Running is a great way to stay in shape, and can be an integral part of a healthy life style. Almost anyone can do it, it doesn't require much in the way of equipment, it is inexpensive, and it can be done just about anywhere. But if your approach to running is that it's just a way to stay in shape, that it's a means to an end, it can feel like a big chore. If this is the way you view running, you often have to mentally psych yourself out, just to drag yourself out the door.
Over the past few years, I have struggled to run with consistency and found many periods where running seemed unappealing and difficult. My runs during those times were some of the most difficult physical experiences of my life. I recently tried to evaluate why I felt this way, and developed some practices that have helped me improve my running experience. Some are simple, some take a little bit of work, but all have the potential to add to the enjoyment that can be found when you unbind your body and run for your life.Disclaimer: Before we start let me say that I am a neutral runner, with negligible bio-mechanical deficiencies. I am 45, and in good health. I am not a medical professional, nor am I a professional athlete. Don't start any exercise program without first consulting with your physician. These tips work for me, but your mileage may vary. Loosen up. I used to stretch for several minutes before every run; quads, hamstrings, calves, back. Since improving my overall running form, I have found that simply loosening up my joints is much more effective. Start by rolling your neck, making big loops with your head. Shake out your wrists, arms, and shoulders for a few minutes. Pretend you are doing a hula-hoop to loosen up you hips and knees. Finally, "draw" circles over the floor with toes pointed to loosen the ankles.
Set Time-based Goals. Unless you are training for a race, decide how long you want to run for and do it! Don't worry about pace, don't worry about distance, just run for the amount of time that feels good. You always have time to improve your stats. Eat Right and Rest. Common sense, right? I can't tell you how many times I have gone to bed at midnight over several consecutive nights, run at 6am in the morning, and had a thoroughly miserable experience. Then there are the times when I eat fast food, or ice cream, or load up on cookies and run the next day, all the time wondering why running is so hard. Surprise! The amount of rest you get, and the composition of your diet play a huge role in how you feel when you run. Limit food to whole grains, soy protein, lots of fruits and veggies, legumes, and nuts. Eat sensible portions at meal time and limit snacking. Oh, and no soda… it just bloats and dehydrates. Run Because You Enjoy to Run. You may want to lose weight, you may want to improve you cardio-vascular health, you may want to increase your aerobic capacity, but if you don't enjoy running, it's work. Find a way to love to run and the rest will come. Find fun places to run, change up the scenery now and then. I have taken to trail running lately, spending lots of time in a local park on several dirt and bark dust trails. I have a renewed appreciation for the beauty that surrounds me, I can focus on my thoughts, and virtually eliminate the feeling that running is a chore.
Run Barefoot. C'mon, you know you want to! It makes you feel like a kid, and kids are natural runners. There is some recent research that suggests that running shoes with all their padding, motion control, and stability features actually enforce inefficient bio-mechanics making running more difficult and may even increase your chance of injury. I take a few short runs in my Vibram FiveFingers each week; they give me the feeling and control of running barefoot, with the protection of a thin rubber sole.
Take it slow in the beginning, your feet and calves will take some time to adjust and strengthen… after all, they have been pampered by thick padding and cushioning for years! Running barefoot will go a long way toward improving your form even when you run wearing shoes.Just remember, you were made to run. There is nothing like the feeling that comes from running a few miles. Go, have fun!