We all know why running is great exercise. It helps promote a healthy lifestyle. You might be able to finally lose those few additional pounds. It will help you sleep better at night. And so forth.
But if you haven’t run a lot—or even at all—in your life, you might hate the thought of running, and never want to consider yourself a runner!
The good news is that you can change your mind. With these tips, you as a new runner, or as someone who wants to start running, can build an enjoyable fitness habit.
I’ll share three categories of tips that have helped me learn to love running. I’ve thrown in some personal anecdotes along the way. Hopefully, you can find something that will help you change from hating running—as I did!—to loving it, as I now do.
Know Where to Run
As with many things in life, learning to love something requires “knowing thyself,” to invoke Socrates. You need to know where you’ll be most comfortable running when you first start off.
If you’re uncomfortable about running outside, don’t sweat it! Start on the treadmill. Privacy is an option, and you can pick one far away from people. That’s what I did. Because I didn’t have to worry about getting weird looks from people outside, the treadmill took one thing off my mind.
My parents had a treadmill in their home, so I started by running one mile at a 10-minute mile pace over Christmas break in 2018. Now I’m up to six miles at an 8:45 pace or one mile at a 7:30 pace in about two-and-a-half months. So don’t be afraid to start small at your comfort level.
Graduating from the Treadmill
I’ve started running less on the treadmill and more outside as I’ve gotten more comfortable and as running has gotten more enjoyable for me. You can start with running in your neighborhood before you move to a running path where you’re likely to see other runners. And remember that at the end of the day, no one is actually judging you! The running world is a very supportive and inclusive place.
While it’s definitely more comfortable to be inside, a treadmill is just so much more boring. Runners often use the term “dreadmill” instead. So don’t forget about outside runs when you’re ready. Know what you need because if you meet your needs, you’ll probably find yourself hating running less and liking it more.
Maybe you want the most convenient route so that you can easily run after work. Or perhaps it would be better if you drove ten minutes so that you can run a more scenic route. Whatever it is, do what is going to be best for you and what is going to make you more excited (even if it’s just slightly more excited!) about running!
Know When to Run
Now that you’ve figured out the location you’re running, you need to figure out when to run. Make sure that you aren’t running stuffed or completely fasted. You should have at least a few nutrients in your system. This will make you feel better during your run, and therefore happier.
Time of Day
If you decide to run first thing in the morning, be sure to drink some water or maybe some orange juice and eat a quick snack of oatmeal or a protein bar before you run. If you run later in the evening, be sure that you wait at least 90-120 minutes after eating. I personally like to wait two hours after my last meal before running, as that feels better to me.
Again, you need to know yourself. Studies do suggest that people who get up in the morning to run tend to be more successful at actually getting their workouts done, so you might want to consider running in the morning. Also, you’ll have the side benefit of getting to see the sunrise! This might make you happier running.
On the other hand, if you are really not a morning person, run in the afternoon or evening. If it’s going to be a drag getting up in the mornings, you’re going to continue to hate running. But if you do it in the afternoon, you might not.
Figure out how running can suit your needs, not the other way around, but remember that you can’t make excuses! If you’ve decided the morning is best, get up and run. No excuses. Following through on what you say you’re going to do will help you feel better about yourself. Feeling better about yourself will make you happier about running.
Planning and Commitment
One of the best ways to make sure that you’re consistently running is having a goal and a plan. This will require you to put running into your schedule. After just a few days of doing it, running will just become a part of your routine, rather than something you have to drag yourself to do.
Picking a race to train for is a great way to give your running meaning. I personally decided to register for a half marathon five months out so that it would give me a goal to train for. That was a great decision, as it keeps me going on my running. If a half-marathon seems a bit too much like jumping into the deep end, choose something shorter. A 5k is a great first goal, and will build a running habit without asking too much.
The first week of running back in December was hard, but I’m much less likely to miss a run or a workout now. Yes, some runs will inevitably be worse than others. So far, though, it’s been incredible to see my progress and think of what I could do for the race. That makes me much more likely to put on my running shoes!
Know How to Run
This category is the most essential. Not only knowing the proper form of running (shortened stride, quick foot turnover, slight lean forward, and landing on the ball of your feet instead of heel) but also winning at the mental game will make or break your runs.
The most important thing you can do is to forget the past. And not just your previous experiences running, as any negative thoughts can impact your runs. Try to be as positive as possible when you start your run – it will make it that much more pleasant. If you keep a positive attitude and start associating running with happy thoughts and feelings, you’ll want to do it more.
