Photo by Martina Valmassoi.
The Path To Loving Running
It’s not easy dragging yourself out of bed at 5 a.m. to go for a run. Slogging through a race in the freezing rain is even less enjoyable. Let’s not forget knee injuries, hamstring pulls, shin splints and plantar fasciitis. All of this is enough to make many athletes hate running.
The dirty little secret for some runners is that they actually do hate it—or, at the very least, they started out hating the sport and found a way to love it. So how do you excel in a sport you don’t like?
“You need to start with your definition of ‘excel,’” says Michelle Allain Gillingham, a 32-year-old triathlete in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “I wouldn’t consider myself excelling at running. I don’t even consider myself a runner.”
Gillingham admits to needing an occasional push out the door. For her, triathlons felt more manageable because running is only one part of the race. Over time, her relationship with running started to change. Eventually, she began to appreciate slapping her shoes on and getting outdoors.
“Me and running? We’ve made amends. We get along now,” she says.
Gillingham is not the only one who has struggled with the sport. Take Rose O’Sullivan who, at 67, has run marathons in all 50 states as well as in Antarctica and even along the Great Wall of China. She has completed 100 marathons so far, and she’s not done. But she admits running isn’t always her best friend.
“I don’t love it, but I love what it does for me,” she explains. “It’s the runner’s high.”
O’Sullivan, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., started running about 20 years ago when the youngest of her five children was headed to college. Staring at an empty nest, she decided to focus on something else. She caught the running bug when an older friend completed a marathon. There’s one thing, however, that in her opinion makes the sport worthwhile. “I still don’t think of myself as the running type, but I love my medals,” O’Sullivan says with a laugh. “I’m like a kid. I grew up poor in Ireland, so to have these medals is like jewelry.”
Abby Levene, a 27-year-old ultrarunner in Boulder, Co., agrees that running is hard. But it’s also one of the few things for which putting the time and effort in can make it more fun. “Running is masochistic, but it has its appeal,” Levene acknowledges. “Nothing in life that’s rewarding is easy.”
Levene was a swimmer in college. Swimming eventually turned into running, though that transition wasn’t easy for Levene. At some point, something clicked and she started warming up to the sport, excited by the opportunity to get outside and enjoy her surroundings. “The more you run, the easier it gets,” Levene said. “That feeling of improvement can be so rewarding.”
If running is completely joyless for you, it may be time to find another hobby, says David Roche, co-owner of SWAP Adventure Team and Levene’s trail-running coach. Even so, Roche points out that there are reasons to not like running initially. “If you’re just getting started or going too hard, it may suck—and that’s okay,” Roche says. “The key is to dial in what ‘easy’ actually means for you. It’s okay to run really, really slow.”
Cat Bradley, an ultrarunner who just recently finished the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in the top 10, agreed with Roche that easing up on running to improve may seem paradoxical, but it actually works.
“My advice is to slow down,” Bradley explains. “Prioritize running somewhere that inspires you, whether that be a boardwalk or a trail, and find running buddies to help you through the days when anything sounds better than a jog.”
Marian Petrie, a certified trainer at Rye Health and Fitness in Rye, N.Y., who works with O’Sullivan, believes cross-training is the key to breaking up the daily monotony of running and approaches clients with what she calls a “360-degree” way of training. “Whenever we’re talking long distance and endurance, you need core [strength] and balance,” Petrie says, adding that runners need to move their bodies in different directions every day. “Resistance allows endurance to increase. Everybody wants to run faster and longer, but they need to focus on feeding other parts of the body.”
Whether you love running already or are still trying to convince yourself to fully embrace the sport, one thing remains true: It always feels good crossing that finish line.