One of the most common resistances to getting into running is the idea that it’s boring.
It's fine for a while, but after thirty minutes I'd rather be anywhere else.
I was exactly the same. When it feels like you're just fighting the terrain with each step, when you're not improving or working towards something, or your heart just isn't in it, it really can be boring.
Having pushed past that barrier, I now absolutely crave to run and adore the tingling fatigue in my legs that follows me the rest of the day. I've gotten to the point where I’ve had moments of genuine euphoria whilst running: something I never expected and part of a remarkable transition in life and perspective.
And there are no secrets. If you want to, I believe anyone can find a love for running. Alone. Just you and the road.
There are lots of ways of distracting yourself whilst running: listening to podcasts, exploring new surroundings or chatting with friends. I’m a huge fan of each. I wanted to concentrate on just the act of running solo though, where the focus is only on you and the terrain around you, and how this moves from boring to fascinating; from 'avoid at all costs' to addictive? I don't have all the answers but this was my path.
Run within your means
There are few experiences seemingly more painful than running faster than you are capable. The pressure that builds in your chest and the fire that spreads throughout your lungs, the tightening in your throat which causes you to wheeze with each breath, the dizziness! And worst of all that sickening iron taste in the back of your mouth. As if every blood vessel is bursting as you scrape the rust from your fitness.
I have a hunch that this is the biggest killer of people getting back into running. We’ve all done it. You don’t run for months, years, and then you head out thinking you are still as fast as you used to be, push yourself beyond what you are capable of, remember this feeling, and wonder why you’re bothering.
Take it easy on those first few runs, don’t force it.
Understand your heart rate
If you want to ensure that you don’t push yourself past your threshold you can invest in a heart rate monitor and regulate your pace that way. I get that this goes against the idea of simplicity in running and can sound a bit overkill but it really is worth it. You can also pick them up very cheap. I paid £20 for this one: it fits under your shirt and syncs with a watch that comes with it.
The idea of training with a heart rate monitor is to directly relate how you feel (your lungs, your legs etc.) with how fast your heart is working. If you can do that then you can regulate how the rest of your body feels simply by changing your pace to alter your heart rate.
Put simply, if you went out now and ran keeping your heart rate below 140bpm you’d pretty much be able to run indefinitely. There’d be no lactic acid running through your legs and no iron taste in your mouth. It’s all good, long lasting, aerobic activity.
The first few times you try it you’ll find it really hard to go slow enough to keep your heart rate low and you’ll get home feeling like you haven’t worked out at all. A few of these and you’ll be surprised how much faster you can run whilst maintaining a low bpm.
Plan a route, don’t stick to it
It’s pretty nice to know roughly where you’re going to be heading, especially if it’s a long one, but there’s nothing like checking your position every few minutes to kill the enjoyment of a run. Of course, it’s a lot easier to do this when you know the area. But let go. Once you can run a reasonable distance it’s easy to not care if you get lost. How far wrong can you really go? There's always the bus home.
One of my favourite runs is to head to Hampstead Heath and just explore the seemingly endless maze of tight trails and paths. It’s also great to get off the paths and just tear across a field: there are no people in your way, it’s uneven and challenging, steeper and just more fun! Running without caring how or where brings back that childlike enjoyment to it all and puts a grin on your face that you can’t run off.
Have fun with your heart rate
I quickly realised that you have a staggering amount of power over your emotions when you’re running. Once you’re able to run without getting particularly tired you'll realise you have this incredible luxury in your legs: a dopamine tap you regulate yourself, and none of the comedown.
I found that if I run with my heart rate at 165 for one minute, sometimes two, a huge rush of positive emotion floods through me. Tingling in my legs, thumping in my chest... throw in some music and sunshine and, honestly, it’s like being at the front of a festival tent, pointing to the roof, flooded with joy: utter, complete euphoria. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. You can play with your pace, watch your heart rate flutter and feel the flow of endorphins rush back and forth throughout you.
That you have the ability, unadulterated and alone, to create such intense feelings of joy simply by moving is the greatest gift that running has given me. That realisation of the power of the human body. Yeah, you can take that back to the chemical inner workings of your body and mind but really that’s plain and centre a spiritual accomplishment. You have to earn it, and you open up avenues you never had access to. I know I’m not the only one that runs with a grin from ear to ear, laughing to the sky, confusing passers by.
Cross a finish line
Achieving personal gains without a goal is a tough one to crack, regardless of how great any given run can feel. Something has to motivate you to lace up your trainers each week, despite the weather, and ‘getting fit’ is often only enough for getting you started. Giving yourself goals taps into another, long lasting, positive emotion and it's elevated by how much harder you push yourself than you believe you're capable of.
It's not about how far or how technical it is: a lap of the park, a 5k, a marathon, it doesn’t matter as long as it's relative to your ability at that time. However difficult your goal is, from a marathon runner to a parkrunner, you all share that same feeling of completion: satisfaction and inner contentedness. You'll always be surprised by how much extra you are able to squeeze out of yourself and your body will keep going until your mind quits. We all share the doubt and mental hurdles.
All ultra marathons are raced over the same distance: the six inches between your ears.
If you push through, and you will, you get to enjoy that post race beer with friends: sinking into the sofa with a smile and a satisfaction that only comes from attaining something you’ve been working so hard for. And you'll have it each day following.
It's yours if you want it...
A lot of people laughed when I told them what I was planning during the summer. With good reason. I played it up massively, in part because I'm not sure I believed it myself. Going from never having run further than 10k to racing in an Ultra was ambitious to the point of stupidity. I still remember a friend's quip in the pub:
"You know you don't have to do this, right?"
And they were right, and I didn't have to. No one does. But I still did and millions of people do it too, and millions more join them each year. They sign up to their next big challenge and scare themselves into a training program. They lace them up even though the rain is pouring and the hangover is about to kick in because they're focused on a goal they have arbitrarily set themselves. It's madness. They dream up even bigger challenges for the future and they eternally wonder where their ceiling is. It's always higher.
They get hooked. They run with smiles on their faces.
Anyone can join them.