Beginner Running Tips: When Does Running Become Fun?

For the past six weeks I’ve been co-coaching a beginner 5K group. The group has been improving steadily – bodies are getting stronger, lungs are not struggling as much, early aches and pains are slowly resolving. They’ve been doing great, and most are right where we want them to be at this point in the program.

Most of the runners in the group will acknowledge that their fitness has improved since that chilly first run in early April. Running is still not easy, but it’s easier than it was a month ago. However, one of the comments that we’ve heard a few times recently goes something along the lines of “I’m feeling fitter, but I still can’t say that I’m enjoying running.” Or more simply “When does running become fun?

My first response is that running will become more fun as your fitness continues to improve and your body gets stronger. One of the biggest things that new runners have to deal with is the fact that running can hurt. It challenges the body in a lot of new ways, and until you adapt it may not be fun. Patience is critical, as is a gradual approach. A lot of people take up running but don’t stick with it – I suspect that in most cases this is because they try to do too much, too soon. They try to run too far or too fast, and their body simply isn’t ready for that. Running starts to hurt, it’s not fun, and they quit. So the first part of the answer is to give yourself time – running will become more fun when your runs are less of a struggle, and this comes with increased strength and fitness. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Let’s assume that you have taken a gradual approach, and you’re at a point where you feel like running has gotten easier. But you’re still not enjoying it. When does running become fun?

I’ve thought a lot about this question over the past few weeks. At lunch today my wife and I had a long conversation about it. Our answers were quite different. I thought I’d share my own story here.

What Makes Running Fun For Me

I’ve run off and on for most of my life. I actually vividly remember having to run the 1-mile test on a cinder track back in 7th grade. I was a bit overweight, and I was ashamed at how poorly I did relative to my classmates. That was my initial spur to run. I made it my goal to do better the following year. I honestly don’t remember if I ran a lot, but I know that I lost weight and improved my time in 8th grade.

I played soccer in high school and was quite fit, but I never really loved running. It was more often just a form of “conditioning,” or worse, a punishment served by our coaches. Running was not fun.

I continued to run off and on through college and graduate school, but it was always done in a effort to get my weight down. Whenever I needed to lose a few pounds, I’d start running. It was never really something I did for enjoyment. And it often hurt. Running was not fun.

Things changed in May of 2007. It was again a time when I had put on some extra weight – quite a lot of extra weight, actually, it was the most I’d weighed in my life (that’s me from May 2007 in the photo to the left). It was time to start running again.

The difference between 2007 and all previous running attempts was that I had a goal. My wife and I had signed up for a race that July – it was a four mile race, and I had never run more than three miles in a single run before. It seemed like a monumental challenge.

I’m a very competitive person, but moreso with myself than with other people. I’d never run in a race before, and the fact that I had to perform lit a fire in me. I started running with a purpose, and every run became a new challenge. As my runs started to exceed 3 miles I got a rush from each new single-run distance PR. I started timing myself on my training runs and looking for improvement on my regular routes (which I’d measure with my car odometer – no GPS watch back then for me). Running became a game – what can this fat, out of shape body accomplish? Each run may have been a struggle, but watching my fitness go up and my body weight go down was fun.

Running that first race was an even bigger turning point for me. I now had a formal time attached to a race distance. And I wanted to beat it the following year. I was hooked on races, and hooked on beating myself. I was hooked on leaving that fat, sedentary guy that I had been when I started running in the dust. I was running away from my old self. And it was fun.

It didn’t take long for my runs to get longer, and my racing goals progressed as well. First a half-marathon, then a full marathon, then a BQ, then Boston itself. I faced and met each of those challenges. It was exhilarating – running became fun for me when I realized what my body was capable of if I kept pushing it. And it’s still fun for that reason today. There’s always a new challenge to face, and old PR to beat. There’s always room to improve on what I have done before. This is what drives me – pushing myself and testing my limits are what make running fun.

Now, my competitive nature plays a big role in why running is fun for me. Not everyone shares that competitive fire – for example, my wife loves to run, but she hates to compete. And I’d be remiss if I were to say that competition is the only thing that makes running fun. So I thought I’d list a few more of the things that make running fun:

1. The Community. The running community is incredibly supportive and full of great people. I’ve made great friends both locally and quite literally around the world as a result of becoming a runner. One of the things I love about coaching beginner 5K groups is that after a few weeks the group becomes a community. It’s a group of people who share similar reservations and are facing similar challenges. Pace groups develop organically and new friends are made. It’s incredibly fun.

2. Exploration. Yesterday morning I ran 14 miles along a route that I had not done before. It was a beautiful day, and the time passed quickly. I love exploring new places on foot, and running is a great way to do that.

3. The Reward. Running can be hard, especially for beginners. You may ache, your lungs may burn. But you will almost always feel better after a run. It’s hard to beat the sense of well-being and accomplishment gained from a tough workout. You’ll also feel less guilty about the occasional indulgence in a favorite food or drink if running is part of your regular routine. I tell my 5K group that I run so I can eat what I want, and that’s not far from the truth!

4. The Release. My wife would tell you that this is what makes running fun for her – the release from the stresses of the daily grind. Fresh air, bright sun, and a bit of sweat can go a long way to reducing your stress-load. It can be hard for a new runner to recognize this since those early runs can each be a monumental struggle, but once your body is adapted, an easy run is one of the best ways to clear your head after a long day.

I’m going to finish up here, but I’d love to hear your answers to this question – what makes running fun for you?

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. Joey Frayne says:

    That matches really closely to my journey to become a runner. I am super competitive but when it comes to running just with my self. I have fun doing it but it still hurts n a good way as I am always striving to reach new goals.

