I think a lot of us have kind of a love-hate relationship with running. On the one hand we may remember joyously doing it as kids, just running around playing. But we also may have learned along the way to think of it as a chore or punishment, like when you mess up in practice and the coach tells you to “go take a lap”. In fact I’ve seen runners wearing t-shirts “my sport is your sport’s punishment”.
I think people who enjoy running are able to get back to the fun feeling from being a kid. And it also helps to keep the pace comfortable. Running was the first activity that caused me to get into a spontaneous meditative state, the footfalls and breath just came together naturally long before I’d read about any of those concepts. Once you get to enjoy running itself, trail running becomes another option. There’s a lot of overlap with hiking, like getting away from it all in great scenery. With trail running you can cover more ground and see even more scenery. And after you’ve earned it by a big uphill climb, running downhill is a quicker way to get back down as well as being a blast.
For the longest time I did not like running. As a teenager I saw it as a necessary evil to get in shape for the sports I wanted to play. Running to catch a football? Fun! Running for its own sake? A chore. This continued into adulthood. The problem was I always ran too fast, and never discovered the joy of long steady distance.
When I graduated college, I had trouble fitting being active around a full time work schedule, so I got out of shape. I tried to counter it by taking up running, partially inspired by Dr. Ken Cooper’s Aerobics which had come out in 1968 and had an aerobic point system. You could earn “points” more quickly by going faster, so I figured it was more efficient earning the points at a faster rate. It did not occur to me that it might be more enjoyable to go at a more comfortable pace.
So for years my enjoyable activities were hiking and biking. Then when my wife and I lived in Boulder, for the first time I grasped the concept that if you run at an easy pace it can be enjoyable. It was especially nice along the Mesa trail in the large mountain park above Boulder. I did my first 10K race, the Bolder Boulder, which had some good bands along the course and it was fun at the easy pace I ran it. Later I discovered that once your in good shape, pushing yourself harder on 10Ks can also be fun.
Then when we moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area (living in the hills west of Morgan Hill). Biking was not a good option because the local roads had fast traffic and narrow (or no) shoulders. So I gave up biking for running, and got more heavily into it this time. Over about the next 20 years I ran countless 10K’s, and three marathons (in 1987, 1993, and 2000). As you can see each time it took several years for me to forget how much the last one hurt, and convince myself that doing another would be fun. No offense to those that enjoy marathons, but I think the half marathon would have been a better distance for me, long enough to be a challenge but not enough to trash my quads. Or perhaps I would have done better if I’d tried Jeff Galloway’s walk/run method, discussed below.
I think the most enjoyment I got was the trail half marathons I did, through wonderful local scenery like Russian Ridge Open Space. I also liked combining hiking and running, hiking up the steep parts and running the rest. From my house I could run a couple miles to the Knibb’s knob trailhead in Uvas Canyon county park, hike to Summit road, and run along it to get to a vista point overlooking the Pacific.
Unfortunately my running came to a halt when I got hip arthritis in 2001. I still miss it 18 years later. It is the most reliable means I know to get the “meditation in motion” feeling. Your breath and footsteps automatically get in sync, and your busy brain calms down. I get that feeling now walking and hiking also, but the closest I can get to the running feeling is standing up to pedal on my bike. So for those of you that still have cartilage in your hips, I highly recommend running as a fun activity.
If you’re just starting out…
Most people do not feel comfortable running for extended periods right away. The run-walk technique is a way to get through that. Say you can run for a minute now without getting too much out of breath and would like to build up to 30 minutes continuously. You could walk for a few minutes to warm up, then alternate a few intervals of 1 minute running followed by 1 minute walking, then do a cooldown walk. This might progress like this over several weeks:
- 5 min warmup, 5x (1 minute run then 1 minute walk), then 5 minute cooldown = 20 minutes
- Week 2 repeat the run-walk 6x = 22 minutes total
- Week 3 repeat the run-walk 7x = 24 minutes total
- Week 4 repeat the run-walk 8x = 26 minutes total
- Week 5 repeat the run-walk 9x = 28 minutes total
- Week 6 repeat the run-walk 10x = 30 minutes total
Now you could keep it at 10x but start shortening your walks and lengthening your runs, like 1:15 run, 45 sec walk, etc., until you phase out the walk breaks and end up with 5 min warmup, 20 minute run, and then 5 minute cooldown. Then you can start replacing part of your warmup and cooldown with slower running, until the workout becomes a 30 minute run. At that point, hopefully you are enjoying running, and could continue to improve either by making it longer or going faster.
For a lot of tips and inspiration on getting started on running plus making it last a lifetime, I highly recommend Andy Burfoot’s Run Forever. Andy won the Boston Marathon in 1968, and, even more relevant to my overall theme of aging gracefully, returned at 71 in 2018 to run it again on the 50th anniversary of his victory. The simple run-walk plan above is what worked for me when I started out. Andy has a different plan which also looks good and I’d recommend it especially if it’s hard for you to run for 1 minute straight at the beginning. Even though he feels running in the hills can be a good workout and more enjoyable, especially if you can get out on trails, Andy recommends that beginners stick to the flat at least until you are used to running for 30 minutes straight. You can still get good scenery in parks.
And don’t forget about run-walk in the long term. Olympian and coach Jeff Galloway has been suggesting it for many years as a way to get through longer running events more pleasantly and with less recovery needed after, but you still get a great workout (see his book Run Walk Run Method). For example you can take a short walk break every mile while running a marathon. I never tried it, because I thought running a marathon “didn’t count” unless I ran the whole way (a variation on Dr. Michelle Segars’s psychological “doesn’t count” trap, discussed previously). I wish I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been so sore for weeks after the marathon if I had. Andy Burfoot is also an enthusiastic advocate of long-term use of the run-walk method.