I really have nothing against treadmills. Or elliptical machines. Or stair-steppers, cross-trainers, or stationary bicycles. Being able to listen to music, read U.S. Weekly or The Economist, watch daytime TV, and see your distance traveled, calories burned, and heart-rate on a screen, all while enjoying the luxuries of heat or air-conditioning, is quite the package deal when it comes to your daily workout. And, hey you’re exercising. You’re already a step ahead of most Americans. But don’t think that being able to work up a sweat in the comfort of your own home or gym earns you the right to call yourself a runner.
Runners are the people who are willing to put on a pair of well-made, comfortable sneakers and weather-appropriate attire and hit the outdoors for a good old-fashioned run. They aren’t afraid to eat carbohydrates. They are familiar with a kind of high that does not involve any illegal substances. They know that a sprint is faster than a stride which is faster than a jog. They keep their water bottles filled and their bladders empty. Most of all, runners are complete and total addicts. They will tell you that after discovering what goes into a perfect run, you will be sucked in for good.
The best time to run is early in the morning. Just roll out of bed and go. Your feet might be moving faster than your brain for a few minutes, but you’ll snap out of it as soon as you inhale that first breath of crisp, morning air and see the rising sun peeking through the tree-tops. The exercise is an invigorating start to your day, and you don’t have to worry about motivating yourself later on when the sun is hot and you are still full from that sub you ate for lunch. Besides, you’ll be able to soak in the peace and quiet of the world before the cars start speeding and the school bells ringing. Take advantage of these precious minutes of serenity. You know they are few and far between.
Go for distance, not time. If you set your watch for 30 minutes, you will likely meander along checking it every five seconds. Find a few different routes and clock the mileage so you know how far you have to go. This isn’t to say you have to constantly try to bring your time down; it is just much easier to push yourself when you must cover a certain distance as opposed to a set amount of minutes.
Music is optional. If the sound of your own heavy breathing intimidates you, then by all means bring along your iPod, or Discman for those stuck in the 90’s, and blast your pump-up mix. Just make sure you have sturdy headphones that will stay in your ears and not distract you by coming loose and swinging around like jungle vines. It is possible to run without tunes, however, and not lose all motivation. Sometimes the sound of your own thoughts is enough to keep you going.
Speed up while passing people who are either old or attractive. Or both. Even if they don’t say anything, you know the former are jealous and impressed, and the latter might just be intrigued. Don’t hesitate to feel flattered.
Take it down a notch when passing dogs. Unless you want to risk getting followed or even attacked by a hyperactive poodle or vicious German Shepherd who has become excited by your fast-paced movement, it is worth it to take it easy until you are out of sight. If the canine’s owner is old or attractive, weigh your options.
Don’t be rude. There is nothing more frustrating to a passerby who cheerfully waves and says “good morning” than a runner with a locked jaw and an expression like one would have while descending into hell. It doesn’t matter how focused or exhausted you are. The muscles in your mouth are still perfectly functional, so return the smile and the greeting and continue on your way.
Keep your wits about you. Don’t think that people, cars, or large boulders will step out of the way just because you come thundering along. Keeping your mind intact will help to avoid injury or just plain disaster.
Incorporate at least one piece of spandex into your outfit. Even if it’s just a headband, it will make you look intense. Looking intense leads to feeling intense. Think about it.
Try not to walk. If the pain is sharp or paralyzing, or your entrails are falling out, then you have an excuse. But don’t think that being out of breath means you need to stop. Running is not a game designed to incorporate breaks. It is hard. You will be tired. And you will feel bad about yourself if you cop out.
Most importantly, accept that you don’t know your own strength. No matter how hard you are pushing, it’s always possible to push a little harder. Finish with nothing left in the tank. You are the machine.