A short guide for those who never thought “running” and “fun” should be in the same sentence. Believe me, I used to be one of them.
1. As long as you tie your shoes and head out the door, that counts. My mom always told me this when I would dread going for a run, meaning even if you only go a tenth of a mile, it’s still an accomplishment. And the thing is, usually when you start running and tell yourself just to do a little bit, you feel good and wanna push yourself a little further. The hardest part is getting started!
2. There is no hurry! One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new runner is trying to run as fast as you can. Sprinting is awesome training, but there’s a time and a place for it. When I started getting into running longer distances, I found that if I started off slow I could run so much further than if I tried to sprint, and it made it such a more enjoyable experience knowing that I wouldn’t have that stitch in my side and have to gasp for breath two minutes in. So, take your time! This isn’t a track meet, it’s your time to enjoy yourself! And when you feel like picking up the pace, go for it! Slow runs, fast runs, they all count as runs!
3. Don’t hold your breath. This goes along with #2. Another big mistake I made when I started running for fun was not learning how to breathe right. (I swam varsity for four years in high school and I was a sprinter so “breathe” was not in my vocabulary). The best piece of advice for breathing while running came from my dad who said “just breathe in for three steps, out for three steps.” Slow breathing in running sounds counter intuitive, but it’ll keep the cramps and burning lungs at bay. And just like everything in running (or anything in life for that matter), it takes a lot of practice. But you’ll find your rhythm!
4. It’s all about the music! Speaking of rhythm . . . people who run without listening to music baffle me. Lining up a playlist on Spotify of songs I love that are upbeat and fun is one of the ways I motivate myself during my run. I even have a handful of songs I put on every new running playlist that I know will make me wanna keep going when I get tired. If you’re thinking of going for a run today, dig out a pair of headphones, spend a few minutes and throw together 10-15 songs that you love, and I promise it’ll make you feel stronger and faster and you will have so much more fun!
*side tip: if you happen to have an indoor treadmill, watching a show on Netflix or picking out a movie is an awesome alternative. I used to tell myself that I could only watch the new episode of Grey’s Anatomy at the gym, and let me tell you how excited I was to get on that treadmill Friday morning….
5. Bring a friend! (Virtually). I’m a big fan of distracting myself while running. I’ve also found it’s really fun to run with other people and chat. This might not be the best idea with social distancing right now, but if you have someone in your immediate household who is also itching for some time outside, bring her or him along! It can be hard to talk and run at the same time, but even if the two of you just listen to music and don’t talk it can be motivating to push each other, point out cute dogs you pass and just spend time outside together. I’ve even talked to people on the phone while running . . . not ideal but sometimes a girl’s just gotta chat, ya know? You went to Laurel, you know what I mean.
6. Play games with yourself. One of the hardest things about exercising when you’re an adult is that no one is holding you accountable. Coach C isn’t yelling “SWIM LADIES!” from the proverbial pool deck, so why am I doing this? Motivating yourself to keep doing a physically unpleasant thing to your body is hard to do, so you should be proud any time you do physical activity. I like to play games with myself to pass the time if I’m really struggling, whether that’s “just run three more mailboxes” or “just get through three more songs”, or every now and then “time to think about the massive ice cream sundae I’m going to make when this run is over.” Find what works for you!
7. Speaking of ice cream….nourish yourself! By all means, treat yourself to that sundae, you worked hard for it. But, if you make running part of your routine, then healthy eating needs to be part of it, too. Trying to run when you haven’t had anything besides coffee all day is a recipe for a miserable experience and probably a really short run (google “runner’s colitis” if you don’t believe me.) Running takes an enormous amount of energy, so you gotta put fuel in the tank. There were a couple months in college when I was extremely anemic and didn’t realize it (meaning my body was super low in iron, which is really common in females). I had been running five to ten miles regularly but suddenly couldn’t run two without feeling short of breath, exhausted, and like I had lead in my shoes, and it was extremely frustrating. Long story short, I got more iron in my diet and almost instantly was back to normal. This is just an example, but the point is that it is SO important to eat healthy and eat enough. Your body will thank you!
8. New gear. There is nothing that makes me more excited to go for a run than new running clothes or shoes. Remember those awful green shorts and grey t shirts we used to wear in gym class? Gross. If you’re really having trouble getting started, splurge a little and treat yourself to some new garb or shoes. Dick’s Sporting Goods has awesome stuff but pricey . . . if you’re like me and still broke (thanks, med school), Walmart, Kohl’s and TJ Maxx all have a great selection for a lot less.
9. Keep track of your accomplishments! Before the days of Fitbits, I had a note on my phone where I wrote down how many miles I ran every time I went for a run, because my friends and I were having a competition to see who could run the most miles over the summer. I found that I really liked keeping track of my miles and looking back to see how far I ran every week, month, year, etc. Whether you count your steps, miles, or how many minutes you spend running, it’s a fun way to motivate yourself and feel proud of the work you put in.
10. Remember how you feel after a run. I don’t mean the few minutes right after you stop when you’re panting and feel like you could drop dead. I mean the feeling you get half an hour later when your heart rate has slowed back down, your muscles are tired but accomplished, and those endorphins are flowing. Remember how awesome you felt after a good run, and use that feeling to help you get started the next time.
Above all, be gentle with yourself. It’s hard trying something new and it’s going to take a lot of patience. Running is awesome but there are a lot of days where it feels like crap. Push yourself when you can, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s just not happening for you that day. If you keep at it long enough, soon the good runs will outnumber the really rough ones. My legs have carried me so much farther than I ever thought they could, and so can yours. Happy running!