Not a Natural Runner
Growing up, there was one day that would strike fear and panic into my heart: mile day. Twice a year my school would make us complete fitness tests, including a timed one-mile run. I hated it. I hated running. With an hour glass figure and knock-knees, I definitely do not have a natural “runner’s build.” I also had bad allergies and exercise-induced asthma growing up, so just being able to breath was half of the battle of running. Mile day would leave me pink-faced and wheezing in a ill-fitting sports bra. My legs would flail about in a zigzag pattern while I desperately tried to not be the very last person to finish. I was a mess. I was a bad runner. And it was embarrassing.
Middle and high school taught me that running was just another vehicle for my public humiliation. Despite my natural un-athleticism, I did play on my school’s field hockey team. I’d venture to say I was actually decent at the sport. However, running continued to be my weak spot. I’d dread summer conditioning camps, which were basically hours of running and drills in the summer heat, as if suicide sprints in temperate weather weren’t tortuous enough. I still remember the pang of shame as I continually dragged behind all of the other girls.
Learning to Enjoy Running
Graduating high school meant graduating from forced running. I felt so liberated knowing no one in my adult life could ever force me to run. I planned to never run a mile again in my life, because, well, it sucked. But fast forward 7 years, and I willingly ran a half-marathon… what happened?
After high school, I stuck to cardio machines whenever I worked out: the elliptical, stair-master, stationary bike, etc. It wasn’t until I started seeking to make major changes in my physical health (see that whole story here) that I decided to try running again. I’m not exactly sure why I decided to do it… I guess it just seemed like a thing a lot of healthy people did? When I started running on my own, without being timed by a coach or teacher and without a bunch of my peers watching me, waiting for me to finish, I discovered I maybe kind of liked it.
There were a few things that made running as an adult a total different experience than running in a gym class growing up:
I set the rules for my runs
I no longer had to struggle to achieve a goal set by someone else. It was up to me whether I aimed to run a half mile or two miles or 1.3 miles. Or, I could not track my distance at all. I no longer received a grade and all that mattered was my effort. The beautiful thing about running as an adult is that you set the rules, and your goals get to be based on your physical abilities – not some stranger’s standards.
I could alternate walking and running
I can’t even guess the number of times a coach or gym teaching yelled at me to stop walking. It was ingrained in my head that to “go for a run” you had to be running the entire time. So, if I wanted to run a mile, no matter how out of shape I was, I better run that whole mile or I failed. The thing is though, in real life, you can walk. In fact, doing walking / running intervals was what really helped me build up my endurance when I first started running.
Runs became “me” time
Sometimes I say that running is like meditation for me; it allows me to pull inward and focus on my thoughts and breathing until my surroundings suddenly blur away. That being said, I’ve only tried real meditation once, so my concept of what mediation is could be entirely off. Either way, it gave me time to detach from my daily duties and be more introspective. For me, running became a great mode of self-care.
My moods improved
Ever hear of a runner’s high? My body loves endorphines. I find regular exercise, especially running, keeps me in a more upbeat disposition. I don’t know all of the science behind it, but I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. In the immortal words of Elle Woods ” Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husband.” But in all seriousness, running is great for your mental health.
From Half Mile to Half Marathon
After I started getting back into running, I decided to set a goal for myself of doing a 5k race, just to see what it was like. I was nervous it would bring flashbacks of gym class, but I actually loved it. Everyone is so positive and cheering each other on… you really feed off the excitement. I finished the race at a faster pace than I expected and decided I wanted to see how much further I could go. Next thing I knew, I was signing up for a half-marathon.
Running a half-marathon was awesome. It was one of those bucket list items for me, and a chance to prove to myself I am totally capable of big things. At the same time, it was a short enough distance that I didn’t need to spend years training or have to worry about it taking a toll on my body.
Would I do it again? Sure, but I’m not in a big hurry. It’s been a few yearsand I haven’t had a burning desire to sign up for another one yet. For me, the thing I enjoy the most about running is the sense of freedom it gives me. Suddenly, I had particular mileage to hit on certain days and a strict routine to follow. By the time the race was over, I was ready for a little break from a training schedule.
Personally, I’m happiest when I take a “jack of all trades” approach to fitness. I enjoy variety and like having flexibility in my routines. Plus, over the past few years, I’ve been a lot more focused on building strength. So, I still run a few times a week, but I don’t follow any specific training plans. I couldn’t run a half-marathon tomorrow without being in a lot of pain… but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll run another race again soon (they are a lot of fun!) or maybe I won’t. You don’t have to run in races or even be able to run a certain amount of miles.
Recommendations for Beginners
If you truly hate running, don’t do it. There are a ton of other options out there to improve your cardio health: cycling, swimming, hiking, dancing, and so on. That being said, my point of this post is that you don’t have to be a natural runner to enjoy running. I think there’s a lot of people out there who would enjoy actually running if they gave it a chance.
If you’re like me and running brings back traumatic memories, starting to run can seem a little daunting. Just remember, you set the rules and no one is judging you. If you don’t know where to start and enjoy a little structure & guidance, I’d recommend checking out Couch25k. It’s a great plan (there’s an app too) for true beginners to gradually build up their endurance.