How I Learned to Love Running

Photo courtesy of Daniel Reche via pixabay

In high school, I did shotput for track and field. That’s the most brute-strength thing you can do, because it’s less about form and more about being strong enough to fling a metal ball as far as you can. I also played basketball through most of middle school and high school, but I was always dead last in athletic workout sprints. I was always lifting the heaviest weights in the weight room with my teammates. I’ve always been overweight.

Ultimately, I’m the opposite of the typical runner type. The only thing I’ve really got going for me in that regard is that I’m 5’ 10,” which is a little taller than most women, but I’ve never been anywhere close to fast or skinny. You wouldn’t look at me and think I could run 8 miles.

But I can. And I have.

The pace definitely wasn’t record-breaking, but it was average, and I only stopped to walk once. Some of my other most recent runs were 5–6 miles each.

When I tell people about my average distances, the most common response I get is, “Oh, I could never do that.” All types of people tell me this, from skinny to fat, or lazy to dedicated.

Every time I’m baffled. Of course you could do that. You don’t need a lot of experience or a particular body type to run. It just depends if you want to put in the work to do it.

I have to wonder why this is such a knee-jerk reaction running. People aren’t nearly as discouraged at the thought of lifting weights or going to an exercise class, but one mention of running and suddenly there’s an avalanche of excuses as to why they couldn’t possibly do that.

If I don’t look like someone who has a natural advantage with running, then I would think that the automatic responses I usually get are a result of some other barriers.

First: running seems intimidating because a lot of runners are lean, muscled, and/or skinny. Limiting “runners” to people who look like this, however, is just another product of a culture that constantly links being thin to being fit. Runners can be and are overweight or fat.

Second: most people just don’t like running, because it can be boring and hard. You can switch through different exercises in workout routines, but running is just one long exercise you’re basically trying to distract yourself from. Most people see running as a chore, something to be done quickly because it’s good for your health and not really for any other reason.

To be honest, that’s also how I viewed running until recently, so I can understand why. Running takes a lot of work to be done well, and it’s really hard to motivate yourself to keep doing it when you never wanted to in the first place.

I realize running isn’t for everyone. I’m skeptical of the fitness bandwagon that promises amazing results if only you can suffer through whatever routine it drags you through. Running is no different, but at least I can say I’ve begun to genuinely enjoy running when I’ve hated it most of my life.

I’m in a good place to see on both sides of the fence right now. I’ve been running consistently for almost six months now, so I’m nowhere close to a regular, but I’ve learned a lot so far.

Here’s how I started out.

First, I made myself commit to regular workouts by signing up for my school’s 5k race. Committing yourself somehow is key. Running takes weeks to build up, so — and please forgive me for this — you need to be in this for the long run.

I had wanted to run longer distances for a while. I could never make myself run more than once or twice every other week, even though I knew that working on it was the only way to get better.

That’s one important thing I realized very quickly: you can only get better at running by running. It doesn’t matter if you work out already. Even after I had done years of consistent weight-lifting and cardio workouts, two miles kicked my ass.

Now, starting a running routine sucks. You have to start relatively slow to make good progress, and even then, it’s still hard because you’re not used to the exercise yet. I decided to start off with C25k, the Couch-to-5k app that starts at a few minutes of walking and running and progresses to thirty minutes of running.

At this point, I didn’t enjoy running at all. I woke up in the morning dreading the days I was supposed to run. I stretched and then suffered through each routine, trying desperately to distract myself from the heaviness I felt while running. Like most other times I had started a running routine, I thought about switching to calisthenics or adding in more weight training instead of running. The main thing that kept me going?

When I signed up for the 5k, I paid $15. That would be a total waste if I didn’t actually try.

While. not a terribly large amount of money, it was just enough to motivate me to train consistently for the next four weeks before the race. I had spent the equivalent of a very nice takeout dinner to participate in the race, so I was determined to do my best, even if my best was slower than most of the other runners.

If you need some external motivator to make yourself to commit to running, signing up (and paying money for) a race is one great way to do it. One that’s not too soon nor too far away, about 1–2 months in advance, is ideal to create some urgency while giving yourself time to prepare.

Since I knew I had to run for the next few weeks, I quickly looked for ways to make my running less miserable. I curated energetic playlists of old pop and rock songs I hadn’t listened to for years. I tried to work out my problems during my runs instead of focusing on the unpleasant parts, like how much time left I had to run or how many times the dude on my right kept lapping me.

This is the second key to running: finding something about the actual running to enjoy.

Running is unique because it’s much easier to think about something else while your body is occupied with activity. It opens up a mental space. Too often people hate running because they don’t know what to do with that space except fill it with thoughts about how much they wish they weren’t running. Instead of doing that, as I had done for years, I found something to enjoy during my runs (usually music).

Training was still hard, but I slowly began to like it more and more.

I trained for about five weeks before the race. Based off of previous experience, I expected to finish anywhere from 40–45 minutes, but my actual time was 35:30. Despite being totally average, I was ecstatic. I was so proud of myself for training to get there.

More importantly, when I went back to training next week, I noticed how much easier the running was then than it was at the start. Around week two of training, I had gotten tired by mile two. I had to ice my ankles twice because I overdid it some days. After the race, I finished about three miles and was shocked at how much I’d done.

I was barely breathing hard, and my legs ached with a light and pleasant soreness. My body buzzed with exhilaration.

I didn’t keep going — you’re technically supposed to end your runs feeling like you could go another mile or two — but I was more excited than ever before to keep training.

After four weeks, I had finally gotten a taste of runner’s high. And it only takes one taste to get you hooked.

It’s been four months since then. I’ve been running more than ever now, especially since the pandemic means most gyms are closed or relatively unsafe to visit. At least three times a week, I run between 40–90 minutes, which translates roughly to 4–8 miles at my pace. Not every single run feels amazing, but I finish a lot of them thinking about the next one.

I crave running enough that I’ve apparently run too much, which is why I’m writing this now with a foot injury. It’s only been two weeks, and I already hate not being able to run. I never thought I’d get to a point where I genuinely wanted to run that much.

I still don’t think I’m especially talented at running, but I’m proud of what I can do. I really enjoy it too. You don’t need to be naturally talented to love running or get better at it.

Beware of overdoing it like I did. Please start slow and be smart. But if you just needed an extra boost of confidence or motivation to give running a try, here’s your sign to go for it.

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Olivia Lawless

Olivia Lawless

Your writing buddy. I write about health and fitness, writing tips, and life in general | UNC Charlotte (she/they)