At Strong Women, we’re all about moving to feel good. But what if the thing that eventually makes you feel good is an activity that you don’t really like doing? Writer Josie England explores her complicated yet totally relatable relationship with running.
Like so many people, I took up running around the time of the first UK lockdown. It wasn’t my first foray into running; there’d been the teenage angst-fuelled pavement pounding, a few Race for Life events and a stint being part of a work running club. All of these ended fairly soon after they’d begun thanks to injury and/or boredom, and while I enjoyed the camaraderie and accountability of the running club, I dreaded the agonising stitch that arrived every week while trying to keep up the pace.
This time though, I persevered. In the past 18 months, I’ve gone running once or twice a week. I’ve put in a serious amount of time and effort. And you know what? I still don’t enjoy running at all. At best, I tolerate it; at worst, I hate it.
Where is that runner’s high I’ve heard so much about? The addiction to keep going? The peace when it’s just you and your route? Every other runner I know absolutely loves it, yet my antipathy starts about 1km in on every outing. I’m hot, sweaty, out of breath and bored. The rest of the run is spent trying not to count down the minutes until it’s over.
Which raises the question: if I dislike running so much, why do I continue to do it?
Despite the boredom, I value the time to myself
The main issue I have with running is the boredom, the repetitiveness of putting one foot in front of the other. I know those who use it as thinking time or time to enjoy nature. I would love to do those things, but I just can’t stop wondering: “When will this be over?”
To help alleviate the boredom and drown out this thought, I listen to podcasts. I used to listen to them on my commute, but now that’s been cut to under 10 seconds (not complaining), running is now my main opportunity to plug in. I mostly listen to the chatty, comedy ones – true crime is too slow, the news is too bleak.
If I’m on a run, I already need cheering up! It’s like having a conversation that I’m not expected to contribute to. After all, I can barely breathe, how am I meant to hold a conversation? Who are those people jogging along having a chat, or even worse, a business call?
It’s changed the reason I exercise
I started running last year because of a back injury. I was struggling to play the high-impact sports I love like netball and squash because they left my back in bits every time. A physio suggested that I try running again. I was instantly dubious, but it turns out the physio knew what they were talking about. While I still get back pain, it’s now much better than it was.
While I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘enthusiasm’, my commitment has lasted, and I believe that managing my injury has provided me with the motivation to carry on.
For such a long time, my main reason to exercise was to lose or maintain a certain weight. I’d spend a long time doing exercise that I didn’t enjoy – HIIT classes and burpees – to become smaller. Running, however, has provided me with a reason to move that has nothing to do with weight control; injury rehab has provided me with the determination to keep going.
It gives me a hard-fought-for sense of achievement
We’re all guilty of avoiding things that we aren’t good at or things we don’t enjoy. This has always been the case for me and running. I never felt that I was good at it; in hindsight, I had unrealistic expectations of how far and how fast I should be able to run. This time though, I’ve decided to take the pressure off. I’m running as part of my rehab rather than to be ‘good’ at it.
At the start of lockdown, I downloaded the couch-to-5K app and followed it to the letter. It might be boringly obvious but it really helped me start slow and recognise my progress. Each week, as I advanced through the stages, I was working towards an end goal. Once I completed the app, I just kept going.
In a period of life where a lot of ambitions have been postponed (travel goals, career goals…), feeling that sense of achievement has become all the more valuable. It’s improved my confidence too. By persisting at something I’m not good at, I’m continually going outside my comfort zone, which has made me more open to trying new things I wouldn’t consider before.
It’s an autonomous, anonymous activity
“You can do it anytime – just grab your trainers and go.” That’s something I’ve heard runners say again and again. In my experience, that’s not strictly true because in order to avoid injury, I’ve got to stretch, foam roll and warm up first, which often takes longer than the run itself!
Running became infinitely easier and less painful once I invested in proper running shoes. Once you’re properly prepared, however (trainers and warm up routine at the ready), you can do it anytime. The only schedule you need to adhere to is your own. There’s no panic booking into a popular gym class before it fills up or getting stuck in rush hour traffic to get there. Plus, as an introvert, I’ve missed many a class because I just can’t face speaking to other people. On the days I feel like I can’t even nod a ‘hello’ to my neighbour, I can still run.
Generally, I don’t advocate doing things that you don’t want to do or don’t get enjoyment from… but with running, I’ve made an exception. I don’t look forward to going for a run. I most definitely don’t enjoy running. But I do get a lot out of it, and that’s why I do it.
I like it for what it can do and has done for me. It keeps me in control of my injuries, of my fitness and even my life. It’s my personal cheerleader, my (free) physiotherapy, a chance to catch up on my weekly content and it suits my antisocial personality down to the ground.
At least for now, the positive, practical benefits outweigh the rest. And that’s enough to keep me lacing up and heading out the door.
Feeling inspired to go for a run? Warm-up properly with one of our 15-minute mobility classes.