I grew up HATING running, but secretly envious of those few people I knew who seemed to enjoy it. My best friend in college, Phil, was a marathon runner. He ran every day and if he missed a run…well, he truly seemed to miss it, which was something that seemed a little odd to me.
Who in their right mind would MISS running?!?!
I ran, but it was a struggle. I ran in high school for PE and sports and then I ran when I was in Air Force ROTC as a cadet. Every single mile was something I just gritted my teeth and pushed through and I never got to the point I enjoyed it. I knew it was somehow good for me and I knew I had to do it, but as soon as I didn’t have to do it anymore? I stopped.
And I didn’t run again until my early 30’s.
When I was in my early 30’s, after having 2 children, I was really out of shape and I really wanted to be in better shape. My ex and I were also struggling with debt, so joining a gym was out of the question. Running, though, seemed like something that I could do. I just needed shoes, right? I dutifully laced up my sneakers, which it turns out were trail shoes of dubious quality and I hit the pavement.
And then I nearly hit the floor after.
I could barely run a block and it was even more torture than the first time I ran. By chance, I started reading forums on running websites and that is when the relationship between running and I began to change. I learned HOW to run and what kind of shoes to get and where to find them and how to train and then…running actually became something I looked forward to and enjoyed. It became my sport of choice! In this process I realized that everything I’d been “taught” about running from school PE classes and sports…had absolutely set me up to hate running and to be bad at it. I had to unlearn all that before I could learn to be a runner.
- Running is Punishment or Something to “Get Through.”
This has become a pet peeve of mine as my own kids go through school. When we’re little, we run for joy. We run because we’re excited or just to feel the wind against us and it’s as natural as anything. Then, we start school and somewhere in the middle of school, we’re taught that running is something that is either forced on you as a punishment or something you just get through to get to do something fun. In PE and sports, coaches give “punishment laps,” forcing you to run if you do something wrong. In most sports outside of cross country and track, running is part of the warmup and conditioning, something you just get through before you get to the “real” practice. We learn running is icky and to be avoided by behaving well, or if you must do it, get it over with.
- We’re never taught HOW to run.
When you think about almost any other fitness activity, like weight lifting or throwing a softball, coaches and PE teachers correct your form if you’re doing it wrong. I never, not once, had any coach or PE teacher help me learn how to run better. It turns out I had a LOT of bad habits in my running that made it more difficult and painful than it needed to be. Odds are good that if you’ve never learned about running or had someone knowledgeable watch you run, you probably have some of those bad habits, too.
- We’re never taught about our feet or running shoes.
Different people have different anatomy and that then impacts how their feet hit the ground when they run. There are different words for this, but it makes a big difference in what type of shoes you need to run in. Running Stores, which specialize in running shoes, know what to look at to figure out which shoes are the best fit for your anatomy. Most shoe stores that sell “running shoes” really don’t have that expertise and most of the shoes they sell are more about fashion than function. I started running in shoes that were completely wrong for me and I had really painful shin splints. The pain was bad enough I’d be on the floor nearly in tears after a run, feeling like my shins would snap. After I got the right shoes? The pain decreased tremendously! I almost gave up thinking my body just wasn’t made for running when the real problem was just shoes.
- We’re never taught how to train for running.
Think of any other sport and you’ll quickly realize that the coach doesn’t just wave you off to go play when you’re learning the game. No, there are drills and your form is corrected and you practice, practice, practice. It becomes a great relief when you actually get to play rather than doing all those practice drills! And yet, when it comes to running, that’s exactly what PE teachers and coaches do…they just tell everyone to run a mile and then pretty much ignore everyone until they’re done.
Most people, even kids, aren’t really ready to just run a whole mile right away. (A mile itself is a pretty ugly distance, but more on that later.) Trying to run a longer distance than your body is ready for is really just a setup for disappointment. This is often how people decide “I’m not a runner.” It’s not that you’re not a runner any more than you’re not a tennis player if you can’t hit a volley back the very first time. It’s that you’ve never trained to run that mile and your body is just doing the best it can to accomodate this unreasonable thing it’s been asked to do.
There’s a saying, “You have to walk before you can run,” and it’s true and most successful training programs for beginning runners start out with much shorter intervals of running interspersed with walking. I’ll be posting about the program I follow as well as other great ones out there to get you running without that disappointment that leads to giving up.
- We’re Asked to Run Unreasonable Distances
At least in my school growing up, PE teachers were fond of just having us run a mile. There was no training for this, no gradual build up. It was just, “today we’re going to run a mile.” Inevitably, I’d wind up having to walk, feeling like a failure and getting an awful time on it. I HATED that mile.
And want to know a secret? Even when I was running 10 miles at a time, I STILL hated running a 1 mile.
Why? 1 mile is a very awkward distance for most runners. It’s not quite a sprint, but it’s not a long distance run, either. For most long distance runners, it takes at least a mile for their bodies to fully warm up and get into the run. At my best, when I would go out for a ten mile run, I would STILL struggle with that first mile. After that? Things would open up and I’d enjoy my run, but the only thing that got me through that first mile was reminding myself that it was the worst part of my run.
In the few times I signed up for 1 mile races, it was even worse. I could not keep up with the pack running my normal 5k pace and yet a mile is a wicked long time for a sprint. So, really, we’re asking people who’ve never trained for a run to run a distance that is awful even for people who do. People who run the 1 mile in track and field are a special kind of tough, but we expect grade schoolers to just randomly run it?
No wonder most of us gave up on running.
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news about all of this is that most of the reasons you think you can’t be a runner are simply the stupidity of the people who failed to teach you how to run when you were young and all those wrong messages can be deleted and undone. You CAN learn how to run and even enjoy it, just not by going about it the same way you were taught. In my upcoming posts, I’m going to talk about how to do just that.
If you want a little more direction, accountability, and cheerleading, reach out to me about coaching. (Not the kind of coaching mentioned above, but the kind of coaching where I’m working, too and progressing and growing alongside you.) I’d love to work with you.