You’re not alone if waking up before dawn, putting on a pair of tiny shorts, and grinding out the mileage prescribed by a training plan doesn’t get you excited about running. You’re also not alone if you run but kind of hate it—or go through phases where running feels more like a “have-to” than a “get-to.” But listen up: Running doesn’t have to suck. The key to unlocking enjoyable miles is knowing yourself well and playing to your strengths. Here are five key strategies from the newly released book, Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It), that will help you turn that self-knowledge into a much more enjoyable running experience.
1. Find Your Flow. Not everyone’s a morning person. Some people will thrive by blowing off steam during the workday, or lacing up for a run at the end of the day. Listen to your body and your mental clock to determine your ideal time to run. Likewise, finding the ideal kind of running for your interests helps you find your flow, too. If you’re a mountain biker, rock climber, or skier, for instance, you’ll likely enjoy trail running more than pounding the pavement or treadmill. If you play sports like basketball or football, you might enjoy the intensity of doing intervals on a track.
2. Find Your Match. Extroverts thrive in running clubs and on group runs, which give them the chance to make friends while logging miles. Introverts will likely prefer some alone time or enjoy bonding one-on-one with a running partner. Running with a pup can be a great motivator for dog lovers, and new dads might enjoy pushing babies or toddlers in a jogging stroller (bonus: it’s also a strength workout). We all have ideal running scenarios, but mixing things up can be a good idea, too.
3. Buy Great Gear. There’s no magic bullet running shoe for everyone, but finding a pair that works for you can increase your enjoyment and decrease your chance of injury, too. “Each individual runner’s mechanics, how they move, how they run, where they run, their foot shape, how the surface of their foot interacts with the interior of a shoe all adds up to proper options for that particular runner,” says Mark Plaatjes, physical therapist, past marathon World Champion, and owner of In Motion Running in Boulder, Colorado. Bottom line: Go shopping.
4. Start Where You Are. “There is no harm in going out too easy, especially when you’re starting out,” says running coach and author Matt Fitzgerald. If you’re coming from another high-intensity sport and have good cardiovascular fitness (your engine), you still need to ease into running to give your musculoskeletal system (your chassis) time to adapt. Likewise, if you’re coming from a strength-oriented sport, like weightlifting, you’ll have a strong chassis but need to ease into running to let your engine catch up.
5. Keep Your Parts Working. Running hurts, but (hopefully) most of the pain is good pain. To keep good pains from turning bad, listen to your body and practice some self-care, like foam rolling. “Knots and trigger points are normal in muscle tissue,” says physical therapist Charlie Merrill. How long should you roll a sore spot? Merrill says to think of it like tenderizing a steak. “You’re not gonna sit there and bang on it with a hammer for 10 minutes, because then it’ll be flat and then taste like shit.”
Instead, roll for a couple of minutes to increase blood flow, which will help your sore muscles recover for your next run. Because now you might just love it.
Lisa Jhung is the author of Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It), available now.