness tracker, the treadmill is able to provide you with data like your pace, calories burnt, distance, and of course time.
With a comprehensive list of data and variables at your fingertips, you can toggle the settings to find what works best for you and slowly make adjustments to improve. You are in complete control and I found that to be an incredibly useful thing.
How long should you run in a single session? And how many times a week?
You probably would have seen the recommended workout being 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week. I have seen it countless times when I started out and I still see that being touted today.
Now, I don’t doubt it but it was a major demoralising point for me when I first tried building the habit, and why I kept giving up. I just could not run for 30 minutes in a day, and not always because of a lack of time but because I just did not have the stamina.
It made me feel inferior like I was somehow failing my own body by not hitting those widely touted optimal workout durations. Those feelings were made worse when my schedule was busy and I did not have the time at all.
Instead, I shifted my perspective. I told myself that running even for just 5 minutes is better than not running at all. I would regularly tap out at 15 minutes previously but I never let that 30-minute goal taunt me. If 15 minutes was all I could muster, then so be it. I kept at it regularly, and eventually, I was able to hit that 30-minute mark. Now I find myself crossing that threshold regularly.
The thing is, we are all busy. You can plan a schedule for working out, but be honest with yourself, when was the last time you truly stuck to a schedule? Life throws us curve balls all the time and our schedules get knocked off course. It might be an urgent work meeting or that you fell ill or that you are just completely beat from a long day.
The key is to be real with yourself. Know that there will be times when life will get in the way but you just need to keep at it. Acknowledge that you missed a day, and then tell yourself that you will make the effort to hit your target days next week.
Remember, 1 day a week is better than no days a week. 15 minutes a day is better than no minutes a day.
Competing With Yourself
I love data. I strongly believe that with data we can analyse and target the areas that need improving. And what better way to do that than with a fitness tracker/smartwatch?
I personally use a Fitbit Versa 2 to track my runs and activity. Fitbit also provides a pretty comprehensive set of data for you to analyse. But on top of the data what I found truly useful was that it allowed me to compete with myself.
We all move at different speeds through life and it is no different when it comes to running. Seasoned runners will always be better than beginners, and comparing ourselves with a seasoned runner is a surefire way to demoralise ourselves.
Using the data made available by my Versa, I made it a point to always try and beat my previous log. For a long time I tried to beat myself with time and it helped me hit that 30-minute threshold. Now I do the same thing with calories burnt.
It has become almost like an obsession to watch the numbers rise and go higher than before. It brings a sense of accomplishment that motivates me to do better and to keep at it. Competing with myself was the best thing I’ve done on my running journey so far.
But fitness trackers are just tools and using them to their potential is what will get you to where you want. Merely buying one and slapping it on will not automatically make you a better runner. How you use it ultimately will affect how you’ll improve.
Importance of Music
I cannot stress this enough — music plays a huge role. Your choice of songs can push you to go further, and the rhythm of the music can actually help with you keeping a consistent pace.
I run to a playlist of Azealia Banks songs exclusively. The beats to her music help push me to run a little further and a little faster. My playlist consists of a mix of her upbeat songs and slower ones too, but importantly, the entire playlist has an energy to it never wanes.
That consistent energy to her music is essential, it keeps my energy going even during the slower tunes that I slow down to but when the beat picks up, I’m never caught off guard because of that energy.
Rhythm can also help with how you pace yourself. Running to the beat might sound silly, but I find it to be incredibly fun and it has helped me keep a consistent pace — even if just for the duration of a song. In turn, I don’t tire out as quickly and my breathing isn’t as laboured.
You obviously do not need to listen to one artist only when you run, you can create a playlist filled with a variety of musicians but what I find most helpful is to find songs that share the same energy.
Not All Days Will Be Good
Sometimes you just won’t be able to hit what you set out. You might even find yourself losing a bit of steam in your streak of improvement, and you need to know that’s okay.
You will not always have the energy to run as far or as long or as fast because of a long day at work; having something weighing heavily on your mind can be reason enough to throw you off course. Even taking time off running can set you back.
We cannot escape these ruts but we can work through them, and again, the best thing to do is acknowledge it, let yourself get back into it, and you’ll get to where you were.
Give Yourself Time
Perhaps the most important of all, give yourself time to improve. Expecting yourself to run a marathon when you have just started out is a sure fire way of setting yourself up for failure. Keep your goals within reach.
For example, start off with running with the speed 7, incline 0, for at least 10 minutes. Didn’t hit that 10 minute? Doesn’t matter! Remember you just need to keep at it. It might take you 2 weeks or 2 months, but you will get there as long as you persevere.
And when you hit your goal? Up the ante again, but at a comfortable pace. Now instead of 10 minutes, maybe aim for 15.
This also ties into what I said earlier about the treadmill, you can control these variables to suit you. That’s why I personally think it is a great place to kick start a running habit and improve on.
Don’t go competing with other people at the gym too, it’ll just be a frustrating experience. Just like you wouldn’t expect yourself to paint as well as Picasso if it is the first time you’re picking up a brush or you wouldn’t expect to be promoted over your more experienced colleague, don’t hold yourself to the standards of someone who has been running for a while now.
It took me a while to realise that I don’t have to be on the level of these other runners. We’re all at different points in our running journey and instead of letting it demotivate me, I used it to push myself.
I’m not running at the same speed as them, our stamina levels are definitely going to be different but I try to run for as long as they do. And when I am able to, I feel great. I’m not doing it to compete, if I ran at their speeds I’ll probably tire out in 5 minutes and tumble off the treadmill. I’m doing it to motivate myself, and I’m doing it on my terms too.
I am not going to lie and say it is easy, it did take me 3 years to really get into it but I got there. Now I run at least 3 times a week and sometimes more. It has helped me manage my moods and anxiety, and I feel much better about myself.
If I find myself stressing out too much, running is also a great stress reliever for me. The act of running itself helps me feel like I am moving away from a stressful place to a calmer place. I always feel so much happier after a run, probably due to the release of endorphins. Hey, it makes me feel great so I love it.
There are many benefits of running that I won’t get into here but putting on my running shoes and forming this habit has been, dare I say, life changing.