Almost 15 years ago, I found myself in an undesirable, yet not uncommon place. I had gained about 15-20 pounds since college, my blood pressure had gone up, and various markers were indicating that I was not as healthy as I thought I was. As I noted in my book Into the Rising Sun, I prided myself on being an active person, but I realized that once the temps got a little cool and I put my bike away, I wasn’t really doing much vigorous exercise at all.
And so, begrudgingly, I began to consider running for exercise, something that I really hadn’t done since I was a high school athlete. Back then, I only ran because other sports necessitated it, and running was a means to end that had nothing to do with a finish line. Also, as someone with a larger build, I felt that my body wasn’t designed to run on a regular basis, and certainly not distances beyond the half-marathon that I completed a few months prior to our oldest (twins) being born.
But thousands of running miles later, with knees, hips, and a back that thankfully feel as good or better than before I started (in addition to a much better health profile), I have come to realize that running is not only an opportunity for many more to consider, but it is also one of the most accessible options for exercise no matter where you live. Along the way, I have discovered there are keys to making it both enjoyable and sustainable, thus a real option to provide for a healthy lifestyle for decades. Here are 10 tips to make this possible.
- Healthier eating as well as sleeping better are the biggest keys. When I first started running, I had consistent periods of chest discomfort that I initially thought might be cardiac related. But upon further testing and a gradual move to a more whole food, water based diet, I realized these issues were much to do with heartburn and other GI issues that running exacerbated. But beyond these particular concerns, there is no doubt that eating better and sleeping well facilitate a body system that “runs” much better, like a car does with good oil and gasoline.
- Run less, not more. Connected with #3, many of us would serve ourselves much better to cut down on our running miles, not add to them. Over the years, even having done a number of official and unofficial marathons and 4 races of 50+ miles, I have never run more than 3 days a week and never on back-to-back days, all the while running faster and longer than I ever thought possible. This might not be a recipe for elite performance, but it sure is one for sustaining it longer for those of us who aren’t born and bred to run.
- Consider cross training. This dovetails with #2, and is how I have been able to do long distances on less running. Although some experts don’t recommend resistance training with running (as they often do with triathlons), I have had a twice a week, full body (high rep/low weight) routine that I have no doubt has aided my body in so many ways, including reducing injury potential. In addition, as a triathlete, I bike and swim regularly and have a core/stretching routine that allows me to stay in running shape even when I am running just six miles or so a week.
- Running outside year-round provides all sort of joys. One of the great things about running is that it can be done at all times of year, in all types of weather, including ice or snow (which, ironically can be done safer than walking – contact me and I will explain). Although it takes having appropriate clothing, running outside in all seasons provides so much beauty and variation that can help sustain this habit for a long time. It might seem a little more complicated than jumping on a treadmill, but any complications or brief discomforts are overshadowed by natural joys that never get old.
- Varying routes keeps it interesting. All of us runners have our tried and true routes. But I have found that exploring different routes and even changing it up from loops, to out & backs, or one way runs to relative’s homes, keeps it from becoming just the same old grind.
- Consider running trails, not just roads. Although running trails requires adjusting to a different style, and I believe is best in cooler seasons when bugs are at bay and trails are clearer, I have found that 60 minutes on the trail often seems to go by quicker than 30 minutes on the road. Also, trail running, although not without its hazards (e.g., keep an eye on foot placement), has definitely taught me how to be a more efficient runner overall.
- Slow down. Here’s an idea for beginner runners, or even those that have done it for a while. Start out at your usual pace for 60 seconds, and then immediately back down to a more comfortable stride; for newer runners, walk at regular junctures. One of the things that makes running least enjoyable is starting off too fast, and then finding yourself winded before the run has hardly begun.
- Run for time, not distance. One of the best tricks I have discovered is that running for time, not distance, seems to make the run go quicker. There is something about just setting an amount of time to run (and not looking repeatedly at your watch), and then letting the distance take care of itself. Once you get to know your normal pace, you can easily set a time that will cover your distance needs, even if you are training for a race.
- Don’t overdress – your body will provide the necessary heat. There is an old rule of running that says if you are comfortable (temp wise) at the starting line, you are wearing too much clothing. Over the years, I have seen countless people bundled up for a run on a 50 degree day like they were going skiing. I realize that people have various temp thresholds (including in my own house). But as excessive heat increases heart rate and respiration, which in turn makes running more unpleasant and difficult, don’t be afraid to feel a little chill in the first mile so the rest of the run is much more comfortable.
- Run with people who like to run. I will end with the most obvious one. Although I do at least 95% of my training alone, it is the 5% of my runs (and rides) with others that remind me how pleasurable it can be. Certainly this would not be the case if I am chasing a “rabbit” down the road. But find yourself in a running group with good conversation and you might wonder where the hour has gone.
As space limits this conversation, especially regarding deeper means of sustaining running, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have other ideas and thoughts. I am by no means an expert runner (although I have learned a lot from those who are), but have certainly been blessed to exceed my expectations in this endeavor that I once only did because it was required to do so.