True Life: I'm a Cardio-Phobe Who Learned to Like Running
Running and I have a long, complicated relationship. I grew up playing team sports like soccer and lacrosse and loved them, but I dreaded running laps around the field to get in fighting shape—without the distraction of rules, a ball, a goal, and a field full of people, I found it mind-numbingly boring. My dad, a habitual runner to this day, would drag me on jogs with him, and I would typically make it a mile or so before inventing some kind of freak injury or illness, fake-hobbling home. My parents even made me join the track team in the hopes of keeping me active during the soccer off-season. I had a lot of fun spending that spring in the high-jump pit.
And then this simple hatred of running took a particularly nasty turn: I entered college, and after noticing one day that two months of Four Loko and the cafeteria waffle bar had rendered even my largest jeans unwearable, I found myself on one of my dorm's treadmills in a blind panic. I basically took up residence there for the next eight weeks, running every single day, even if it meant missing a night out or a big football game. My waist dwindled, but so did my friendships and my mental health. I had finally made running a habit—a dangerous one. A near-miss with a serious injury was my breaking point, and I never stepped on that treadmill again.
After all this apathy and drama and then apathy again, I had understandably resigned myself to the fact that running and I just do not mix. But I woke up one day a couple of years ago and, much like Forrest Gump, just felt like running. And I decided to capitalize on that rare spark of motivation by doing it right, taking it very slow, and enlisting some outside help. With this more measured, low-key approach, I realized that running wasn't just doable—it was cathartic. A couple of months later, I completed my first 5k.
It would be a complete lie to say I love running now. I love the feeling after I run, and while I like the act of running sometimes, "tolerate" is probably a better word. I'll still occasionally go weeks without doing it all. But when I get that restless feeling to pound the pavement, I now know how to harness that in the right way and make it last. The habit is there—it's just a matter of taking it from dormant to active.
But to do so, I rely on an arsenal of tricks to help breed that perfect storm of motivation. These are the tips I swear by to make running a habit, even if you've spent a lifetime hating it.
I can't say enough good things about the C25K app (free)—it was absolutely the backbone of building my running habit. The program helps you build your mileage slowly and steadily over a eight-week period (three runs a week) through intervals of running and walking. Gradually, the walking times dwindle and the running times grow, until before you know it, you're running for 25 minutes straight, no problem. Aside from making jogging feel doable, the app is also just very user-friendly: A "coach" instructs you when to walk and run through your headphones, and you can also access the music on your phone through C25K, so you don't have to toggle between apps.
And once you breeze through this program, you get to graduate to the 10K version!
If you're following the C25K program, that's exactly how you'll get started. But even if you'd rather go at it alone, just begin by power-walking around your hood for a few weeks, maybe aiming for more speed and elevation with each new session. Everything counts in building that cardio base, and you might just get the itch to break into a jog after awhile.
As someone who gets bored very easily, I need distractions while I exercise—and for me, that means changing my running route every single time. One of my big motivators is looking at running as a way to explore every corner of my neighborhood, and I've found some of my favorite boutiques and coffee shops this way. I even turn it into a game of sorts: My hood has these amazing historic staircases hidden all over the place, so I make it my mission to find a different one each time I lace up my sneakers.
They definitely serve their purpose, particularly if you're blitzing through a variety of exercise intervals at the gym. But when you're trying to make running alone feel less like a chore, stepping off the machine and heading outside is probably wise.
Practically speaking, not giving yourself a break is a recipe for injury. But your sanity is at stake, too—easing yourself into it by logging runs just two or three times a week will feel manageable and prevent burnout.
It's not just about maintaining a well-rounded fitness regimen—you'd be amazed at how much easier running feels and how quickly you can increase your mileage when you have a great strength base to begin with. Try to make time for strength or resistance training at least once a week. And if you're feeling sore or overworked at all, try replacing on of your runs with a restorative yoga class for quicker recovery.
It's not news that upbeat music is a great motivator, but I have a few specifics for my own running playlist that I swear by. For starters, my general rule of thumb is that if it's the kind of song I really love dancing around my apartment to, it's a great song for running. (When I'm lagging around mile three and "No Scrubs" comes on, I instantly go back into beast mode.) It also helps if I know all the lyrics, since singing along in my head is a nice distraction. Finally, I try not to listen to the songs on my running playlist outside of running, so that I don't run the risk of getting sick of them and then feeling bored.
If you've downloaded the C25K app, you're already technically on a training program—why not put something concrete on the goal line as an extra push? Don't let the idea of a "race" intimidate you; you can be as competitive as you want, even if that means not at all. They're more fun than anything else, and the energy of the crowd running alongside you is infectious. Enlist a buddy to sign up with you!
I think part of the reason why I detested running for so long is that I always felt like I was being forced to do it against my will—it was a necessary evil of being in shape. When I decided to try it again, the fact that it was on my own terms led to a chain reaction of positive association: Once I actually started running again, I began to notice the good things about it, like having some time to myself and exploring my city. Then I started breaking out my sneakers whenever I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and it became downright therapeutic.
It's a tricky balance for sure: You need to practice some tough love in order to establish the habit (especially in the beginning), but you also don't want to push yourself to the point of resenting running altogether. (Remember, we're trying to associate good feelings.) On the other hand, I rarely wake up thinking, I'm just so excited to run! So I employ the five-minute rule: Usually within five minutes of running, my grouchiness fades, I get in my rhythm, and I realize I'm glad I made myself get out of bed. But if I'm still feeling like crap after five minutes, then I call it, head back home, and vow to get out there again in a couple of days.
On the other hand, if you really just want or need to skip a run, don't beat yourself up about it. Again, I sometimes go weeks without jogging at all, and I think that's why we continue to get along—in order to maintain our fragile relationship, we need a little distance every now and then.
What's your relationship with running like? Tell us your story (and tips!) in the comments below!