You Think You Hate Running
If you are reading this because you hate running, I am going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think you do. Chances are you have tried running several times throughout your life and claim you just can’t stand it. But unless you’ve remained consistent and taken your time over the course of a year or more, I’d argue you never got the chance to enjoy the fitness of running. The best part about the sport is when you are able to relax and run efficiently.
Three killjoys in running I see are:
- The pressure to race a certain time or distance
- Doing too much too soon and getting injured as a result
- Never obtaining a solid level of fitness over a long period of time
It is important to set a running program that targets long term success so you can really learn to like it. There is a reason why there are so many runners out there who have made running a lifestyle — they genuinely love the sport, and I think you can too.
The pressure to perform
My sister says she hates running. However, when we chat, she asks me detailed questions about my experience with the sport. She really wants to like running — she tells me this every time we talk about it. While she genuinely believes she has given running a try, I’m not sure she has.
Her running background consists of a few times she has run for a couple of months to shed a few extra pounds. Her main effort to take up running was when she embarked on a program for an academy where she had to pass a running test. The program had quick progressions over a six to eight-month period.
No wonder she hates running.
It is difficult to love running when you have pressure to perform for something like a fitness test. Usually, the program progresses too rapidly. Just as your body is beginning to adapt to a level, it is already being challenged again. Your heart rate is elevated throughout every run and you are constantly out of breath. It gives the incorrect impression that running is uncomfortable.
The same applies to individuals who start a program to run their first race or their first marathon. Their experiences are often painful and much of their time is spent managing injuries.
Finding the joy in racing
I haven’t always loved racing. It is something I am learning to enjoy, even after 28 years of running. When I was in college, I felt pressure to run really fast over a relatively short season. When I look back at my times, they were fast, but when I was running them, I never understood they were respectable times due to the pressure I was under. I stuck with running back then for the challenge, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do now.
I even feel more successful now, even though my times are nowhere near as fast as they were back then. Racing for a specific time can take the joy out of your running by robbing you of the actual successes you achieve.
Running for decades has taught me this — no matter how fast you are, there is always someone faster and always someone slower. Comparing yourself to others is futile. It took years for me to understand I was running against myself. Running is an inner personal journey to overcome the obstacles that hold you back from realizing your true potential. Once I understood that my love of the sport deepened.
Now I see racing as a test for where I am with my running. Rather than judge my performance, I observe it with curiosity. What parts were hard, where can I adjust my training to address weaknesses? This has shifted my attitude towards racing and makes it an opportunity for growth.
Too much too soon
One of the biggest mistakes runners make, both experienced and inexperienced, is running too many miles too quickly. Our bodies are designed to protest when this happens as a way to prevent injury. One of the first signs of overtraining is dread. If you are noticing you are dreading getting out there and running, perhaps it is time to take a break and start with less mileage or lower intensity.
Some runners push through that feeling, believing they need to be tough. These types of athletes often end up later struggling with one injury after another. While I’m not an expert on injuries, I will say my back and knees feel better when I’m active, not when I spend hours sitting around, but only when I am not overdoing it.
Taking it easy is an important concept for long term success in running. There is nothing wrong with starting a running program with 1/2 a mile of running with a walk afterward. Many people also find using a run/walk model more enjoyable (for example: run one minute, walk one minute for 20 minutes).
The easier you start out, the less you will fight yourself later on. It is better to start too easy and continue running than to start off with a tough program that you only adhere to for a few months. Having a running plan that is too difficult is a recipe for hating the sport.
The need for long term consistency
Starting and stopping a running program prevents your body from properly adapting. Enjoyment for running comes when you’ve built the right physical structures for the movement and it starts to feel smooth and efficient. This happens after months of training, even a year or more. Once your body gets settled into a program, it feels good.
I would argue that our bodies are designed to run and we have built-in systems to enjoy it if done properly. How many studies have we read about this? So many show that running produces happy hormones like endorphins, it makes our bodies stronger, healthier and promotes good sleep. These are all things that help us find balance in our lives and are necessary to feel a sense of peace and happiness.
When starting a program, it is important to look into the long term — just like you would a long term investment. When viewed at this vantage point, it gives you permission to take your time at the start and build slowly.
Bring back the joy
The key to finding joy with your running program is to take your time starting out — make sure the program is easy enough that it doesn’t feel like a major effort to get yourself out the door.
Once you are able to make this a consistent habit, start building mileage slowly. While many advise not increasing mileage more than 10% a week, I prefer a max 10% increase after two weeks of consistent training. What is the rush if you plan on doing this long term?
Use races as an opportunity for growth — mentally and physically. Races will help you reflect on where you are. Give yourself a long-term and short-term goal. Once you achieve your short term goal, you can make another one that helps push you towards your long term goal.
Consistency over a long period of time will get you both results and will increase your enjoyment. Running feels good when you are relaxed and having a steady pace and heart rate.
When starting a running program, it is important to structure it in a way that motivates you to stick with it. Taking your time, and being patient with progress makes it more likely you will get what you want from running and will enjoy it along the way.
Amy Wall has been training and competing in cross country/track and field for 28 years. She competed at San Diego State University and over the years ran for several track clubs. Amy is an All-American runner who was ranked in the Top 10 nationally in Masters for the track indoor season, and Top 25 nationally in the Masters outdoor season, both in the 1500m. You can find more about her and her writing at amywallauthor.com