  2. Release, release, release!

  3. Running becomes fun when the runner can find that balance of fitness and efficient form that allows one to have a feeling of flow and ease during a run.

    • This. It’s more fun when you can just go out and run and forget about the fact that you’re running – just doing it and feeling free. It takes a while to get over that hump after the initial enthusiasm wears off and before the fun begins.

  4. Running is more of a solitary, meditative experience in my case (I’m not a “social” runner and haven’t raced in almost two decades), one that just happens to have some great physical fitness benefits.

    Not to sound obscure or overly philosophical, but to me, running is a means to reaching what can probably be described as a temporary state of mushin (“mind without mind”), although I suppose this is really just one interpretation of the so-called “runner’s high” that runners experience when the body’s endocannabinoids start kicking in.

    • A agree 100% with Zed. I run to get away from people and to let my mind go. Though, sometimes I find I do my best thinking running.

  5. Hands down: solitude. When I was younger (and hated running) I was single and free. I had all the hours to myself that I wanted. Now that I have 2 little ones, I LOVE running because I love the quiet time to myself. Solitude may not be “fun” per se, but it is powerfully satisfying. Also, the weight loss is a super side effect.

  6. Running is the most fun in races, especially when you see so many other people working hard and so many supporters.

    Otherwise, it’s a great way to relieve stress and keep my weight down in grad school… and med school… and probably in residency..etc.

  7. It becomes fun once you start entering some races. I don’t particularly enjoy running for the sake of running, but I need to stay in shape, and running is a part of that. Signing up for races gives you a goal to look forward to instead of just putting in the miles for this somewhat vague goal of staying in shape.

    On the other hand, running isn’t for everyone…there are other ways to get exercise.

  8. Running became fun for me after doing it consistently (5-6 days a week) for about a year. I have been at it three years, and now I couldn’t stop. I think the only reason I kept with it through that first year was my dog. He needs the exercise daily!

  9. Great post, I can relate to both to your thoughts and those of your wife. What makes it fun for me is that running can be used for so many things. I can for sure be used as a stress reliever, there’s nothing so energizing as an easy-run a bright spring evening. But running can also be used to set ambitious targets, most often running a certain race at a certain time and create a training plan accordingly, much fun and rewarding. Afterwards, having met that goal, I always find that it is not the moment – the race – in itself that gives the feeling of accomplishment but the training journey towards that goal.

  10. For me, running became fun after I had something of an epiphany.
    It started with me buying a rowing machine to do something about my bony build. I’d run a ~3K block simply to warm up for my workout, until I someone’s 5k time was mentioned on TV. It was merely mentioned as an aside, as an example of his fitness. My competitive-in-the wrong- place-with-the-wrong-people took over and for some odd reason I decided to beat that time during my warm up runs. Gradually, warm-up runs supplanted rowing workouts. Running became wheezing lungs, pain, frustration and no noticeable improvement. Slowly it dawned on me that I’d never beat this guy’s time.
    Late one evening I simply decided to go for an run without any pre-set goal, pace or distance. That night I ran close to 10K through a deserted business park without any effort at all. I kept a relaxed pace and it felt as if I could go on forever. I had I never run such a distance before. Also I just discovered a great way to unwind after a day’s work. It turned out that all the effort hadn’t been wasted after all!
    The revelatory experience was greatly helped by choosing Bach cantatas on my MP3 player that night. I still remember running alone, though dimly lighted streets, wearing a saintly smile on my face and angel choirs singing “Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein” (Today you will be with Me in Paradise) in my ears.

  11. I totally agree with you Pete! I love a video which I think it summarizes the pleasure of running (at least is an inspiration for me!): link to vimeo.com

    • I love that video, and shared it with some friends who loved it as well. thanks for sharing the link.

      Running is so much “more than running” to me. I’ve run at least 600 miles a year for the last 5+ years. Running takes me to places I’ve never been, and encourages me to take in and contemplate this amazing world that surrounds us in profound ways. (Conversely, this is the main reason why I detest treadmills.) In light of this perspective, I see RUNNING AS A GIFT, and I don’t complain about the pain or the conditions – even though I am well aware of them. Over time, the struggles and excuses to run become less powerful, and running becomes more of a compulsion. “I *must* run. I was made to run.”

  12. As to your 5K group that’s just starting out, the difficulty as you noted Pete is that running is hard. It’s a weight bearing activity and it puts trauma on the lower body. That said, with added frequency the runs become more regular. In short, if it is to stick, it must become a habit.

    But then there’s the question of why make it a habit? Perhaps someone started running as a way to lose weight or improve self image (which is the case for many). Setting a goal like finishing a race is more likely to facilitate running becoming a habit because it will take consistency to prepare the body for running without stopping.

    For me, running is fun for many reasons. First, it’s therapy, and I also find clarity on many things during a run. It’s time alone and time with God. It’s fun because I can discard the road and hit the soft trails for spectacular views. It’s fun for races, and the community of people who are standing beside you and want to do the same thing – cross the finish line.

  13. I do all of my best thinking when I’m running. Sometimes it’s figuring out how to configure a wood-working project. Sometimes it’s brainstorming a new approach to a diagnostic challenge (I’m a Dr.). And sometimes it’s just “la la la la”. Running kind of resets my mind and lets me approach problems from a different angle. I love that!

  14. I’ve been running consistently for about six months, and the first time I ran ever was about two and a half years ago. I’d say that it became fun for me when I got over the beginning phase where I had only one gear: huffing and puffing. It’s now fun to be able to push it (and watch my slow times slowly improve) or take it easier and run with a friend, or decide to focus on running a hill or with light steps, or just zoning out and thinking about writing.

    But that required a modest base level of fitness. I also really like the community. I have friends from college, grad school, who are all over, but we can all stalk each others’ runs.

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