RUNNERS LACE UP for a variety of reasons: to get in shape, lose weight, de-stress, chase PBs, win races. But you’re most likely to stick with your running routine when your primary reason is because it’s fun, says Jim Taylor, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and author of Prime Sport: Triumph of the Athlete Mind, among other books. A wide body of research bolsters the association between enjoying exercise and an increased motivation to stay fit. “When you get a fundamental enjoyment from just being out there running, that keeps you going,” says Taylor, who is also a marathoner and Ironman triathlete. Reignite your running passion with these expert tips.
Why do you run? Researchers from Greece and London looked into individuals’ emotions related to exercising. They found that those who were motivated to work out because it made them feel good were more excited to continue, compared with those who were driven to the activity for reasons such as losing weight or to gain the approval of others. “If you run to find something at the finish line, such as a specific time or freedom from anxiety you won’t find it there,” says Taylor. “The greater goal shouldn’t be about crossing the finish line, but the process involved in getting there.”
BLISS BOOSTER: Whether you’re a newbie or a lifelong runner, Taylor suggests devoting your next several workouts to reacquainting yourself with the experience of running. “Focus on what it’s like to be outdoors, to feeling your body move, to the relationships you may have built through running,” he says. “These are experiences that can be reproduced with every run—you don’t need a good finish time to produce them. By shifting the focus from results to running itself you’ll feel empowered.”
Hard work doesn’t just make you fitter, it makes you happier. Recreational runners who rated their perceived enjoyment after a steady 50-minute run and again after a higher-intensity interval workout liked the tougher session better, in a 2011 study conducted by scientists at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences in the United Kingdom. “With greater effort there is a greater satisfaction in that effort,” Taylor says. “It also increases your sense of toughness by getting your mind and body accustomed to the pain you’ll experience in races.”
BLISS BOOSTER: Replace one of your familiar, easy runs with a new training stimulus, even if it means simply adding a minute-long surge every few minutes or speeding up the second half of your run. “You get stale when you do the same thing over and over again,” says Carrie Tollefson, a 2004 Olympian and three-time national champion. “You have to mix it up.” Her favorite boredom-busting interval workout is a kilometer breakdown: 1000 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters, and 4×200 meters, with one or two minutes rest in between, starting between a 5-K or 10-K pace and getting faster throughout.
KNOW WHAT YOU LOVE
What type of workout do you most look forward to: a social five-km with friends or a club track session that revs your engine? While certain workouts are important to meet training goals, you must balance those with ones you look forward to, or risk losing the desire to run at all.
BLISS BOOSTER: “There are many workouts that achieve the same thing,” says Tollefson. If you hate tempo runs, for example, you can get similar results with a modified fartlek run. She suggests running 2-3-4-4-3-2 minutes at a 5-K to 10-K pace with a couple of minutes of easy running in between each. If your easy runs bore you, schedule them with friends who won’t push the pace.
Not surprisingly, upbeat thoughts lead to greater pleasure in the activity itself. Exercise scientists who assessed the mental readiness of 235 Canadian Olympians found that those who visualised their athleticism in a good light also tended to demonstrate better athletic performances than their teammates who weren’t as mentally prepared. The catch? The creation of these positive images and feelings takes practice.
BLISS BOOSTER: Set aside time each week [more often if you’re gearing up for a race] to picture yourself running at a desired pace, finishing a race strong, and crossing a finish line with a feeling of excitement, says Taylor. “If you can envision yourself going strong, you may just feel a little mightier—and happier— on your next run,” he says.
While many runners embrace the solitude of running, numerous studies highlight the benefits of working out with others, including greater satisfaction with exercise, increased motivation to set and reach goals, and greater consistency.
BLISS BOOSTER: Recruit a friend to train for a race with you, or join a running group to help keep you motivated. “I always enjoy my runs more when they are shared with training partners,” says Tollefson.”It’s so much more fun when I can get my workout in and see friends at the same time.”
FEEL BETTER: Simply rephrasing your self-talk—I should exercise becomes I choose to run—relieves you of energy-draining guilt, says Jim Taylor, Ph.D.
Keep It Light
There’s no denying running involves setbacks. Sports psychologist Jim Taylor offers these strategies to survive the low points of training.
APPRECIATE THE EFFORT
When you accept the hardest point of training, you’ve come to terms with what it takes to be a successful runner.
EYE THE PRIZE
Imagine how you’d feel if you decided to give up. “Training can really hurt, but it hurts more to fail achieving your goals,” Taylor says.
EMBRACE THE CHALLENGE
“If running wasn’t hard, you wouldn’t do it—you wouldn’t get the satisfaction of going beyond what you thought you were capable of,” he says.
WHILE 77% OF RUNNER’S WORLD READERS KEEP RUNNING TO “HAVE FUN,” ONLY 9% STARTED TO RUN BECAUSE IT “LOOKED FUN.”