For several years, some of my friends have repeatedly tried to start running and somehow weave it into their lifestyle. Most of these attempts to “get into shape” — ie reach a fitness goal — have taken place in the spring, when the weather is nice, the mood is up and the Greek summer is right around the corner.
However, none of my friends outside the gym are — or have been — consistent runners. Most people will go run a few times in the spring, go on a diet in parallel, lose a couple of pounds and then forget all about it, get back to a sedentary lifestyle and iterate next spring. It seems that very few people can maintain a running routine for a few weeks, as much as needed until it starts to become a habit.
Though many have promised (themselves) to come run together, they almost never do. Thanks to my friends, I end up running alone or with running partners from the gym. Why? I think because these are people who already have the athletes’ mindset and they have already built the habit. It is much easier for them to just join me for a run like it’s no big deal because for them, there is no/little mental friction involved.
But new runners, friends who are just getting started, they need to fight back against lots of mental friction. And they need to fight for long enough to allow the habit to formulate. For them, mental challenges are really hard to put up with while experiencing physical challenges (breathing, exhaustion, body temperature, aches etc). Some examples:
- For some reason, an upcoming running session inspires your mind to generate incredible excuses in order to stay at home. You want to cancel.
- A running session feels monotonous and boring. Your mind is trapped into just noticing the endless repetition of your movement and the distance you are slowly covering. You want to quit.
- You are alone with your thoughts, and running thoughts can get crazy. “This old man overcame with embarrassing ease // why am I doing this to myself // what is that sharp pain on my back // let’s skip this song // did that dog actually poop on the grass? // I am too old for this kind of *** // let’s skip this song // my keys!! here they are — thought I just dropped them // that sharp pain again why god why, I am totally out of shape // let’s skip this song // fuck my left foot started to ache as well // damn shoes // let’s skip this song // was that a drop of rain? ” You want to quit again.
It seems that running or thinking about it makes you want to quit. What can you do?
Piece of advice that helped me keep going: face the mental challenge first. Start with a reasonable goal: that habit we were talking about.
Building and maintaining a habit is not a fitness goal. It is a behavioral goal essential to runners/fitness enthousiasts of all levels.
- Put more effort in getting repeated exposure to the “running” situation, give your mind the time (a few weeks perhaps) to process and adjust to the new challenge, make the experience as comfortable as possible. Pick a time that suits your mood, select a route you enjoy, wear whatever feels comfortable and nice on you, careful with those running shoes, stuff like that.
- Put less effort in the running itself, don’t run too fast/long, avoid physical suffering of any kind, keep regulating your breathing, don’t jump straight to running sprints, get enough rest, respect physical limits, take walking breaks etc.
If you are just starting, don’t monitor your performance. Monitor your mood. Help your mind build the habit. You can deal with fitness goals a little bit later, a lot easier.