10 Lessons from a Runner Who Hates Running

I hate running—but I still do it. Here’s why.

Emily Jones, Writing for
4-minute read

I’m not a runner. But five days a week, I lace up my sneakers and head for the park. I come back with aching legs and a flushed face, gleaming with sweat. I’m training for my first half marathon.

But I’m not a runner, or at least, I don’t consider myself one. I go for runs, but I’m not a runner.

That is, running doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s often hard and sometimes uncomfortable, and I usually struggle to get myself to go, anticipating the burning muscles and tightness in my  lungs.

But I love running after the fact. In returning home, I’m always happy that I went on a run. Nineteenth-century writer Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” Well, I hate running; I love having ran.

This post-run happiness is partly physical. Biological changes in neurochemical levels during and after exercise affect happiness, as Daily Burn writer Kristen Domonell explains in her piece, Endorphins and the Truth about Why Exercise Makes You Happy. But aside from these neurological changes, my enjoyment is largely mental: knowing I overcame a challenge, and feeling accomplished and proud of that.

Accepting that I’m not a runner allows me to reconcile Dorothy Parker’s paradox. If I’m not a runner, then my struggles seem more normal and less discouraging. The acceptance isn’t meant to belittle or infantilize myself—rather, it encourages me to embrace this challenge as natural, and motivates me to keep going in spite of it. It helps me to develop a more empowered, resilient mentality. It helps me to run so that I can enjoy having ran.

Well, I hate running; I love having ran.

Here are ten things I’ve learned in my efforts to run, even though I don’t consider myself a runner:

  1. Mentality over physicality. Deciding to run is infinitely more essential than having the body of an Olympic sprinter. The determination to run, and the confidence that you can, are all you need to start. This mentality can carry you as you develop the physicality.

  2. Set goals. After you’ve made the decision to start running, figure out the details. How often do you want to run? How far? How fast? Is there a certain race you want to run in? Whatever your goals may be, they should be specific, measurable, and challenging yet achievable, according to A Theory of Goal-Setting & Task Performance by psychologists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. Setting such goals, in turn, will allow you to form plans to achieve them.

  3. Make plans. Decide in advance which days and times you can run to eliminate any potential excuses. Look at a weather report and schedule your runs on the most weather-friendly days, or parts of days. That way, the decision of whether to run or how long to run won’t be swayed by how indecisive or busy you are that day — you’ll have already decided to go, and worked out the rest of your schedule around it.

  4. Make it a habit. According to New York Times writer Charles Duhigg’s Warning: Habits May Be Good for You, habits may be prompted by certain cues, like time of day, people, or series of actions. If you always go for runs at a certain time of day, with a certain person, or before eating a particular meal, for example, that cue on its own may start to motivate you, thus eliminating the mental struggle of whether or when to go.

  5. Don’t go big or go home. Better to modify a run—running a shorter distance or at a slower pace than you had originally intended—than to skip it altogether. As helpful as it can be to schedule runs in advance, it’s hard to anticipate how quickly your muscles will recover from a previous run, and last-minute changes in plans happen. If you had scheduled to run five miles, but later can only run three, still try to go for the three.

  6. Elicit support. Friends and family who honor and encourage your goals are a great source of motivation. If you know people who run or want to start running, go together. If you don’t, there are running clubs that arrange runs with groups for people who want to run different distances and different speeds. This will give you additional accountability to stick to your running goals.

  7. Forge your own journey. As fun and motivational as it can be to run with others, companions who run too far or too fast (or not far enough or too slow) can discourage (or prevent) your own personal growth. Stick to your own challenging yet achievable goals, even if it means forgoing companions.

  8. Make it fun. Find colorful sneakers, upbeat music, a scenic route—anything that will get you more excited about running, and help you enjoy the run more in the process. Explore your town and nearby areas for the best routes. Get yummy protein-infused and electrolyte-infused foods and drinks to refuel with after running.

  9. Track stats. After each run, take note of how far or fast you ran. This will allow you to determine whether or how much you’re improving, and consequently whether your goals and plan need adjusting. You could do this manually, or you could use a technological tool, like the app Runkeeper. While running, the app voices how long, far, and fast you’re going, as well as mapping your path, marking splits, graphing elevation and steps, among other things.

  10. Celebrate progress. Once you run the frequency, distance, or pace you’d like to, complete your race, or otherwise meet your goals, congratulate yourself! Set new goals and run with them.