How I Learned to Not Hate Running
A few months ago, I took a walk with my husband one evening in our new neighborhood. People jogged past us, motivating music quietly thumping in their earbuds and dogs panting as they trotted along. I sighed and complained that my short legs and thick thighs would never allow me to be a runner. My husband commented, “Well, of course you hate running because you’ve never gotten past the first mile. That part is hard for everyone. I bet you would really enjoy running if you gave it a chance.”
I took this suggestion as a personal challenge and decided that night that I was going to run a 5k as an experiment. I would use the Couch to 5k schedule and if I worked my way up to running 3 miles and still hated it, I would know that running was truly not for me. Secretly, I wanted the program to work so that I could get better at something that has always been a weakness.
Throughout middle school, I distinctly remember the week of the presidential fitness test, where all students had to demonstrate how many push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups they could do, as well as their fastest mile. On the running day, when I was in 6th grade, I made myself throw up so that I wouldn’t have to run. I was always so slow that the teacher would give me a pity high-five when I eventually stumbled, red-faced and gasping for air, back into the classroom from the parking lot. For my entire life, I passionately hated running and avoided the activity whenever possible.
Despite my negative relationship with running, I did something different and was able to finish the entire “Couch to 5k” program by following these four pieces of advice:
1. Use technology wisely
I used an app called C25K that announced whenever it was time to start running or walking so I didn’t need to look at a timer. Each workout consisted of intervals of running and walking. The first workouts started at running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds, then built up to running for five minutes and walking for one. I ran three times a week and every workout pushed me to run a little bit more and walk a little bit less.
Before I ran, I downloaded upbeat, motivating playlists on Apple Music so I felt like I was having my own personal dance party. I used the pre-made song queue so I had no reason to change the song or search for a different album during my run. I also used the Rock my Run app to manipulate the BPM of songs to match my running pace.
2. Make your running time special
The first few weeks, I ran in the mornings before work and enjoyed exploring the neighborhood before anyone else, including the sun, was up. I liked the cool pre-dawn temperature and it was so satisfying to check my workout off my to-do list before 6am. Before I went to sleep, I chose a route for my run in the morning so I wouldn’t have to make the decision at 5:30am and so I could be excited about seeing a different part of the neighborhood where we had just moved.
I also treated myself to a nice pair of running shorts and an elastic waistband that holds my phone so it doesn’t get gross and sweaty in my hand. These small incentives made a big difference in my motivation to run; I knew that I was going to be comfortable during my run because my gear was not going to be a distraction. It’s difficult to have a good time when your hair tie breaks or your ears hurt from cheap headphones.
3. An end goal
During week three, I decided to sign up for a 5k race to ensure that I finished the whole program. I found the Spooky Duke run in Boone, NC, and registered because it was only 2 weeks after the scheduled end of my program and it was a short drive from my home. I texted my dad (a fitness guru) and asked him to run it with me. Now, I had $40 and another human counting on me to be ready for race day. Sometimes intrinsic motivation isn’t enough to get you out the door.
Running the 5k also helped me feel like I had accomplished something and made me reflect on the progress I had made. Ultimately, the goal was to form a long-term habit of running, but celebrating milestones is important to feeling successful and to continue working towards a larger goal.
4. Celebrating progress, not perfection
A few weeks into the program, the workouts got harder and I struggled to finish them completely. I had to take walking breaks at the top of hills even though at this point in the program, I was “supposed” to be able to jog for 28 minutes without walking. Two weeks before the Spooky Duke 5k, I got strep throat and couldn’t run for several days. On the day of the race, I knew I wasn’t going to magically be able to run the whole way. With my dad cheering me on, we ran the first two miles and then took a couple of walking breaks before making the final push to the finish line. My official time was not impressive and I didn’t meet my original goal, so it was hard to feel triumphant in the moment.
After some reflection, I understand now that at the end of the 5k, I was measuring myself with the wrong scale. My goal, initially, was to attempt the Couch to 5k program to see if I really hated running. I didn’t care about running fast or running for a certain distance. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could learn to not hate running.
So, my husband was right. I made it past the first mile and I liked it. And I think I might keep going.