I’ve personally found that my runs go way better when I’m in a good mood instead of when I’ve had a hard day or been wrestling with negative thoughts. Even just smiling to yourself occasionally during your run can make it that much better.
First, before running, make sure that you stretch and warm up. This will get your muscles ready to run, and your run will feel better. It’s easy to forget this step, but don’t! My runs always go significantly better when I stretch.
Back in December, I wasn’t stretching as much as I should have. I especailly wasn’t doing any dynamic stretches, such as high knees or butt kicks. But when I added them, I noticed a significant improvement in how my run felt, so I haven’t skimped on that since then.
Be mentally prepared for your run. That’s probably more than half the battle. Find a great playlist or podcast to listen to when you run, or find a friend to run with. Counting can also be a great way to keep yourself going.
If that’s not your thing, consider playing a game during your run, or thinking of topics you can ponder during your run beforehand. Try a variety of different tactics to keep from getting discouraged and/or bored, and use as needed.
I’ve found that depending on the day, some techniques are more or less helpful to me. Normally, counting is a great go-to for me. I’ll count to 300 or 500 if I’m feeling eager before I can look at my watch and see how far I’ve gone. This keeps my mind occupied without too much thinking to do.
However, sometimes it varies. The day my nephew was born I had so many thoughts running through my head that it was better to just think. The first time I ever ran 6 miles, I watched three episodes of The Office while on the treadmill because I knew that would get me through it.
Also, don’t forget the power of reminding yourself how good it will feel when you’ve reached your goal for the day. After just a week or two of running, you’ll have past experiences to draw on.
Adapt as Needed
Finally, be willing to adapt to different circumstances. Sometimes your run will feel awful, and you may need to adjust your goal for the day.
That happened to me the second time I ran six miles. I was supposed to do an 8-minute mile pace, but I got to about 2.65 miles, and I was dog tired. So I walked a little bit and thought about just doing a 5k. But then I thought, “Well, that’s really shy of your goal. How about you do a nice, slow run at a 10-minute mile pace, because it would at least be running?”
I started with a 10-minute mile pace and began to feel good again, and my pace gradually picked back up. I ended up finishing the six-mile run at an 8:45 minute mile pace. While that was shy of my goal, I didn’t quit, which is the most important part.
Sometimes you may just need to slow down like I did. While it’s great to have aggressive goals and it’s even more awesome when you meet them, if you find yourself really stressed during a run, figure out a way to make it enjoyable.
And, when you’re done with your run, end it right. Make sure that you cool down, ice your feet, and stretch. Even if you’re doing a short two- or three-mile run, I’d still encourage you to ice your feet. It always feels amazing to me!
Be sure to drink plenty of water, eat some food, and reward yourself with a nice, hot shower. When I’m running, I always think of the warm shower I’ll get after I finish my run, and that’s the best feeling.
Monitor Your Progress
Finally, the two things that have helped me the most to change from hating running to enjoying it are measuring my success and simply wanting to run. I’ve never done much running in my life except for sports until the summer of 2014, when my sister wanted me to help her train for two 5ks with her boyfriend. I couldn’t be shown up by my baby sis, so of course, I trained, but I still didn’t really like it.
Fast forward to late 2018. When a personal life event made me want to do something big with my life, I decided to train for a half marathon, selecting one five months out. I knew that it would be hard for me, but good for me, and I picked a plan that would slowly work up to 13 miles, as I could barely run one mile at a 10-minute mile pace.
In the Beginning…
I began my training saying that I hated running, but that I was doing it because it was good for me. But just a month or two in, I’ve actually started to enjoy it. Running has become a part of who I am.
I attribute this mental change to those two things. My Garmin Forerunner 35 watch has been a great way for me to see my progress and measure my success. When I realized that I had cut my 5k time down by about five minutes in a month, I wanted to run more. When I remember that I can now run six miles relatively easily, when one mile was a struggle back in December, it keeps me running.
Seeing how I’ve been progressing makes me want to run and continue to further myself in my abilities. And when you want to do something, you can’t hate it that much! As my sister said, “Wow. You’re becoming quite the fitness person.”
In the end, I’d encourage you to change your identity. Instead of saying that you go for runs, say that you’re a runner. Calling yourself a runner will keep you motivated, and if you’re able to say that you’re a runner, you probably won’t be fitting into the hating-running-camp anymore. At least, that’s what I’ve found.