Let's just get that out of the way right now. It is the least pleasant form of exercise known to modern humans, outside of sportsball. It's painful, boring, lonely, competitive, and often cold or wet or both. It cannot be done in the privacy of one's own apartment.
I have been most determinedly anti-running since my one disastrous year on the cross country team. I joined up because, in my ongoing quest to observe and successfully mimic the behavior patterns of adolescent humans, I noticed a correlation between "people who run cross country" and "people who have much social capital." What I got, instead of an infusion of social capital, was months of runs far beyond my undeveloped capacity and a mix of shunning and humiliation from the team's actual members. Nope. Nope nope nope. Never again. No mas. Done.
And yet, here's the thing. Running may suck, but the ability to do it is dang useful. In an emergency situation several years ago, I tried to run for help and ended up puffing and wheezing and gasping 75% of the way to my goal. My lungs did not care that this was an emergency. They were weak and flimsy, as were my leg muscles and my floppy lazy heart, and could not have gone any farther if there had been a dinosaur after me. My thoughts would eventually have been "Heck with the dinosaur, I need a breather." And then the dinosaur would have eaten me.
So now, after what, nearly twenty years, I, me, my particular run-hating self, am learning to run again. And am discovering that, much like many activities introduced to me in the public school system, the activity itself is not what made the experience hellish. School is just really, really good at presenting everything in such a way that you will hate it forever.
So, as the sun has started creeping back over chilly little Moorhead, Minnesota and "outside" has been launching its annual ad campaign ("Outside! A Nice Place to Be!"), I downloaded a couch-to-5K app onto my phone and began to learn to run on MY terms.
I am now three weeks into this experiment, and the purpose of this blog post is to share with you, dear Reader, insights I have gained on How To Do The Running when The Running is a horrible thing to do.
I am writing this because most of the How To Do The Running articles I have encountered are full of lies. Lies like "Running is awesome! You totally get in the zone, and you get this runner's high, and it feels soooooo cool, dude!" This is untrue. There is no zone. There is no high. There is only the running. There is a sense of satisfaction, but it is akin to that of scrubbing off the grime on the metal things that live under the stove burners--a sense of "I did a boring, unpleasant, but useful task! I get ten adult points!"
So here are my thoughts on How To Do The Running.
1. Get an app. The phone app provides goals that are more reasonable than the goals you think you can set for yourself. "I'm gonna go out and run for a while!" you say, full of righteous optimism. No, you won't. You will run for a third of a block, and then you will walk, and then you will go home and remind yourself you're bad at this running thing and never try again. The goal of The Running is not to be good at The Running--it is to be good at making yourself do The Running repeatedly. The app will tell you to run for a little, then walk for a lot, then run for a little, then walk for a lot. Do not disobey the app: the app knows you better than you do. If the app says "This is not a running day. Do not run. Do not run again until tomorrow," obey it. The app knows you will get sick of running if you decide it is fun and you should do lots. You should not do lots. You should do a little. Trust the app.
2. Get some gear. Yes, I'm sorry, you need the gear. You need running shoes and headphones and a hair tie if your hair is long and something to cover your nakedness. Most of these you should already have in some form. The running shoes, maybe not. You must go and purchase them. They will be most comfy on your feet, reducing the amount of pain inflicted by The Running and thus its overall suckiness. The running shoes will be expensive, and if you only run with them once before giving up, that will be a very expensive run. My new running shoes cost sixty dollars. It cost me sixty dollars to run in them the first time. But the second time I ran in them, they only cost thirty dollars per run. Then twenty. Feed your inner cheapskate and watch your price-per-run go down.
3. Get some entertainment. Running is an inherently boring activity. Get an audio book or some of that music stuff or some of those podcast-thingys. Give yourself something, anything to listen to other than the sound of your throat trying to choke you to death to get you to stop running.
4. Get warm. People will tell you "Oh, you'll warm right up!" as they go out to do The Running in spandex shorts and a jog bra in January. These people are liars. You will not warm right up, because if you go outside in such a getup you will be freezing, and you will immediately go inside and drink three cups of cocoa instead of running. Ignore these people and their spandex. Be warm. If it is cold, put on enough clothes for you to go outside comfortably. If you don't, you won't go outside at all. You may be too warm after running for a while, but this is much better than being too cold and writing off the whole endeavor.
5. One thing you should not get: other people. Other people are awful. They say things like "Come on! I'll race you to that tree!" and "Keep pushing! Come on! You can do it!" Maybe you can do it and maybe you can't, but trying to do it will completely suck and then you will not want to do The Running ever again. Get rid of people. Stick with the app. The app will not let you fizzle out.
6. Never run the same route twice. If you run the same route twice, then you are automatically in a race with the last version of you that ran that route. You will think, "Last time I came this way, I made it to that mailbox. This time, I must make it farther. I must go past the mailbox." And then the next time, you have to go past the next mailbox, and then the next time you lie in bed shuddering at the thought of making yourself go all the way to the corner, and you do not go out to run. It is too hard. It gets harder every time. You stay inside and watch mediocre romantic comedies instead. Take a different route every time. See a different part of your town. Start from work instead of your house. Start from the grocery store parking lot instead of work. Please remember: your goal is not to go faster. Your goal is to go at all.
7. Do not work on speeding up your feet. First, focus on slowing down your breathing. Breathing is nice, and you enjoy doing it. Taking big, slow, deep breaths is good for you. When you start running, try to breathe in for six steps and out for six steps. When you need more air (which will be almost immediately), go to five steps per breath. Give yourself more air as you get tired. Air is good. Lack of air is a horrible feeling. The worst feeling is taking a breath every two steps and still not getting enough air. If you are doing this, you are running too fast, and it will suck, and you will quit.
But, you might say, if I never push myself to go faster, how will I get faster? How will I improve?
Here is the freaky secret: you will improve anyway. If you do The Running over and over again, you will get better at The Running. You do not have to make the experience awful in order to accomplish this. Pushing yourself might make you improve more quickly, but then you will be miserable and you will quit and you will un-improve and then not improve at all. Do not worry about going faster. You do not get a medal for going-faster-ness.* Your goal is not to go faster, remember. Your goal is to go at all. Faster will come. It will not feel like "RAAARR! I FEEL THE BURN! PUSH THROUGH IT!", which is the definition of success in some circles. It will feel like "Why am I going so slow? I feel fine. I could take longer steps and still be fine. Look at my longer steps! Yaay! Oh, time to walk now, says the app. We must do what the app says." This success is better because it will not result in, forty-eight hours later, saying to oneself "Why did I run so fast? It felt horrible. I hated it. I won't do it today." and then never doing it again.
This is my advice. It seemeth to me to be good advice, after three weeks of trying it out. That's right: I, me, my run-hating self, have been doing The Running on a regular basis for Three Whole Weeks. Last week, I measured of of my Runnings and discovered that I had traversed 2.2 miles. If you are a spandex-in-January-wearing, burn-feeling, zone-into-getting runny-person, this distance is laughable. If this is the case, I say: heck with you. Shut up. Go run away. You're good at that. Show us how good you are. No, keep going. We're not impressed yet. Off with you. Shoo.
To all the rest of you, I say: good luck. I can recommend some audiobooks if you'd like them.
*They do give these out, but not to the likes of you and me. They give them to people who think the point of The Running is to go faster than everybody else. These are the kind of people who will double the cost of their own plane ticket so they can get on the airplane before you do. They are mean and stupid people. Ignore them.