10 Simple Ways to Actually Enjoy Running

A few easy tweaks and handy tools can shift your entire attitude toward your workouts.

Though he became a professional trail runner, he didn't naturally love the sport, David Roche, two-time national champion, told Health

"I will always remember my first run when I went out the door. [I] got 200 yards and had to stop because I was so winded," said Roche. "I was sore for three days afterward."

The more he ran, the easier—and more fun—it felt. Eventually, Roche quit his job as an attorney to run and coach a team called Some Work, All Play with his co-coach and wife, Megan Roche. In 2018, the couple published a book, The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer.

"You don't have to run. But if you're going to run, it should be joyful," said Roche. And even if you don't plan to leave corporate life for the trails, you can still reap running's emotional and physical rewards. "Definitely, anyone can enjoy it, and anyone can improve by massive amounts." 

Here's how you can achieve both. Read on to learn about 10 tweaks, tips, and tools that can help make running fun, so you actually enjoy it.

Slow Down

Most new runners start at a sprint and quickly flame out, much as Roche did. Now, he knows better. 

"If it hurts, you're going too hard," explained Roche. Your body needs time to develop aerobic fitness and adapt to the impact and repetitive motions running involves.

When you start, alternate easy running and walking—say, a minute each. Then, adjust your weekly intervals, running more, walking less, until you're steadily jogging. Even then, don't judge yourself on pace. Run by effort, and keep things relaxed. 

"Listen to your body," advised Roche.

Then, Pick up the Pace

That said, steady slogging can quickly grow monotonous and won't help increase your pace. Instead, try some tips to pick up the pace of your run.

For starters, once you've logged a few continuous runs, try adding bursts of speed. For example, doing 20 to 30 seconds of faster running followed by at least a minute of slower running can help. Or, find a hill and run up it quickly, then slowly jog back down. 

Start with two to four bursts or hills, then build up week by week. Besides making time pass quicker, those short, hard efforts boost your heart rate and help reduce your injury risk.

Listen to Music

Music can move you. Literally. In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, runners clocked a faster 5K with less effort when listening to either calm or upbeat melodies than others.

It may help to choose different songs for different purposes, Kaitlin Gregg Goodman, professional runner and coach, told Health.

"Relaxed if you're trying to chill out on an easy day, a pump-up playlist for hard workouts," recommended Gregg Goodman. Podcasts work, too, and often come in workout-friendly 30- to 45-minute episodes. 

Keep in mind: If you're running outside, consider using just one earbud to stay aware of your surroundings.

Grab a Running Partner

Running friends make the miles fly by, said Roche. And there's no better way to multitask than catching up while getting your miles in. 

Need help finding a pal who's game to stride with you? Search online or head to your local running store to seek out group runs. They often start their runs at local stores, bars, and gyms. You might meet a brand-new friend who's just your pace.

Be Mindful

Though training partners and music may serve as welcome distractions, actually tuning in to what you're doing can also help you enjoy it more, Mackenzie L. Havey, a Minneapolis runner, coach, and author of Mindful Running, told Health.

"Research shows that mindful athletes tend to exhibit greater optimism, higher self-confidence, and less anxiety," said Havey. And to start, Havey recommends the following tips:

  • Spend the first few steps of your run doing a full scan of your body, mind and the world around you.
  • Notice the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, birds chirping, the top three thoughts in your head.
  • If you notice your mind wander—and you will—gently bring it back to the present moment.

"You'll find that fully immersing yourself in the run by focusing on your environment, body, and mind boosts enjoyment, even on the days you're feeling less than inspired to work out," said Havey.

See It as an Escape

Paying your bills, feeding your kids, booking visits to your healthcare provider. There's plenty in life you have to do. On the other hand, running is a conscious choice to improve your health, fitness, and well-being. 

"I really like to say that it's an opportunity, not an obligation," said Gregg Goodman. So, revel in the chance to test your limits, zap stress, and escape the day-to-day pressure of a busy life.

Show Gratitude

When the going gets tough, focus on the splendor all around you. 

"It could be the way the leaves have fallen on the path or passing a child learning to ride a bike, or—my favorite—dog spotting," Chris Mosier, a six-time member of Team USA in duathlon and triathlon and a coach in Chicago, told Health. Mosier also advised keeping an eye out for inspiring sights along their routes.

Another reason to focus on your surroundings, research has found that tuning into external sights and sounds, rather than what's going on in your body, can make running feel easier and improve performance.

Havey recommended the following tips for showing gratitude during a run:

  • Extend those positive vibes by writing down the things you're grateful for on the run on slips of paper. Those may include how fresh your legs felt or how fortunate you are to live near a running path.
  • Fold them up and put them in a used water bottle.
  • Pull them out when you lack motivation. And over time, you likely find yourself more tuned in to a sense of gratitude from the moment you lace up your running shoes.

Change Your Route

Gregg Goodman stated that she often notices runners retracing the same routes day in and day out. 

"I'll put in their log: Your assignment for today is an exploration run," said Gregg Goodman. 

Try bypassing your well-trod boulevard and seeking out a new sidewalk, path, or park to add an element of excitement to your routine. It may also help to try out a destination run, a point-to-point course that ends somewhere fun, like a coffee shop or bookstore. Just take your phone and use a ride-sharing app to catch a lift home.

Remember What It Feels Like To Finish

When you can't convince yourself that you like running, remind yourself of how good you'll feel when you're finished. 

"After the morning run, I'm going to be happier, I'll be more productive, and my husband says I'm a better spouse," said Gregg Goodman. "It's like having coffee. We're all much better people after coffee."

Set a Target

Give your running purpose by setting a specific target, like completing a 5K or improving upon last year. Reflecting on how much that goal means to you can help you appreciate every step in the process, said Gregg Goodman.

A target can also be an endpoint to your run. One study published in 2015 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested 22 runners, including 11 men and 11 women, under two conditions: A run with an unknown endpoint and a run to the same distance with knowledge of the endpoint. It turned out that the runners who knew their endpoint ran faster.

You can also dedicate your miles to a loved one who can no longer run, raise money for a charity, or pace a friend in an event that's meaningful to them. 

"Sometimes running can feel like a pretty selfish endeavor," said Gregg Goodman. "Making it bigger than yourself can bring that joy back."

A Quick Review

Like all exercise, running is not always boundless fun. But there are tips and tricks you can adopt to make running seem easier and even enjoyable. Reap running's emotional and physical rewards with these 10 tips for more joyful running.

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