“It’s just such hard work, I hate it!”

“I really don’t enjoy running but I force myself to get out the door”

“I don’t how you can possibly enjoy mile after mile of running – it’s so boring!”

I hate running

Enjoyment

Some of us absolutely love running, and some of us absolutely hate it. Now for me, “hate” is a very strong word, but that’s just the way some people feel about it – even those that do actually run.

Enjoying your chosen sport makes it much easier to motivate yourself to do it, so why would you run if you don’t like it. Well, from the conversations I’ve had with clients, friends and people I meet out and about, the answers range from “I want to keep fit and running is easier than going to the gym” to “I love triathlons, well the swimming and cycling bits anyway, the running is just something I have to go through to get to the end”.

So whatever your reason for getting out and running, whether you like it or not, there are ways that you can improve your enjoyment of being out on the trails or tarmac. But first, let’s look at some of the top reasons why you might not like running:

It's hard work

You find running is just hard work and you feel like you are constantly out of breath or always struggling through a run. You might enjoy the social side of running, and you might even love the idea of running and going to races and events, but you don’t really enjoy it because it’s sapping and tiring.

I’m no good at it

One of the most frequent comments I get when I carry out assessments on runners, and when we start coaching sessions, is that the runner feels they are no good. They already have an idea that their technique is rubbish. And whether it is not, they have made their minds up. Once you make up your mind that you aren’t very good at something, you can easily become demotivated and only focus on the negatives without appreciating the positives. This is a downward spiral I always aim to catch quickly.

It's boring

This is typically a comment I hear from non-runners, but I do also hear it from people who run three or more times per week. For the non-runners, they simply can’t see why anyone would want to run for any length of time at all. For the runners who say this, they’ve either lost their love and mojo for running or are being pulled toward it for some other reason. There must be something they get from running to keep doing it and they just suffer the boredom to get those other benefits.

I always hurt or get injured

Whenever we want progress and adaptations from exercise, we need to add more load than the body and nervous system can currently handle. We then get adequate rest and the body adapts. During this process we need to expect some post-exercise soreness as it’s a natural response to the workload. But this is very different from always aching or having niggles during or after a run. It’s also very different from recurring injuries such as sore feet, ankles, Achilles, calves, knees, hips, back, shoulders…

These types of aches, pains and injuries really only stem from one thing – overtraining. And while you may think that only running something like an easy 5k can’t possibly be overtraining, especially if you know you can usually do more, if your body and nervous system cannot handle the load at the frequency and intensity that it’s being applied, you are overtraining something.

Pain is a red flag that something isn’t right, and although understanding what pain is and how to manage it is a topic for another post, pain comes from the brain being under some kind of threat. The skill is unravelling what that threat is and coming up with a solution.

Turning it around

It may at first appear the best solution to all three problems is to stop running and go find something else to do that gives you the same social, mental health, fitness and self belief benefits. And plenty of people do just this. However, running has so many benefits rolled into one form of exercise, that I think it’s worth exploring some of the ways you can start to turn around that lack of enjoyment. 

Now, I’m biased because my focus is on the technical, skills-based aspects of running, but I believe there is a simple solution to all three problems that means you can not only start to enjoy your running more, but also improve your performance and enhance all those wonderful benefits that you already get from it. So what’s the solution?

Move better!

“Urghhh” I hear you say, “Really! How does that work? Are you going to throw more horrible stuff at me – running is bad enough!”

To put it quite plainly, when you move better you feel better. When you feel better you perform better. When you perform better you enjoy it more. When you enjoy it more, the better you want to be, and the cycle continues. But it all starts with moving better.

If we directly relate it to the problems above, we can see this in action:

Problem How Moving Better Helps
It’s hard work

When it comes to running, that feeling of hard work is usually down to a lack of efficiency. While there are multiple elements that help you reach greater efficiency such as structured training, improved connective tissue elasticity, muscular activation, and respiratory function, underlying it all is fluid movement.

If you can move in a fluid way, controlling both tension and relaxation, you create a foundation for all the other elements of efficiency to build on.

If you are moving poorly, you use more energy and running feels laboured. It’s also so much harder to improve technique and meet those structured training goals. Quite simply, if you are a poor mover, your enjoyment of running is likely to be way, way less than it could be.

