These days, running may be an exercise many of us are turning to in order to stay fit.
And so, begrudgingly, I began to consider running for exercise — something that I really hadn’t done since I was a high school athlete. Back then, I only ran because other sports necessitated it, and running was a means to an end that had nothing to do with a finish line. Also, as someone with a larger build, I felt that my body wasn’t designed to run on a regular basis, and certainly not distances beyond the half-marathon that I completed a few months prior to our oldest (twins) being born.
But thousands of running miles later, with knees, hips, and a back that thankfully feel as good or better than before I started (in addition to a much better health profile), I’ve come to realize that running is not only an opportunity for many more to consider, but also one of the most accessible options for exercise no matter where you live. It’s a great option for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for decades to come — as well as right now when many of us cannot get to the gym or have access to our usual exercise outlets. (It goes without saying that as with any change to your health and wellness routines, be sure to consult with your doctor.)
Over these years of running, I’ve discovered keys to making it both enjoyable and sustainable. Here are my top 10 tips.
1Healthier eating (as well as sleeping better) are the biggest keys.
When I first started running, I had consistent periods of chest discomfort that I initially thought were cardiac related. On further testing and a gradual move to a more whole food, water-based diet, I realized these issues had more do with heartburn and other GI issues that running exacerbated. Beyond these particular concerns, there’s no doubt that eating better and sleeping well facilitate a body system that “runs” much better, like a car does with good oil and gasoline.
2Run less, not more.
Connected with #3, many of us would serve ourselves much better to cut down on our running miles, not add to them. Over the years, even having done a number of official and unofficial marathons and 4 races of 50+ miles, I have never run more than 3 days a week and never on back-to-back days, all the while running faster and longer than I ever thought possible. This might not be a recipe for elite performance, but it sure is one for sustaining it longer for those of us who aren’t born and bred to run.
3Consider cross training.
This dovetails with #2, and is how I’ve been able to do long distances on less running. Although some experts don’t recommend resistance training with running (as they often do with triathlons), I’ve had a twice a week, full body (high rep/low weight) routine that I know has aided my body in so many ways, including reducing injury potential. In addition, as a triathlete, I bike and swim regularly and have a core/stretching routine that allows me to stay in running shape even when I’m running just six miles or so per week.
4Running outside year-round provides all sort of joys.
One of the great things about running is that it can be done at all times of year, in all types of weather, including ice or snow (which, ironically is safer than walking – contact me and I’ll explain). Although it takes appropriate clothing, running outside in all seasons provides a lot of beauty and variation which helps sustain a running habit. It might seem a little more complicated than jumping on a treadmill, but any complications or brief discomforts are overshadowed by natural joys that never get old.
5Varying routes keeps it interesting.
All of us runners have our tried and true routes. But I have found that exploring different routes and even changing it up from loops, to out & backs, or one way runs to relative’s homes, keeps it from becoming just the same old grind.
6Consider running trails, not just roads.
Although running trails requires adjusting to a different style, and I believe is best in cooler seasons when bugs are at bay and trails are clearer, I have found that 60 minutes on the trail often seems to go by quicker than 30 minutes on the road. Also, trail running, although not without its hazards (e.g., keep an eye on foot placement), has definitely taught me how to be a more efficient runner overall.
Here’s an idea for beginner runners — or even those who have done it for a while. Start out at your usual pace for 60 seconds, and then immediately back down to a more comfortable stride; for newer runners, walk at regular junctures. One of the things that makes running least enjoyable is starting off too fast, and then finding yourself winded before the run has hardly begun.
8Run for time, not distance.
One of the best tricks I’ve discovered is that running for time, not distance, seems to make the run go quicker. There is something about just setting an amount of time to run (and not looking repeatedly at your watch), and then letting the distance take care of itself. Once you get to know your normal pace, you can easily set a time that will cover your distance needs, even if you’re training for a race.
9Don’t overdress – your body will provide the necessary heat.
There’s an old rule of running that says if you’re comfortable (temp wise) at the starting line, you’re wearing too much clothing. Over the years, I have seen countless people bundled up for a run on a 50-degree day like they were going skiing. I realize that people have various temperature thresholds. But as excessive heat increases heart rate and respiration, which in turn makes running more unpleasant and difficult, don’t be afraid to feel a little chillier in the first mile so the rest of the run is more comfortable.
10Run with people who like to run (when the social distancing guidelines subside).
I will end with the most obvious tip. Although I do at least 95% of my training alone, it’s the 5% of my runs (and rides) with others that remind me how pleasurable it can be. Find yourself a running group with good conversationalists and you may wonder where the time has gone.
If you have questions related to the deeper ways you can sustain running or other ideas and thoughts you would love to share, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am by no means an expert runner (although I’ve learned a lot from those who are), but I’ve certainly been blessed to exceed my expectations in an endeavor I once only did only because I had to.
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