Let’s start with a disclaimer. I am not a marathoner and I am not a professional athlete. I am someone trying my best to live healthy. Most of the fun runs I’ve joined were 5ks. I eat with no restrictions and believe that the key to everything is moderation. I try to run short distances regularly, around 30minutes a day, at least 3 times a week. So between you and I, there is probably not much difference in the number of kilometers we both are capable of running.
In the course of my love-hate relationship with running I have realized that keeping motivated to run is not that easy. Like most people, I know how it feels to pant like a dog with every kilometer you run. I know how it is to feel so lazy you don’t even want to get off the couch, even though your mind is screaming for you to put on those running shoes. I am one of those who sometimes get tempted to eat a little too much pizza and afterwards feel so guilty about it, I decide to run like there is no tomorrow. I don’t have a tri-athlete’s endurance, but that won’t ever stop me from running.
When I started, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to run even a kilometer. What motivated me to start running was my conviction to maintain a certain weight and to gain endurance. It can be hard to start running, especially when it is your first time or when you didn’t have a good experience in your first try but that shouldn’t discourage you.
Of course there are so many other ways to keep yourself fit in terms of flexibility, strength, and agility, but running is one of the cheapest and most effective way to build endurance. All you need are shoes and an open space, no need to pay monthly fees. Plus you get to tone up your quads and gastrocnemius.
Despite all the excuses there is that keeps you from running, tell yourself you’ll feel better if you did. Instead of just wishing you could run like that hot guy/girl next door, why don’t you just do it. I too had the same struggles when I started running. To overcome them I taught myself a lot of things and tried a lot of ways. I’d like to share a few of them here because I know now that it did help me a lot and I’m hoping it will help others too.
1. Make it your decision.
I’ve realized that this probably was the most important way that made me start a habit of running. No one told me I had to run, for whatever reason. I decided on my own to start running. I felt that I had to improve physically and this was what I saw as one of the ways to increase my endurance.
I was overweight in high school and from being 70 plus kilograms when I graduated, I became 60 something in college just by changing my diet alone. I kept eating healthy and started counting calories and eventually I plummeted down to around 58kg. I have a height of 5ft 2in and genetically endowed with big bones. At that weight my BMI was still within normal. I’ll talk about the challenges I had to lose weight in another post, but for the meantime I’ll talk more about running.
After a certain period, even with dieting I wasn’t losing weight as fast as I did at the start. In hindsight I’ve learned that this is normal and that I must have reached a plateau in my weight loss. So I started to think about exercising. I never had any kind of sport in high school, so I was really hesitant to start running. The only way I thought I could be motivated to exercise was by joining a club. When I heard about the UP Dragonboat Team, I joined. It was spur of the moment but probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
During the Boracay International Dragonboat Festival (©PDBF)
Joining a sporting team made me realize that I had to improve myself physically. I told myself it’s about time I should start running. From an overweight girl who can’t even run 15 minutes straight, I decided I wanted to join a 5 kilometer run.
In order to keep motivated at anything, it must be done according to your own will. If you start running just because you were forced to or was peer pressured by someone else, then keeping the habit of running won’t be that easy. Once that little nudge is gone, you get lazy too. But if you wake up and one day realize with conviction that you WANT to run and you HAVE to run, then by all means get your running shoes. Nothing beats that amazing feeling you have after you finished a run and achieved your personal goal. With each goal reached, there is positive feedback to keep running and to keep pushing your limits. So decide to run now and keep at it.
2. Set achievable goals
When I started, I knew for sure I wouldn’t be able to run 5 kilometers straight without walking intervals. So I told myself it was okay. I decided to run at least half the distance from the US Embassy to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (about 1km), then walk for 5 minutes and start jogging again afterwards. It was like that on my 1st month – intervals of run, jog, and walk, with the goal of finishing two laps from the US Embassy to the Cultural Center and back to the embassy again. The day after I first started, my thighs hurt so much! I couldn’t climb stairs without feeling the burn, but in a way I was proud of myself.