I’m no good at it

If you do an Internet search on “getting better at running” you’ll find loads of suggestions from “run consistently” to “strength train” and “recovery days” to “practice technique” and “structured training” such as intervals, hills and tempo runs. All these things are important and all should form part of your running week. But, if you hate running because you are no good at it, are you really going to force yourself to run hills, long tempos and get out several days per week?

If you make moving well a top priority, you can begin to improve your running technique. In fact, you’ll find that parts of your technique just improve by themselves. You’ll also find that adding in tougher sessions is much easier, and you’ll start to enjoy the challenges and improvements that these bring.

You can quite literally go from thinking you are rubbish at running and suffering it, to solid improvements in technique and performance in a matter of weeks.

If you’re sceptical, I can assure you I see this all the time with my own clients and those of other coaches. It’s not going to happen magically because you do need to put the practice in, but it will happen.

It’s boring

I admit that running can get a bit boring sometimes, especially the long runs that you have to do by yourself. A lot of runners will listen to music for that very reason, but I never have done. I can go out and do a solo two or three hour run with no music and be completely engaged. In fact, music puts me off, because unless it’s beat-matched to your cadence, it’s very difficult to run in a consistent way across a long run.

Instead, if you have learned to move well and become aware of how you move while running, you can use your movements to enhance your running experience. You can even use your focus on movement as a way to bring some mindfulness into your running. This can help you get through the rough patches on a long run or a tough tempo session or hill repeats.

Putting your focus on how you move can also be great technique practice, and we know that bringing focussed attention to technique and skills helps your brain learn them better and they are likely to be adopted more quickly and be longer lasting.

Oh, and all of this focus really doesn’t leave any room to get bored.

I always get hurt or injured

Your brain keeps a whole bunch of virtual maps of your body. All of your joints are mapped out, and so are all your body’s sensors across every part of your being – both internally and externally. The important thing to remember though, is that these virtual maps are just that – they are virtual.

In the same way as your car sat nav goes out of date, so too do these brain maps. Now, if you use your mobile phone’s map app, it’s updated much more in real time but even here, the updates are only happening on the area of the map in focus.

Well, your brain is exactly the same: your virtual maps go out of date, and are only updated on the areas you focus on and do the most. You need to keep the brain maps fully up to date for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them:

  1. So that your nervous system can identify specific areas under threat: important in pain management.
  2. So your movements and technique can be accurate.
  3. So you use the right muscles for the right movements.
  4. To reduce overloading areas not designed to take that load in the intensity and frequency it’s being applied.

And just like your mobile phone map app, bringing focus to a particular area by moving it or stimulating the sensors, will keep the maps up to date. This is particularly important for recurring injuries, as these can stem from very outdated maps that are creating a heightened threat level in your brain. If your brain doesn’t know where a body part is, it cannot reliably monitor it’s status and false reporting can occur. 

This is why you can feel pain in one area when the threat is actually in a different area – sometimes on a different side of your body!

You can see from the table above that moving well is the simple solution to most of our problems with not enjoying running. If you can build a foundation of fluid, accurate movement, you can really enjoy your running and improve your performance as well.

Where do I start?

So where do you begin? This area is so complex that I like to take a big step back and build from up from the basics. By doing this I tend to find that significant improvements can happen with simple, consistent movement practice.

For me, some basic rules exist that give us our starting point:

  1. Everything you do is a product of your brain and nervous system – everything you do.
  2. In order to move with fluidity, you need a good balance of flexion and extension.
  3. To get a good balance of flexion and extension, you need the areas of your brain responsible for promoting flexion and extension to be working well.
  4. To create a good balance between flexion and extension, you also need to learn how to create tension when you need it, and create relaxation when you need it.
  5. Both tension and relaxation are skills you can learn to master both at rest and while running.

So where does that put our start line? The easiest way to begin is to just move more. Move every joint and every muscle. You don’t need to address your whole body all at once – little and often is the best way forward. Start with your fingers or your toes, ankles, shoulders, and just move them in ways you may not have thought of before. Have a go at finger circles. How about ankle circles or shoulder circles?

Starting to move more is the first step, very quickly followed by practicing accurate movements. The reason for accurate movements? It all comes back to those brain maps. While on one hand you just want them updated, on the other you want those updates to be as accurate and useful as possible. But that’s for another post.

For now, just move more and we’ll go from there.

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