As an activity that (for me) feels like primal instinct, running is a pastime I have endeavoured to incorporate into my lifestyle for years. As a child, running came naturally and was nothing short of joyful. As an adult, I yearned to get back out there and achieve that sense of flying freedom, obtained when you find your rhythmical stride, pounding along the track. After several failed attempts to attain such fulfilment, I would ultimately give up. Frustrated at my breathlessness and my tight and painful chest, I laboured under the illusion that I was incapable of ever maintaining a steady run.
Still yearning to improve my fitness and plagued by a desire to run, this year I made it my goal to start jogging and actually persevere through the difficulties. Now, after a few learning curves, I wish I had done so sooner. I have discovered how to be patient with my body, be humble and respect slowness, quietly working on building my strength day by day, run by run. Yesterday, I ran 10K, consistently and without stopping — a genuine accomplishment for me. I may not be the fastest, but that doesn’t matter! Each run makes me feel appreciative of my body, determined and powerful (amongst many other wonderful feelings).
Upon reflecting on the assumptions and mistakes I made when first trying and failing to stick to a running routine, here is a small list of things I wish I had known when starting out, in the hopes that it can encourage just one other person to challenge themselves to get stronger and fitter, and most importantly, reap the mental benefits that running (and all exercise) can generate for all of us.
Speed does not matter.
One of my biggest problems in the beginning was that I believed I had to run as fast as I could to be worthy of running at all. To me, speed was the measure of success, and when I (of course) couldn’t maintain a rapid sprint for more than a minute, I would get discouraged. Gasping and with sharp pains in my chest, I would limp back home, cursing myself for ever having imagined I was capable of running even a short distance. Thankfully, I uncovered the favourable method of starting slowly. Often, I am in fact irritated at just how slow I begin each run. I may feel impatient and restless, but the beginning of a run is the warm up. The body needs time to adjust from inactivity to subsequently being put through its paces and facing physical exertion. Start slow, and let ‘minutes per mile’ evaporate from your mind as nothing but a trivial insignificance. As you inevitably get stronger, you can increase your pace, but don’t let speed be the ultimate goal. Instead, focus on distance, or simply the means by which you maintain your breathing — controlled and deep, even after a full mile! See every stride as a victory, no matter how ‘slow’. You will no longer be daunted by exhaustion and breathlessness from starting off too quickly. It is likely you find yourself running stronger and farther each time.
Equipment/gear does matter, and can make a huge difference.
When regular running sessions were still just faraway aspirations of mine, it felt silly to invest in good quality gear as it is often expensive, and why bother forking out a huge sum for products that I thought would inevitably end up gathering dust at the bottom of my wardrobe? Since I have been running routinely and for longer distances, the importance of good quality footwear and clothing has become paramount. I didn’t want to keep having to cut my runs short because my thighs were chafing or my sports bra didn’t fit, or worst of all, my trainers were abrading my heels into angry red blisters. If you are comfortable in what you are running in, you will run better and for longer. If running is going to be successfully embraced into your life, then it is worth investing in good products so you can enjoy this exercise to the fullest. You don’t want to be restrained from your true potential. There are plenty of athletic stores that will help fit you for proper running shoes, even going as far as to fit you dependent on the pronation of your foot. Since using good quality gear, such as efficient, sturdy running shoes, moisture-wicking clothing and a supportive sports bra, I have found more bliss in running. I recently basked in pride after completing my longest run to date — something I am able to achieve, in part, because I am not distracted by any discomfort or irritation.
Every single run counts, no matter how short the distance
It is a fantastic feat to run farther than you have before, and it is exciting to set goals for yourself and to achieve them. Having said that, even the best athletes will have days where they don’t want to run. Running is as much a mental activity as it is a physical one. On a day where running is the very last thing you want to do, to get yourself out there and run for a short ten minutes is still a victory. Every single run, no matter how short or far the distance, is an achievement. Personally, I believe we are a better version of ourselves after every run we do, and that’s the same if it is a ten minute jog, a 5K in the park with friends or an hour long session on your own. Previously, if I didn’t feel strong enough to run the 5K I had planned, I would immediately conclude that there was no point in running whatsoever. Luckily, I changed my mindset: if I could get out and run for just fifteen minutes, that was already far greater than not running at all. Take pride in the little things, they all count and can all be enjoyed and celebrated.
Running is beneficial for your mental health as well.
Running has been so positive for my mental wellbeing I cannot even begin to describe. Well, okay — I will try and describe. As someone who really struggles with feelings of failure, amidst a whole load of worry and anxiety about not reaching my full potential, running has been the most wonderful stress relief. I can gather momentum during a run and savour the release of literally sweating out any negative thoughts I may be harbouring. No matter what comes to pass in my life, if I can reflect on a day and proudly proclaim, ‘I ran today‘, then I feel significantly more positive about myself. The process of running is almost meditative for me. Focusing on my breathing, controlling it, staying attuned to the strikes of my feet against the ground; left, right, left, right, left, right. I can shut out negative thoughts and focus solely on my run and how my body feels. Also, it feels awesome to move and get my blood pumping (obviously). Exercise is good for you — that’s common knowledge. For me, it took developing patience with my body to truly value the positives exercise can generate. You won’t be amazing at it right away — like all things, running takes practice. Once you have found that strength and the pace that works best for you, it’s difficult not to become addicted to the process and relish that legitimate runner’s high, encouraging you to persevere with your running routine.
It gets easier, you get better and you will get stronger.
Day one of running may not be the most fun. Perhaps day two will suck as well. If you can have faith in yourself that you will get better, that your muscles will improve and your stamina will flourish, you are more likely to not give up on the process. Once you notice the small improvements, imagine where you will be in a month if you keep it up. Don’t strive for perfection, but enjoy the changes in your body that running cultivates. Embrace the blood pumping vigorously round your body, and have faith that you were meant to do this. Humans aren’t meant to be sedentary beings, we have this body to move and to enjoy what we are capable of. Trust that you will improve and love every minute of the journey both your mind and your body go through.