How to get started with running (as someone who hates it)

For pretty much my whole life, I’ve hated running. I tried playing soccer when I was young and gave up because the running part was awful. For years afterward, I couldn’t even run a full mile. I could hike for hours, but the act of running was just so unpleasant that I couldn’t go more than a few minutes before quitting and switching to walking instead.

My dislike of running really frustrated me. It seemed like a great cardio workout and everyone kept talking about the health benefits, but every time I tried to make myself run I could only stick with it for a week or two before giving up or being forced to stop due to injury/strain. 

But within the last few months, I’ve finally cracked the problem. I can now run straight through a 5K without stopping and I’m continuing to increase my distance over time. It only took a few small adjustments to get there.

If you are facing the same issue–you want to start running, but just can’t seem to get over your dislike of it–I hope that the tricks I’ve learned can help you out as well!

Here is what I changed.

1. I signed up for a race to give myself a goal to work toward.

[Signing up for a race is a great way to give yourself an external motivator to get running! (Though as you’ll see shortly, this is not necessarily the type of race I would recommend)]

Every time I started running in the past, I did it without a goal to work toward. One day I would just decide “I’m going to start running now” and then I would do it. I never set myself a goal of a distance or mile-time I wanted to achieve, and I never had the pressure of a deadline (the date of an event) to get me motivated to keep running. 

Without something to work toward, the “I hate running” side of my brain took over and always convinced me to quit because I wasn’t really losing anything by doing so–I wasn’t failing a goal of any kind and letting myself down–but I was losing a lot by forcing myself to do something I didn’t like. So why keep going?

Once I signed up for an event, this changed. I had a date and a distance goal set–and since I’d already spent money to hold my spot, I felt pressured not to waste the opportunity. If you are a goal oriented person like me, signing yourself up for an event dramatically helps with concrete goal setting and can give you the push that you’re missing if you just jump into running without any specific outcome in mind.

There are a ton of different events out there, and making the right choice can affect your motivation to keep running and improving. I didn’t just choose something randomly, but made calculated choices to help give myself the best chance at actually sticking with running and being prepared when event day came.

I chose an event that would make running more fun.

There are lots of pure running events out there–a standard 5K for example–but if you’re someone who hates running, signing up for a 5K doesn’t exactly seem like a fun idea. Rather than signing up for a normal running race, I decided to pick something that involved running, but where it was not the sole purpose: obstacle course racing. 

[Obstacle course races are a great way to get into running because they distract you from the actual running part! Highly recommend.]

In an obstacle course race, you run a set distance and encounter fun obstacles along the way–a mud pit, monkey bars, a giant slide, or a jump over fire, to name a few (you can read more about what you might see during one of these races in the article I wrote about obstacles here). The obstacles are the main part of the fun, and running is just a way to get you between them. Races like this help you get your mind off the discomfort of running because it no longer is the only thing you are thinking about during the race. Instead, you’re thinking about the awesome slide you’re about to fly down. I did my first race last year (and wrote about what I learned), and the experience made me so excited to keep going–something I’ve never felt with traditional running races.

If normal running doesn’t sound fun to you, pick a more activity-focused race like an obstacle course that breaks up the running with other things. In my experience, it is way more fun.

I signed up for that event with someone who is a better runner than I am.

To help increase my motivation to prepare for my obstacle course race, I signed up do to it with someone who runs regularly. This provided another external source of motivation–I wanted to be able to keep up with (or at least not completely drag down) my teammate. If I didn’t prepare for the race, I would not just be letting myself down, but I’d be letting someone else down too. This made me try much harder than I would if I were just doing a race on my own. 

I picked a race that was within my ability.

If you’re starting from nothing, like I was, the biggest thing you can do for yourself is set a reasonable goal. If you set your sights too high, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I have seen some people jump from not running at all to saying they’re going to try and run a marathon. Going from 0 to 100 may sound like a fun idea (who doesn’t want to be able to run a marathon?), but for most people, your body is just not going to be able to do that.  

Instead of making a big step, start small and work your way up. Sign up for a 5K before you sign up for a 10K. Then, if you get comfortable with these, you can start considering longer races like half marathons. Starting small helps you start to see your potential. As you complete these smaller steps, you can start to build confidence in your abilities, which will make it easier to complete longer and longer runs. If you start with something big and can’t finish, it is much easier to lose motivation and just give up.

I set myself a reasonable timeline.

When I signed up for my race, I scheduled it for a good 7 months or so away, giving myself ample time to prepare. If you are new to running, it can take you a while to get used to it and push past the discomfort stage, so you don’t want to sign up for a race that is only a few weeks away. 

When picking a race, give yourself a few months to prepare, but not too long. If your race is a year out, you may feel like you have ages to prepare, so won’t feel motivated to get started. 

[Whatever you do, don’t sign up for a marathon next month!! Just don’t do it!!!]

2. I decided to run less often.

This one is perhaps a bit counter intuitive at first. The more you run, the better you’ll get, right? That is perhaps true once you are experienced, but it is the opposite of what you want when you’re starting out. 

Going too hard is the easiest way to burn out and injure yourself. 

This is what happened to me in all my previous attempts to get over my hatred of running. Each time I wanted to try running again I’d try to run every day and I always ended up feeling winded after a few days or developing shin splints or some other pain injury. This then made it impossible to keep running, so I’d quit.  

This time, I decided to run way less often–I only run twice per week, usually about three days apart. This schedule has been much more sustainable. I have plenty of time to recover in between runs and haven’t faced any injuries yet. 

It also frees up my time, allowing me to keep my other days for exercises that bring me more joy, like weightlifting or rock climbing. 

When you are just starting, running can feel like a bit of a punishment. Doing it less often dramatically reduces this issue and can help sustain the habit long enough to reach the point where it can actually start to become enjoyable.

3. I found a way to limit excuses getting in my way.

I am someone who is prone to allowing excuses to get in my way of exercise, so to help myself stick with running, I decided to eliminate one of the excuses that was getting in my way the most: weather.

Unlike many other gym activities, running is very weather-dependent. It is very common to run outdoors, and if the weather is bad, you’re not going to want to do it. If you live in a cold or rainy climate, as I do, this can be a huge problem. Who wants to run when it’s pouring rain, snowing, or freezing? If you let those things get in your way, there will be a lot of days when you maybe should run but you don’t.  

[This person has way more willpower than I do. Can they teach me their ways?]

As someone who lives somewhere very cold and snowy, I knew I had to eliminate this issue for myself. I decided to find a gym that had an indoor track and decided to run there when the weather was bad. I would still run outdoors if it was sunny and warm, but otherwise the indoor track would be my go-to. 

After that, I never found myself quitting for weather except for when snowstorms made it physically impossible to get to the gym. 

If you live somewhere with good weather most of the year, this change might not help you much, but it is worth considering other areas where you find yourself regularly making excuses to get out of a run. Perhaps an excuse you use often is “I’m too tired to run after work,” in which case you could try running before work instead. It could be something else entirely–we all have different things happening in our lives–but whatever your excuses may be, it is worth taking time to consider how you might limit their effect.

Making these small changes has led to a huge shift in how I view running. It is now just a normal part of my workout schedule, I don’t find it miserable anymore, and I genuinely look forward to some of the races I’ll be completing.

If you’ve found yourself hating running and want to give it a try, hopefully my experience gives you some inspiration to get started and stick with it.

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