Lifestyle11 Feb 2020

The Athletic Life: nurturing your love for running


Running love (© Christel Saneh)


Kate CarterIf you are a runner and your relationship with running is going through a rocky patch, make up with it. We all know relationships take work.

Kate Carter (@katehelencarter)


My relationship with running started as an arranged marriage. I’d tried to start something with it once or twice before - though no one would ever in a million years have used the words ‘speed dating’ to describe the process. We’d really never hit it off - the whole thing seemed far too much like hard work to me. I never got over that steep learning curve where every step seems like a leap.

But then I had kids, and an extremely limited time window combined with a desire to get fitter meant that running and I pretty much had to get acquainted: nothing else fit. Our first date was accompanied by a chaperone in the form of the Couch to 5k lady, and never have the words “stop and walk” sounded so sweet. I think I made it to the end of the block on the first ‘run’. And I do not live on a long block.

So it definitely wasn’t love at first sight - more like shin splints in the first kilometre - but we did move quickly (the relationship - not my speed). It helped that one of my best friends was also in the early stages of a running romance, so we compared notes, complaints and even double dated on occasion. Then we both entered a 10k, which went well enough that I entered a half marathon. From then on, the relationship entered ‘serious’ territory. And here I am 13 marathons later - and yes, I still remember our anniversary.

One of the best things about running is its simplicity - it may have that steep learning curve (even with rose-tinted spectacles, I can vividly remember how impossible it seemed to run five minutes without stopping, and how much I ached the day after my first race) but once you are over that bump, it settles into an easy routine. Do you have trainers and some gear? You are good to go. But, like all relationships (disclaimer: this analogy will be stretched further than 26.2 miles, go with it) you start taking it for granted. You might have your first big argument - in my case a torn calf muscle training for my first marathon back in 2013. You might just get disenchanted with it, and take up with someone, or something, else. Entering triathlons often seems to be the equivalent of the seven year itch amongst my friends.

In the early years of running, personal bests come thick and fast. Merely adding a few miles a week or an extra run results in huge gains. But, alas, at some point it becomes a law of diminishing returns - you might still get PBs but they require more and more work, for fewer and fewer of those precious seconds. And somewhere in amongst all this hard work, it is very easy to forget that this relationship is supposed to be fun. Sure, training hard can hurt the legs and the lungs, and not all runs are equal, but if you can’t enjoy the easy ones, then really, what’s the point?

Last year, just before Christmas, I was vividly reminded of this when I tore a calf muscle again. I spent the festive season grumpily watching other people going for runs (and when you can’t run, EVERYONE else seems to be) and glaring at innocently jogging passers-by. My favourite run of the year is on Christmas Day - the streets are virtually empty, everyone says hello, wearing a bit of tinsel is entirely acceptable. Instead I went for a brisk walk. It was in no way whatsoever an acceptable substitute. I even had a small affair with a HIIT class - the only thing I found that could replicate the feeling you get after a really hard run - though I did feel a bit guilty.

I missed the structure that running gave my day. I missed the way I feel afterwards - tired, sure, even achy, but more full of energy and clearer-headed than before. I missed how certain foods just taste better after a run. I missed the social side of runs with my club and the anti-social side of an hour entirely by myself. At some point I realised that - competitive as I may be, if I couldn’t enter another race and had no hope of ever getting another PB, I’d still desperately want to run. I like a bit of tech around running - everything goes on Strava, I keep a track of mileage - but if all that disappeared overnight it wouldn’t matter. What I love is the actual sensation of running - moving fast (or faster, anyway) over familiar routes, getting into a flow, letting the mind wonder where it will.

So if you are a runner (and if you run, at all, you are a runner) and your relationship is going through a rocky patch, then take it from me - make up with it. We all know relationships take work - so change things up. Find a new route, a new running buddy, a new club or even a new pair of running shoes. Change the playlist, run at a different time of day - or enter a race.