“What It Takes To Be A Runner” 

By Kellie Gerbers

In my experience being part of a population that’s physically active, it seems to me that running is one of those activities that’s pretty polarizing. You either love it or you hate it. Or you do it because you think it’s good for you—but you still hate it.

We all know people who, like clockwork, get up at 5 or 6AM every morning, rain or shine, and get their mileage in. Maybe even along the same route each day. They say they do it because they love it. And they probably sincerely do. Maybe you’re one of them.

I’ve got friends that work in running stores or participate in local track clubs that live and breathe their sport.  When they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it, or posting on Facebook about it, or planning their next run. For most of these people, their sincere love for running gets them up and moving in the morning. That’s all it takes. They just love running. And that’s just peachy for them, but I think those folks are wired a little differently than the rest of us.

Whether it’s on account of nature or nurture, these lucky few somehow managed to develop a keen sense of discipline that the rest of the world envies. Because although I love playing sports, and sometimes (but not all the time), I genuinely enjoy running, I know I will never EVER have what it takes to make consistent running discipline a habit.

I WISH I could be someone like that. But, the fact of the matter is that I get bored with running the same route multiple times a week, I don’t like getting up with it’s cold outside, and sometimes, I just flat out don’t want to go for a run.

For a while, I was really preoccupied with the idea that I wasn’t a ‘true athlete’ because my desire to be disciplined in my training didn’t match that that of my friends and peers. I was lucky on some weeks if I got 5 miles in. And by weeks, I mean months.

And then recently, that all changed. Because I started running my own race.

Let me explain. Above all else, at this stage in my life, running should be FUN. I’m not being paid to run. I’m not running for a scholarship. I’m not running to lose weight. I’m not running so I can end up on a reality TV show, or anything else. I’m running because I choose to run. So it should be fun.

I don’t need to compare my discipline and training to what other people are doing. Sure, sometimes we can look to others’ examples as motivation, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of why we do what we do. Just because my colleague or roommate wakes early up five days a week to run doesn’t mean that I need to feel like a failure because I didn’t. She’s running her race, and I’m running mine.

Now obviously, if you’re training for a long distance race (marathon, half-marathon, etc.), there are going to be days where you need to get the mileage in and you know it’s gonna suck. It comes with the territory. But remember, no one is forcing you do to the race—it’s your choice. Remind yourself of that when you’re on mile 11 of your long run and dragging ass. It’s your choice. On those days, it’s even more important to keep it fun.

Easier said than done, right? These pointers are certainly not a one size fits all, but they help me most of the time:

1. Try something other than music in your iPod.

Without sacrificing personal safety (i.e., if a road race says no mp3 players…), consider exchanging your typical music playlist for the spoken word. I know a lot of folks out there use music as motivation, but as far as I’m concerned, external motivation can only take you so far. Sometimes, when it’s a matter of just finishing a run, we just need a healthy distraction.

I find it much easier to “tune out” from the task at hand (running) when I’m listening to a GOOD book on tape, or stand up comedy routine, or podcast. You can quickly become consumed by the story and forget that you’re really not enjoying the 23rd mile of your marathon. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of staying safe—if the race says no mp3 players, you’re SOL on this one.

2. Go exploring.

This seems like common sense, right? If you get bored running the same route, try something new. But for as easy as this one seems, sometimes we get complacent with running a route because it’s close, or comfortable, or easy. For me, it’s worth driving an extra 20 minutes (but not very environmentally sensible…so…pick your battles) to run at a venue that I truly find enjoyable. Find a place with cool architecture or good people watching. Again, sometimes it’s just about healthy distractions.

3. Know when to hang up the shoes and switch up your routine.

When running becomes a task or obligation, that’s when it’s time to try something else for a day or two.  We always talk about tearing down our muscles when we train. Well, your brain is a muscle too, and I don’t think anything tears down my brain faster than an enduring sense of monotony.

My running substitution is stand-up paddle boarding. Or playing frisbee with my training partner (a three year old Springer Spaniel named Martie). Sometimes it’s not about the miles. It’s about being active. Try substituting a day of mileage for kickball or rock climbing. You’ll still be building strength and endurance, but you won’t hit your mental “wall” as quickly.

As I said before, there will be days where you still have to log miles on bad days. Keep track of the days that are good and bad. And if the bad consistently starts outweighing the good, ask yourself why. Is it your attitude? Is it injury? Is it just not fun? Because if it’s the last category, make some adjustments. Don’t just want for running to miraculously become more fun—you’ve got to do something about it.

It doesn’t take a fancy GPS to be a runner. It doesn’t take a flashy dry-fit wardrobe. It doesn’t take a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on the back of your car. It doesn’t even have to take a ridiculous amount of discipline. It just takes running. Keep it fun.

By Kellie Gerbers kellie55@gmail.com