I am one of those very annoying people that loves running. I can head out for hours on end, flow with my thoughts without music, and experience the infamous runner’s high. However, I do appreciate that I might be an outlier and that many people, despite wanting to get into it, don’t see the appeal in running.
But, as with most things in life, this can change. So, how do you learn to love running?
I chose this specific set of words because, just like you’d learn to play the piano or to clean and jerk, learning to love running is a process.
The better you get at it, the more you enjoy it.
So the answer should be simple: improve your running and you’ll take every opportunity to lace up your shoes and head out the door.
If only things were so straightforward.
How to learn to love running
Getting into running and enjoying the process can take time but you’ll find that, the more your fitness increases and your body gets used to the rhythmic cadence of running, the more you’ll find yourself looking forward to the next opportunity you can get some miles under your feet.
A lack of running fitness isn’t the only reason people can’t find the love in running – just like you don’t have to be strong to enjoy weightlifting, though it certainly helps. Grated, the thought of pounding the pavement for what can feel like eternities doesn’t sound particularly appealing.
In fact, a 2014 study found that almost a third of thoughts people had while running fell under the theme of “Pain and Discomfort” (although the study did feature significant limitations, starting with a sample size of 10).
Whatever your reasons for disking the sport, if you’d like to give running a second chance, here is my best advice to help you enjoy the experience.
Consistency is the most important factor to learning to love running. Being consistent with your running will build up your fitness, which in turn will make you a better runner, which in turn will help you enjoy the sport more.
According to data collected by Strava, who surveyed over 25,000 runners from around the world, people who do not enjoy the experience of exercise struggle to maintain regular activity as a result.
It’s a vicious circle. But you can try to break it with one or more of the tips below. The Why We Run survey shows that people who have been running for more than a year find running more enjoyable than beginners.
While you’re out there, keep a running pace that would allow you to comfortably hold a conversation with a friend. A big “mistake” that many beginner runners make is running too fast, which either leads to injury or dislike of the sport.
Holing hard efforts for a long period of time isn’t very enjoyable, especially if you’re not entirely sure about what you’re doing, so start slow and build up progressively.
Leave enough in the tank for a strong finish. This is important because of a phenomenon known as the peak-end rule, which establishes that, if you finish something on a high note, you’re more likely to want to do it again because your memory will “differ” from your experience.
If you want to learn to love running, a valuable tip is to finish your runs feeling strong – even if this means running slower overall or walking in the middle – so your memory of the activity is positive. Our brains naturally emphasise on the peaks and ends of moments.
Set yourself small goals
Working towards a goal can give you the motivation to stay consistent and not throw in the towel when things get tough or the weather gets bad.
This will look different depending on your situation, but here are a few ideas you could aim for:
- Run non-stop for 10 minutes (or any time relevant to you)
- Run an additional 200 meters from the spot where you usually stop
- Run at least twice a week for a month
- Add a little bit of distance or time to your usual run
- Explore a new route once every fortnight
Achieving small goals is a great way to develop healthy habits and build up confidence, but make sure you set yourself up for success. Celebrating small victories can help you enjoy running, if not during the activity then at least when you accomplish them which, as we’ve learnt, is just as powerful.
Have a target
Signing up for a race is one of the easiest ways to keep you accountable. Having a deadline and a challenge will help with consistency and means you’ll be less likely to skip a training run (we’ve already covered the benefits of consistency).
If racing is not your thing, then having a distance or time target is another way to enjoy the process of running. Countless of people have gotten into the sport through initiatives such as the Couch to 5k.
Use running as a tool to explore
Running can be a great way to discover new places, either around your neighbourhood or when you go travelling. Using running as a tool to explore will bring up feelings of awe, which can distract from the repetitive feeling of putting a foot in front of the other and being slightly out of breath.
Getting to know your surroundings in a new way can also be a very positive experience (depending on where you live), so use running as a reason to get out and explore – there are plenty of hidden gems out there.
Additionally, you can use running to get you from A to B. Next time you have to go a short distance, think about using your legs to take you there, it can be a very rewarding experience.
It’s harder to opt out of a run if you’ve got a commitment with a friend. But aside from not wanting to let others down, exercising with people has been proven to increase the level of the feel-good endorphin hormones naturally released during physical exertion, an Oxford University study found.
This is supported by the Why We Run survey, which found that people who run with or belong to a running group enjoy running more than those who don’t, and this finding was consistent across both males and females and regardless of country of residence.
Do it because you want to
Ultimately, remember that running is meant to be fun. Yes, it can help you stay healthy, improve your mood, and relieve stress, but you don’t have to do it because it’s good for you. Lace up your shoes because you want to and remember you don’t have to go for a run, but perhaps you want to or get to.
Reframing how you think about an activity can help challenge and then change how you perceive it, thus leading you to enjoy running.
If you give running enough of a chance and allow it to stick around for a little longer, you might come to realise that it becomes tied to core aspects of your life and identity. It can become a way to not only be healthy, but also to connect with others, feel a sense of belonging, create a routine, and feel control over your life and decisions.
I wholeheartedly hope that the tips above help you learn to love running but know that it’s okay if running is not your thing. These benefits are true for almost any sport, so get out there and do what makes you feel happy, healthy, and supported.
Read more: How to Run a 5-Minute Mile