At first, I ran to get in shape. At a young age—still obsessed with personal image—looking good was all the motivation required. However, too much drive and impatience lead to injury and burnout after a few weeks. This cycle, driven by alternating motivations, repeated itself for nearly ten years. Finally, I think I’ve figured out how to be a runner and enjoy it.
I gained twenty pounds in first year of university. It must have been the pizza. Or maybe the lack of exercise. Actually, it was probably was both. I needed to get in shape, fast, so I did what most people probably do in that situation. I took up running.
Sure, I had run before, but was never a runner. Running was always part of something else like a sport or gym class. In that context, running was fun. Running on its own, however, was not fun. At least not at first.
My first time running was a disaster. I put my shoes on, went outside, ran for forty-five minutes, did something that I thought resembled stretching, and went back inside. This did not go well. After only a few sessions I was in so much pain from shin splints that I didn’t want to think about running ever again – so I thought.
It’s probably different for everybody, but I first found enjoyment in running after switching to minimalist shoes. I think it was the way they changed my form. I ran more smoothly, quickly, and effortlessly. The switch wasn’t easy, though. I still fell victim to the same overuse injuries, but this time was different. I was no longer motivated by getting in shape. I was motivated by the feeling I got from the act of running itself. I loved it.
I remember my first enjoyable run like it was yesterday. I had been building up my strength over the previous few months and was now running close to five to ten kilometers at a time. About halfway through my run I suddenly felt different. It sounds silly, but it felt like my body was operating itself, leaving my mind to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and think freely. It is that very feeling that I still chase today. The runner’s high.
When running is enjoyable, it’s easier to forget about improving speed. Instead, think about improving technique and fluidity. In time, the muscles will get stronger and the improved technique will reduce the impact of running on the body and, in turn, help improve distance and speed.
So, after starting and stopping running dozens of times over the last ten years, I have three pieces of advice:
- Don’t be hard on yourself
- Improving technique, not speed
- Be patient
Every time I get burnt out, lose motivation, or get distracted by life, I always find that focusing on these three things help bring me back into running. Hopefully they will do the same for you as well.