5 Things That Helped Me Go From Hating Running to Loving It

It’s not just that I “disliked” running when I was a kid. I hated it. I loathed it, even.

Running was uncomfortable, it was hard for me, it hurt, and I wasn’t naturally good at it. And not being good at it meant that it also stressed me the eff out. When I was in junior high, part of our P.E. grades were based on the Presidential Fitness Test, a test that included push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, the sit-and-reach, a shuttle run, and—the greatest nemesis of my entire childhood—the timed mile.

At my school we were given a certain number of points toward our grades for our results in these various tests. For this type-A, straight-A, if-I-get-a-B-it-will-destroy-my-life girl who was also not naturally athletic, this was the most soul-crushing experience every time that we had to do it. Testing day brought me so much anxiety, most of it produced by that dreaded timed mile. I couldn’t run a mile without walking, so my time landed me in the points category of a C at best.

So what did I do? Train extra hard and have some remarkable moment of accomplishment when I ran the whole thing, scored that A, fell in love with running, and never looked back? Not quite, or, better said, absolutely not. I wrote extra-credit reports to make up for those points I wasn’t getting on test day. Yep, that’s right. Your girl was writing 20-plus-page papers to make up for her hatred of and lack of success at running the mile.

So, yeah, I hated running. And, to be fair, I’m pretty sure running hated me too.

This story is one of my life’s most iconic ironies given that I now love running. Now, please don’t misinterpret this love as me being some sort of ultramarathoner or frequent 5K/10K racer, or even a participant in weekly group runs. I don’t do any of that. I’m not a running expert or coach. This love I have for running is deeply personal. Running has become part of my therapy and part of what brings me back to myself when the world (or my world) feels overwhelming or scattered.

Running became a part of my life where I showed up to myself, my emotions, my moods, my stresses, my celebrations, my world.

I say this all because maybe you, too, used to hate running. Maybe you still hate it. And maybe, just maybe, you want to get to a place of tolerating it, liking it, or (gasp!) loving it. I also know that spring has a way of drawing us outdoors, perhaps this year even more so. As we begin to emerge from the challenging times of quarantine, changing up our monotonous routines is likely even more enticing.

I thought I would give you some pointers for how to begin to feel better about running (and maybe even how to love running, eventually). These are all things that I’ve lived by ever since I started to run for enjoyment. But if this whole idea of not hating running still seems utterly impossible to you, I totally get that too. You can apply these tips to walking or really to any other type of movement that you are just beginning or getting back to after some time away.

1. Change the metrics (or take them out completely).

One thing that changed running for me is the simple fact that I’m not being graded on it anymore. Nothing changes your mentality about something more than releasing all the pressure out of it. No one but me was looking at my pace, my distance, my heart rate, what time I started or finished, the terrain, the elevation, or any other minor or major detail. It was all up to me. I was accountable only to myself.

That’s why tweaking the metrics available to you can be so helpful. If there is a metric that stresses you out—whether it’s pace, distance, heart rate, or any of the others all the smartwatches track—forget about it. As I mentioned, for me it was originally pace, the infamous timed mile. So I don’t really pay attention to it.

When I first started running, I ran without a watch. It was also pre-smartphones, watches, etc., so I just picked a route and I ran it. Eventually I got to a point that I wanted to see whether I could run it faster, but that took a while. These days I do run with gadgets and I can see my pace on all of them, but I generally care more about my overall time out on the trails or the mileage than the pace. Occasionally, I do try to get my pace faster for certain routes, but I have to be really careful with getting too wrapped up in these metrics because I then lose some of the mental and emotional release that I seek from running in the first place.

My advice to those just starting: Ignore the metrics that bring any kind of anxiety or make you feel inadequate for whatever reason. Even if that means you customize the face of your watch so that you can’t see whichever metrics stress you out or you leave the watch at home. It’s not worth it, especially in the beginning. Let all of that go.

2. Take it literally one step at a time.

When I say take it one step at a time, I mean it. If you’ve never run before, running a mile, or running 10 minutes, or running around the block may seem burdensome enough for you to push it off for another day or be turned off completely. Find something that is mentally and physically doable.

For instance, try running for a minute and then walking. Coming back from an injury, I had to start with a minute of running and then walking a few minutes. Finding something that is doable is crucial for you to feel confident in your ability. Then maybe you move to running an extra 10 seconds or 30 seconds or a minute. How you progress will depend on how your body feels.

Note that I am not giving you a running program here. I am giving you some suggestions to break down the mental and emotional barriers. You can worry about actual programming later. One. Step. At. A. Time.

3. Pick an environment that appeals to you.

This suggestion has become increasingly important to me over the years, whether you want to learn how to love running or simply want to enjoy it a little. Back when I first started to run, I didn’t want to run on a track—that was a trigger that took me back to junior high, and there was no enjoyment in that for me. To this day I have a hard time running on a track.

Instead I choose to run in places that are visually stimulating. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that, in my non-injured times, I am often in the hills, on bridges, or at the beach. These places have become sacred to me. Just even thinking about them puts me into a different mental and emotional space. There’s beauty all around, nature, life, and fewer people and cars. I crave these places just as much as I crave the runner’s high. Running around my neighborhood doesn’t quite do the same for me, but the thought of getting to go to one of my favorite places hypes me up.

Here’s another secret: Initially I chose hills and stairs as my preferred terrain because I knew that my mile time would inherently be slower—it was another way for me to remove the time factor. There was no way I could run a conventionally “good” mile time if I’m running up and down stairs or hills. Sneaky, I know. It also only takes running one hill to realize there are many metaphorical lessons that can be learned by getting to the top of a hill just to do it again and again.

4. Get yourself a soundtrack.

Movement and music are inherently linked in my world. I’ve been a hip-hop head for as long as I can remember. Nothing gets me up a hill better than a little Busta Rhymes. I’m very purposeful about my playlists, but just know that doesn’t mean your soundtrack has to be music. Over the last few years, I’ve also really come to appreciate podcasts and audiobooks while running.

Silence is also an incredible soundtrack, especially if the sounds around you are enticing (or if it is not safe for you to be listening to anything while out running). The point here is to be intentional and to let the sounds you hear be ear candy, not just noise. The most enjoyable experience is one that is full body; think about all your senses.

5. Eliminate anything else that might interfere with your experience.

Check the weather, dress appropriately, break in your shoes before you run in them, put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and/or take care of whatever other little things that may become distracting or bigger annoyances while you are out. Make sure you fuel properly beforehand so you don’t feel hungry or fatigued during it (and when you’re done too, so you don’t feel lousy afterward). Give yourself the best chance to truly enjoy your experience. And let it be an actual experience.

Whether you are ready to lace up and run for 60 seconds right now, or you’re still not sold, it’s all good. Like I said, these things can all be applied to other forms of movement and, to be honest, to many parts of life. Meet yourself where you are. Start there. Find ways to make it doable for you, show up to do it and then just keep showing up. You might just learn to love what you thought you never could.


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