I think running is one of the greatest exercises you can do for your body. It has so many benefits for physical and mental health. It helps in losing weight, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, building muscle and keeping a positive mood. So many good things come from running. But not everybody thinks of running as fun. Some of you may be training for your first 5K or half marathon and may find the task of training for this daunting. Here are some simple ways to keep in mind to make running fun.
Find a purpose. Running is always more fun if you are running for something. If you are reading this column, they you have likely signed up to race which is a goal in itself. As you are training, decide what you want to achieve in this race. Is this your first 5K and your goal simply to finish? Do you want to beat your friend who is also racing? Do you want to run a personal best? Your goal should be reachable and attainable. Having a goal to focus on will make training easier as you try to attain that goal. Other people may decide to race for a loved one by raising money for a cause. Raising money for charity in races is a great way to motivate runners and keep it fun, because every time you lace up your shoes, you are doing it for a greater purpose which should give you great satisfaction as you go along with your training.
Don’t go it alone. A second way to make training fun is to buddy up. This can come in the form of training with your friend, neighbor, or family member. Training with someone else makes running a social activity. It allows us to bring others into our training and lives. Many a great conversation has been had on training runs. The social nature of running decreases anxiety and makes it harder to skip a training run. You can also consider joining a local running club with like-minded runners that usually meet on certain days and times. Also, consider getting the family involved. Bring the kids on your run. Put the kids on their bikes so they can follow you while you run. Run to the park with them. Let them play. Take a stretching break and then run back. Now the whole family gets exercise and helps you out along the way.
Mix things up. Varying the intensity of your runs is another way to make running fun. Don’t just go out and always do the same distance run at the same pace. That will get very boring very quickly. The easiest way to vary your runs is to do a fartlek run. Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish. This is a simple form of interval training in which you vary the speed of your run for certain distances within the run. It can be as easy as seeing a mailbox in the distance and deciding to run a little faster until you get there and then slowing down again. Repeat this, many times, throughout the run, with various distances of increased speed and then return back to your base pace. Keep things interesting with a fartlek run once per week.
Go gadget free. So many of us are fixated on our Fitbits or Garmins that we feel like we can’t leave the house without them. We are constantly looking at the gadget, trying to get feedback on our pace or distance. In doing so, we are disconnecting ourselves, in a way, from our activity. Try running simply for the joy of running. Connect with your own body and settle into your run. Let yourself be free. Feel the wind in your hair, the sweat on your face, and the burn in your legs. This will really bring the joy back to running. Try running without your gadget at least once a week and see how good you feel.
Remember the fun of running isn’t over at the finish line. Continue the fun throughout the year. Make running a lifestyle choice. Happy trails!
Dr. Michael Hartmann
Race Medical Director, Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon & 5K
Emergency Room physician, Edward Hospital