Go to any road race, cross-country meet or track and field event and you’ll find runners proudly wearing shirts adorned with sayings like, “Our sport is your sport’s punishment,” “Running is a mental sport and we’re all insane,” and, “If you don’t like our sport, find one with a bench in it.”
Corny, but true. Running is often used as punishment, people who enjoy it are regularly deemed crazy, and the sport provides little downtime.
Falling in love with running can seem like a long shot for most athletes, but follow these four tips and you may find yourself blissfully converted to the ‘“dark side.”
1. Know Your Why
Why are you running? Is it to get in shape for another sport? Are you training for a specific race? Do you want to beat your personal record or best your cousin at this year’s Turkey Trot? Are you running to lose weight? Do you want to prove to yourself that you can?
Knowing your why is crucial. It’s a simple, but often overlooked concept, and it can greatly affect your training. When your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. to beat the summer heat, or you’re struggling to pull on another layer of spandex in the winter, it’ll be easy to give in to the reasons why not to. To combat this, you need to stay firm in your why.
Make sure that your why is strong enough to get your feet out the door, but not too serious where it sucks the fun out of your training. This doesn’t mean that every run or workout will leave you smiling, but overall, your training should bring enjoyment and fulfillment.
2. Craft Your Community
Running is often labeled a solo sport, and in many cases, that’s true. You can train and compete for most events entirely on your own. This has advantages: you quite literally can train at your own pace, you can adjust your schedule to meet your needs, you can cater your regimen to your fitness level, and you can focus on individual goals. The downside to the sport’s somewhat solo nature is that things can be lonely without a defined team, and it takes creativity to compensate for two major things that teams provide – accountability and camaraderie.
While it may initially take some work, you’ll soon discover that running actually offers an amazing community. This can take shape in many ways – a local running club, an online group, a weekly brewery run, an amateur racing team, a personal coach, etc. The more involved you become in the sport, the more familiar faces you’ll notice at races or online.
Contact your local running store, race organizers or club to jump-start your search. National, regional or local training, racing or support groups can also be found on platforms such as Facebook, Meetup or Strava. If you can’t find a group that fits your specific training style, schedule or affinity, start your own and market using these sources. For one-on-one support, find a running coach that you can work with virtually or in person.
3. Spice Up Your Stride
Running is simple – keep putting one foot in front of the other as fast as you can, or for as long as you can. Sometimes the repetition is soothing, but other times, it’s mind-numbingly boring. However, if you think that running entails the same 3-mile path around your home every day, you need to start thinking outside the cul-de-sac.
There are a plethora of running workouts to explore – track workouts, fartleks, tempo runs, etc. Most of them boil down to endurance, speed or recovery. Identify your specific running goals to intentionally incorporate different workout styles to set yourself up for success.
In addition to varying your workouts, you can switch up your routine and make things fun by changing your location and company. Maybe you always run in the city, so plan a run in the countryside. Perhaps you always run on pavement, so give your legs a break by adding in a trail run. If you always run solo, invite a friend once a week for some company. If you listen to music, maybe try a podcast next time, or better yet, ditch the headphones altogether and take in your surroundings.
4. Manage Your Expectations
Most of us will not fall in love at first sight. The same goes for running. At first, you’ll likely feel awkward, uncomfortable and defeated. The runner’s high may be elusive for a while, but rest assured, it does exist. Start small and keep going back to your why when you’re feeling low. Build a consistent base, slowly increase your mileage and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself grace if you need to walk or rest, but keep moving forward.
Running is a shift for a team sport athlete, but it doesn’t have to be negative. While challenging at first, running can develop into an enjoyable lifelong sport. The best part about running is that you truly reap what you sow, and you can cater the sport to fit your goals and needs.