Badminton game after a short run
3. Push your limit
One day, I decided to join my very first fun run. I paid P500 for it, so I put pressure on myself to finish the race running all the way. That time I knew I am able to do it, but not without much panting and this feeling that your heart would burst with the rate it is beating. I decided to push my limit while training for that run. I tried to not do the walking intervals anymore. It didn’t matter if I slowed down, as long as I didn’t walk. I did intervals of jog and run only and timed myself.
After my first 5k run
I was able to finish my first race, yay! But the most important thing for me was that, I was able to set a new goal for myself. I didn’t really care that I may have finished among the slow runners. I was happy that I surpassed my old goal. By pushing my limit, I made myself improve.
When you’ve already tried running and you’ve been sticking to a certain goal time or distance for weeks now, try to increase it little by little. Step up to a new level, making sure you’re not tearing any ligament. Or when you haven’t started running yet but do brisk walking, push your limit. Try to lift your thighs a little higher, make your strides a little quicker, and push your foot off the ground a little harder. You can do it!
4. Have enough rest
This is probably the least appreciated way that leads to a habit of running, but this is very important to remember. When you’re sleep-deprived and you run, you probably won’t have 100% energy. You feel sluggish and weak, so instead of feeling good after a run you feel even worse. Because you are not in your best form, you won’t be able to achieve the goal you set for yourself and so you get disheartened and think about quitting.
Once you’ve made the decision to run, support it with your lifestyle. Give your body the rest it needs so that when it’s time for your run you are in your best form. Skip surfing the internet aimlessly for tonight and sleep an hour earlier, that way the next day/night your body is ready for all the action.
5. Adapt yourself for running
When I feel like I’ve overeaten for days and gained weight, I feel the effect in terms of how far I am able to run before my body feels like giving up. It is so much easier to run when you are lighter. Also it puts lesser strain on your ankles and knees, so you can cover more distances without the increased risk for injuries. We should make lifestyle modifications that would put us in a better shape for running.
Trying to eat healthy
A common misconception to running is the idea that it can make you lose weight. It will help, but you’ll probably lose more weight by eating the right kind food at the right amount than running 1 hour each day. Don’t decide to run so you can lose weight. Lose weight so you can run.
6. It’s all in the mind
Our brains don’t have legs for running but it can make or break our running performance. Before I start running, I try to imagine the place I’m going to run at. Then I imagine myself running and meeting my personal goal. I see in my head the length and the rate of my strides. In a way, I am mentally conditioning myself for a run.
Music helps when you’re mentally conditioning yourself. I find that when I run without music and I hear my breaths I get tired easily, but when there is music filling my head, it’s easier to tell yourself to keep running. You just try to pace yourself with the beat of the song.
If you think you can’t do it, then you probably won’t be able to. And that sucks. Tell yourself you will be able to run well and try. When in the middle of a run you feel like it’s getting too tiring, motivate yourself. Tell yourself to reach one more lap, and when you make that lap, tell yourself to do one more.
7. Have fun
Some things are better done in groups and running can be one of those. It’s so much fun to run with friends and it makes the decision to start running even easier (just make sure it was you who made the invite or that you already decided on running before your friends invited you for a run).
Night run with friends
Whenever you run with friends you realize that it’s not just you who gets tired, and so you realize that you really do have time to improve your running performance. It also makes running more enjoyable. When you enjoy doing something, you want to keep doing it. The most important thing here is to have fun. If you find that running doesn’t make you feel happy, then stop. There is no point in trying to kill yourself doing what you don’t enjoy.
8. Make time for running
I have mentioned I try to run at least 3 times a week. If you notice that’s actually just a minimum compared to what others are doing. I know someone who runs an hour each day, but I don’t feel bad because I know that three times a week is better than nothing at all.
If you have lots of work to do or have so many responsibilities, try to take a small time for yourself. Twenty to thirty minutes in a day is enough for a run, and it’s enough to keep your mind off the stress too. We are all busy people, even when we’re doing nothing, we’re busy doing nothing.
I get a glimpse of San Juan City Hall at night whenever I squeeze in a run after duty
If the schedule is hectic and you feel so stressed, stop for a while and run. If you have an exam you’re preparing for, take a 20min break to run. You’re from duty at the hospital? Sleep for 4 hours after taking a shower and when you wake up, run. Make time or you will always have no time.