I have to be honest: while there are days when running is exhilarating and I get into “the zone”, there are other days when running feels like drudgery and just a chore I need to do. So how do you make sure you enjoy every mile of your run regardless of how fast you’re going or how good you’re feeling?
I find that running with someone always helps lighten the load. Whether with chatter or companionable silence, having a running buddy or a group makes the miles fly by. This also has the very positive effect of encouraging you to show up for a run session because someone’s counting on you to be there.
You can also try running with a dog. If you have a dog but have never run with them before, it’s best to get your vet’s go-signal, followed by a training period with your pet on a leash to build up the mileage and speed you run with them. Certain breeds are better built for running, especially those bred for extra stamina and agility like working dogs such as sheepdogs, retrievers, and collies. Just remember that dogs don’t sweat like humans do, so take frequent water breaks and work out in cooler temperatures such as early morning or evening to keep them from overheating.
When going solo, running with music helps! According to research done on the effects of music on exercise, music can distract you from the discomfort of exercise, increase your desire to move, and can make you move in time to the beat. Faster-tempo music has also been shown to motivate people to exercise harder. Even if they are training harder, people rate their level of exertion as lower than if they had trained without music. And of course, listening to music you like is pleasurable in itself.
Conversely, you can shut off the music, turn off the gadgets, and treat running as meditation, an exercise in mindfulness. Staying in the present moment listening to your breathing and letting thoughts positive or negative just pass through can be done whether you’re sitting quietly cross-legged or jogging through the city. Focusing on the sensations of your body moving, the smell of the air you’re breathing, the sights around you, and how your body is responding to exercise keeps your mind from wandering and worrying. Acceptance of what your body on that particular day is capable of performing, and not watching your speed or distance or time on your watch, is also very freeing. So forget about pace or distance when you do this kind of running.
You can vary the pace during your run to keep things from getting boring. A fartlek (“speedplay” in Swedish) is a continuous run that mixes slow-paced running with spurts of faster-paced running. This allows you to recover in between hard efforts and makes things interesting when done while incorporating urban terrain. You can try sprinting from one light pole to another, jog to the corner, then sprint again towards another pole, a mailbox, or a plant box. You can also do a version of a fartlek by playing songs and running faster during the chorus and slower during the verses. If you’re running in a place frequented by others, you can also try speeding up to overtake the nearest runner, then slow down to recover — although this can bait the other runner into doing the same thing and turn into a race!
Set simple and reasonable goals to achieve on every run. It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew; aiming for a 15-kilometer run on your first week of running will leave you feeling tired, achey, and if you’re unable to make up the distance you set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, aim for finishing a certain distance or time running all the way, or running up a particular hill feeling strong. When you can tick these off it gives you a feeling of accomplishment, which can fuel motivation for your future runs.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated. A run can quickly turn tortuous if your throat is parched and you start seeing mirages. Bringing a water bottle or a hydration belt can keep thirst at bay for shorter runs. For longer runs, keep some money on you to pay for refills at convenience stores you plan to pass along the way. A food stop can also do wonders for your mood and can act as a little body and brain break before you set off once again.
Lastly, run in places you enjoy. Treadmills are great at getting the job done, but nothing beats running outdoors where you can see the world go by. Find a new running route, or frequent your favorite one. When the sights on your route are something you look forward to, it makes getting out the door much easier. Maybe you love the loop in your neighborhood because it allows you to see your other friends out running. Maybe you can find that view of the sea another runner once raved to you about.
Every day out running is different, but what matters is the attitude you take towards your run. When you’re determined to enjoy yourself no matter what, you will definitely enjoy every step of every mile.
This blog post also appears on Thanyapura.com.