So there is this misconception out there that people who run do so because they have some sort of malformed gene that allows them to enjoy and activity that most people abhor. Not true. Running is not fun, and those of us who are out there pounding the pavement aren’t doing it because we love it. I can’t speak for everyone who runs, but I run because it something that I know I can both do and tolerate. I ran high school track (a sprinter who thought the 100 meter dash seemed like a long run), and I continued running in college because it was a social activity. I had a lot of friends who liked to take a break from studying and go on a group run around campus at midnight or one o’clock. It was more social than exercise, but what those runs on campus did was give me a lot of great memories that I associated with running. I attended a few aerobics classes during my time in college too, and I hated those. No chatting, no BOYS, and we were inside a stinky gymnasium.
So when my son started school and I had the time to start an exercise program again, running was a no-brainer. I already knew that I could do it, I didn’t have to be a member of a gym or club to do it, and the biggest equipment expense was a pair of running shoes. I have learned a great deal about how to make running more tolerable since then, and in case anyone reading this is thinking about starting a running program, I want to share what I have learned.
1) mailbox by mailbox — my husband gave me this little pearl of wisdom. I don’t know where he heard it, but it is the running equivalent of Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’. Basically, start small. If you try to run as far as you can on your first run, then chances are there won’t be a second run. Decide before the run how far you are going to go and make it do-able, both physically and psychologically. Then increase the distance week by week by nothing more than the distance from one mailbox to the next. Eventually you will work your way up to a distance that fits your exercise needs.
2) find ways to put your mind into “wander” mode while you run. For me, a combination of an upbeat playlist on my ipod and composing facebook posts, e-mails, or story ideas works best. Don’t think about problems or stressful situations or anything that will get your anxiety up and subvert your adrenaline away from your legs and arms.
3) approach the run as an empowering event. Don’t think of it as “something you have to do so that you can lose weight/look better/lower cholesterol.” Think of it as something that you choose to do so that you will feel great about yourself afterwards and for however many days it is until your next run. If this sounds like self-psychology or playing a mind game, that’s exactly what it is. You know yourself best. Figure out how to outsmart yourself when it comes to exercise. Find ways to trick yourself into getting it done.
I am an impatient person. This is why I don’t ‘walk’. It drives me nuts. So when I first started running, I ran out toward a specific point before I turned around, so that I had no choice but to run home. The distance out to that point didn’t seem too bad, and I knew that by the time I got out there I would be too impatient to stop and WALK, so I would run back. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys leisurely walking. Running is not the sport for him. He likes to bike, and walking a bike is probably more work than riding it, so he never finds himself stopping to walk on a bike ride.
I run because I like the feeling of having finished exercising. It is a wonderful feeling. And I run because it is the only form of exercise that I can fool myself into enduring a few times a week. The bottom line. Analyze yourself. Don’t waste time looking for an exercise that you ENJOY. Nobody enjoys exercise, we only enjoy being done with exercise. Look for what you can tolerate and then find ways to make it more tolerable.