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I used to hate running — here’s how I learned to actually enjoy it

I used to hate running — here’s how I learned to actually enjoy it

If your attempts at jogging have been absolutely miserable or just painfully boring, I get it.

Ah, running. Most of us know at least one person who swears by their morning runs — and makes them look easy-breezy. But every time I tried to jump on the bandwagon in the past, in the hopes of reaping the mind-body benefits of running, I instantly regretted it. My muscles ached, I ended up gasping for air, and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would willingly subject themselves to this particular type of torture.

For pretty much all of my life, a 10-minute jog or even a quick sprint left me on the verge of throwing up. Or I’d be so bored out of my mind that every second felt like an hour. But after giving running a sincere go for the last five months — and making a few small (but key) tweaks — I’m able to log 5, even 10 miles nonstop. And I never thought I’d say this, but I actually really, truly enjoy the experience (despite the occasional calf cramp and blister).

To be clear, you don’t have to run if you hate it — there are plenty of other forms of movement, and exercise shouldn’t feel miserable. But if you really want to like running, it might be worth adjusting your approach to see if you can get into it. So without further ado, here are the five game-changing strategies that seemingly tricked my brain into loving my morning runs. (No personal trainer or high-tech gear required.)

1. Choose a pretty route or neighbourhood you’ve been eager to explore.

Jogging alongside a scenic riverbank or through a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk that winds through that gorgeous neighbourhood with the pretty trees is a completely different experience than stomping away at the gym or running laps around a nearby track.

There’s something invigorating about soaking in the vibrant colours of the sky on a sunny morning while exploring the city around me. Of course, I get it if no such idyllic path exists in your area. But I’ve found that, no matter where I am, paying attention to even the simple things — leaves rustling in the wind, people walking their dogs, a crisp breeze on my face — helps turn running into an immersive (and peaceful) experience, and not just a workout to check off my to-do list.

2. Focus on the way you’re breathing to avoid sharp cramps.

One of the many, many things that discouraged me from running was my damn cramps — specifically, I’m talking about the dreaded side stitch (a sharp, stabbing pain in the abdomen triggered by exercise). So needless to say, I was delighted that these aches started going away after I changed the way I inhaled and exhaled.

There are so many complicated and fancy-sounding breathing techniques out there, but don’t get bogged down by all the technicalities. My boyfriend (an avid runner) advised me to keep it simple: Instead of huffing and puffing through my mouth with every step, I should make a deliberate effort to breathe slowly, deeply, and consistently through my nose and out my mouth.

Basically, shallow and irregular breathing through your upper chest can cause that uncomfortable muscle tightness I was talking about. That’s why experts usually recommend setting a more steady inhale-exhale rhythm that involves breathing with your belly, not just your chest. Being intentional about this has been one of the easiest — and most worthwhile — changes I’ve made to make running a little less gruelling on my body.

3. Invest in even just one pair of comfy sneakers.

Turns out, running in chunky, everyday Filas or cute-ass lifestyle Nikes not only made me pretty slow, but also gave me toe blisters and hot spots behind my heels — injuries that are pretty common when you wear ill-fitting shoes. So pounding the pavement became way less painful (and much more enjoyable) after I swapped my old kicks for some supportive Hoka Mach X’s instead.

Finding your “perfect” sneaker depends on a lot of things, like whether you have flat feet or high arches, need a standard or wide toe box — the list goes on. This all might sound complicated, especially if you’re a newbie, so I suggest doing what I did: Go to a nearby running speciality store and ask for help from a staff member who’s trained to know this stuff. They can take a look at your feet and recommend a few pairs to try on IRL.

Checking out all the different brands and styles can get overwhelming (and potentially expensive), though. For now, just start with finding one pair that fits really well and makes you feel confident. Because let’s be honest: Post-work jogs will never be fun if your toes are smushed or your heels are screaming at you with every step.

4. Share your wins with fellow runners who are in your corner.

The beauty of running for yours truly (a proud introvert) is that it can be a solo thing — unlike group classes, say, or team sports. That said, having personal cheerleaders to root for me (and vice versa) made a huge difference in my motivation.

When I first started running (and almost quit immediately), for instance, my track star of a best friend pumped me up with pep talks (and some helpful reccos about the best sports bras and pre-workout snacks). Signing up for a 5K was also intimidating for a rookie like me — but having a couple of fellow-beginner pals join me made my first race an exciting milestone (and bonding sessions) to look forward to.

The point is, even though running is known as a loner sport, there are plenty of ways to turn it into a shared experience, which can make it more fun. Maybe you text your triathlete cousin about your sore calves or bond with a coworker over sneaker recs. You can also share your PBs on an interactive app like Nike Run Club or Strava — these platforms let you connect with friends, track each other’s runs, and offer kudos with virtual high-fives so that you can build camaraderie every step (heh) of the way.

I used to hate running — here’s how I learned to actually enjoy it

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5. Reserve that special playlist or podcast episode only for your runs, so you have something to look forward to.

Getting into a running groove is a bit of an art form — and for me, the secret lies in syncing up with the perfect workout playlist or podcast that takes my mind off the effort of running.

Your go-to energy booster might be a creepy true crime podcast that gets your adrenaline pumping. Or maybe it’s Ariana Grande’s new (and might I add, perfect) album Eternal Sunshine that helps the miles fly by. But here’s the trick: Whatever you choose — listen to it only when you’re running. In other words, not when you’re commuting to work or singing in the shower.

I’ve found that my brain gets excited for that special little treat when I hold off on the newest episode of Call Her Daddy, say, or my favourite Nicki Minaj bops until my Sunday jog. Especially on days when the weather is gloomy or my motivation is low, just wanting to get some miles in isn’t always enough to get me out there. But my favourite playlist? Or the next episode of Crime Junkie? Now those are some rewards that’ll have me lacing up my Hokas with anticipation.

This article originally appeared on SELF.