How to: Fall in love with running

By Meryl Ong

Meryl has recently started her own blog called "The Mindful Hustle" about the new paradigm of Lifestyle Medicine. Lifestyle medicine is the branch of medicine dealing with prevention and treatment of illnesses caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, physical inactivity and nutrition.[1] Behind The Scalpel publishes her first of hopefully many articles:

Running is absolutely amazing. Not just for cardiovascular health, but also for attention, productivity and mental well-being. I used to think that frequent runners were absolutely nuts. Why would someone crave for the uncomfortable feeling of lactic acid build-up in the quads, breathlessness and just overall… torture? It took me a while to warm up to this idea of running. I’m glad to say, though, that I took the leap of faith and gave running a shot. Now I’m absolutely in love with it, and I’m here to share a few tips to help you eradicate your perceived fear of it and feel the same way about this sport. 

Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

Tip 1: Establish your ‘WHY’  It is hard to sustain any habit without a concrete purpose. Before you commit yourself to this routine of running, ask yourself these three simple yet essential questions:

  1. Why do I want to run?

  2. How will running benefit me?

  3.  How will I feel after completing my runs? 

Taking the time to establish your ‘why’ gives you a reason to persist in the habit of running. The moment you realise that the benefits derived from running outweigh the effort which goes into the sport, the more determined you will be to maintain this healthy routine. After coming up with answers to the above questions, take a moment to visualise yourself on a run. How would you feel? What would your surroundings look like? How much effort would you put into your run?  Very often, I find myself picturing a perfect run with the wind gently caressing my cheeks and my feet landing softly on the pavement with a steady beat. Most of all, it leaves me yearning for the feeling of freedom that comes with a run. The good news is, this expectation of yourself enjoying your run can indeed become reality. All it takes is an awareness of your current running ability and an acknowledgement of how your body feels on any given day. Read on to find out why this is such an essential part of the process of turning running into a sustainable habit.  

Tip 2: Be sensible & listen to your body 

I would be lying if I said that your first run will be comfortable. Of course, like all skills, running takes time to get used to. A common mistake that beginners make is to overestimate one’s ability, push themselves beyond their limits on their first run and as a result, their bad first experience leaves them resolving never to put on their running shoes ever again. Instead, understand that your body needs to acclimatise to the state of running and that this is a process which requires time and patience. The most important thing to bear in mind is that starting your runs slow is not a sign of weakness. 

The fact that you have chosen to make a start, that you’re conditioning your body to achieve more than it can presently do and the simple truth that you’re placing yourself in an uncomfortable position that not many others would bring themselves to engage in is already a victory in itself. Celebrate it, and know that with each run you are going to see marked improvements and experience great satisfaction.

Also, understand that there will be days where your body feels like absolute rubbish and lethargy makes running seem like an impossible feat. During times like these, it is critical that you listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Fatigue is probably a sign that you need time for rest and recovery. Honour your body by listening to it. Pushing yourself too hard may increase the risk of developing injuries!

Photo by Laurine Bailly on Unsplash

Tip 3: Create a pleasurable experience

The moment you complete your first run, you’re a runner. And let’s be real - being a runner is undeniably cool. And guess what! Your running experience can be elevated and made even more pleasurable by integrating music into your runs. Nobody is stopping you from jamming out to your favourite songs while you’re running. Moving to the beat of your vibey EDM songs may just as well improve your performance and provide you with an extra boost of energy. Listening to a podcast can also be a great way to stimulate your brain while on the move.  

Tip 4: Be accountable to yourself and others  

Firstly, let’s talk about staying accountable to yourself. Realistically speaking, the only person who can get you in your running gear and out the door is yourself. I have previously tried employing various methods - from using a diary to leaving post-it reminders on my desk - to remain consistent with running. While most of them worked for a brief period, they mostly left me feeling unmotivated and unexcited about the sport. Thankfully, I managed to, with the use of technology, find a solution that rekindled the desire within me to persist in running. 

In my humble opinion, there is no other method as effective as using the Nike Run Club app (not sponsored, I promise!). The reason why I find this app truly groundbreaking is that not only does it grant you free access to guided running audios of every kind, it also charts your progress on your behalf and provides you with a daily dose of motivation before, during and after your runs - even if you feel disappointed at your performance that day. I’m not suggesting that the app gives you false hope, but it is excellent at putting failures and setbacks into perspective. There will always be another run to look forward to. You are already a champion for choosing to go on a run and making time for yourself. You are maintaining a habit that is beneficial to your physical and mental wellbeing. Having an encouraging ‘voiceover coach’ while running keeps my spirits high. Furthermore, you can join weekly or monthly challenges to keep you motivated and on a path of continual improvement.

That said, running becomes a more pleasurable experience when you not only smash your targets and witness your progress but also when you become a part of a supportive running community. When you feel a sense of belonging to a group of individuals who have similar mindsets and goals as you, it pushes you to work towards improvement and provides a safe space for sharing your thoughts and struggles. After all, these are the people who can most relate to your circumstance. 

This is why I’m planning to start an accountability group for like-minded runners, which will serve as a platform for mutual encouragement and motivation - more details coming soon! 

Bonus tip - Establish good running habits!

To avoid injuries, make sure that you do a proper warm-up and stretch down before and after your runs respectively. This will help to loosen up your muscles and facilitate proper recovery after physical activity. Furthermore, ensure that you run with proper form to minimise strains on your joints and tendons. 

  • Here’s a useful video by Sage Running teaching the correct running form

Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash

I hope this has been helpful. Stay safe and happy running!