I often get asked how long I have been running. Given that I practically run for a living and that my fellow runners have been running for years (or even since grade school), a lot of people believe that I did Track & Field back in my school years. Therefore, my answer is usually met with surprise. I didn’t start running seriously until late 2013. Prior to that, I had spent months flirting with the idea of running. I would occasionally run, and if given the choice, preferred to do other forms of exercise. I cared very little for running. Before the idea of running came into my head, I had a putrid hatred for it. I am certain that my having to run The Dreaded Mile in high school physical education played a particularly large part in the cause of my aversion toward the activity.
I am also certain that many others share this experience in some form or another.
Running does not require equipment and is therefore arguably one of the most accessible modes of exercise. Unless you live in a desolate area, you will likely see a runner at some point during your day. Be it on the road, sidewalk, field, track, or treadmill — they are everywhere!
Because running is so ubiquitous, it seems like a fairly simple task. After all, if so many people do it, it must be manageable to some extent. And with enough exposure, it is only natural for the running bug to come around at some point. Once the idea of running bounces around in your head long enough, you will consider running yourself. You get excited and inspired to run. Distances you thought you would never consider running seem accomplishable and it is easy to say to yourself, “I’m going to run.” You fall into the trap of what I like to call Pre-Runner’s High, which is an exciting period full of unrealistic expectations. And you think five miles is a good starting point. Until you actually try to do it.
People forget that running is actually really hard.
Running is difficult. It is high impact. It is high intensity. While running is often thought of as a primarily lower body activity, it involves the entire body. That — coupled with unrealistic expectations — makes it difficult for new runners, who often either underestimate their abilities or overestimate their capabilities, to stick with it. A lot of new runners wind up giving up after only one run. As if the run was not supposed to be difficult. As if their heart was not supposed to feel like it were exploding.
It is important to respect the distance and it is imperative to respect the body. It is unrealistic to expect to be able to run two miles with no cardiovascular training, no matter how easy it looks on paper. To the unconditioned person, a mile will feel like five.
It is good to be motivated and inspired to run a 5K. Just make sure you train for it. Respect that any distance is still more than nothing at all and that not all runs will be the same. A run can be exhilarating, and the next can be pure misery. Respect that your body can do it, as long as you give it a chance to adjust.
This applies to seasoned runners as well. It is always frustrating when a run does not go as well as you had hoped, but at the end of the day, you still did it. Not every run is going to be a personal record. Again, respect the distance. Even if you’re used to running 10 miles a day, a three mile distance can tire you out. A simple difference such as a change in terrain can completely throw your body for a loop.
It is okay for running to be (and feel!) extremely difficult. There is nothing wrong with struggling. There is no shame in needing to fight to finish a distance, no matter how short or long it is. And on that note, the time does not matter. I often suggest to new runners that I pace to not focus on time. Speed and strength will come with time and effort, and too often do I find new runners getting discouraged because they feel that they are running too slowly.
It is okay to be slow. There is no expectation to be fast, especially if you’re new to running. To quote Confucius, “it does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you don’t stop.” (He probably was not referring to running when he said this, but I am fairly sure that even Confucius ran a little in his days.)
Progress will happen. Be patient with yourself.
Because (and repeat after me): Running. Is. Hard.