How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Running

close up of a young woman tying her running shoe.

by Maria Nokkonen, content creator at adidas Group

“And one day, out of the blue, I started to run – simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.”
―Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Last May I went for my annual run, which had become somewhat of a tradition of mine – the tradition of giving up after remembering how much I hate running.

My exercise philosophy is simple: Enjoy what you do. With all the other obligations of adulthood, exercise can’t be yet another chore. Though I never took pleasure in running, something kept luring me back every spring, stubbornness mainly. The thing is I’ve always been fascinated more with the idea of running than with the actual activity. In theory it seems like the perfect fit with my personality, one geared toward continuous learning and self-improvement.

Young woman running on a running track.photo credit: Hannah Hlavacek/adidas Group

I made countless mistakes in the past: pushed myself too hard, ran too fast, didn’t take walking breaks, didn’t do the proper warm-up and cool down and most importantly, I had terrible form and technique. This year, however, I finally “got” running. Here’s how I did it.

Running is all about legs, right? Wrong!
The best advice is often deceptively simple. I unloaded my running woes on a colleague who said: “Did you know many runners use their arms incorrectly? Keep them bent at 90 degrees and imagine your elbows as pendulums, swaying naturally from your shoulders.”

With this trick in mind I laced up again. I didn’t put any effort in moving my arms, but instead, I took them along for the ride, letting them swing as they pleased, front and back. The difference was huge. My arms didn’t become fatigued like before. Sure, my legs and feet were working double duty, but I was amazed at how much better I performed thanks to a simple tip.

This was a pivotal moment – realizing I needed to focus on improving my technique. I started reading up on biomechanics and watching tutorials, then applying my learnings to practice. As a former heel striker, I quickly learnt it to be the root cause for my knee issues in the past. I made a concerted effort to lean slightly forward and land on the ball of my foot – something I’m still perfecting.

Find what gets you out the door
All newbie advice is often the same: “Sign up for a 5K to inspire you!” The only thing it inspires me to do is to curl up inside a blanket like the contents of a burrito. As someone who habitually avoids both crowds and competitions, racing doesn’t appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually highly ambitious. I set high expectations and might get somewhat obsessed with achieving them. But knowing how I rank against others isn’t relevant to me. I’m only out to beat my personal bests. By tracking each run, following my own progress is a no brainer.

What worked for me was choosing a good audiobook that I only allow myself to listen to while running. Leaving a good story at a cliffhanger turned out to be a great motivator. Whatever your ear candy of choice – audiobooks, podcasts, music, or Story Runs – use it as a nudge to get you going. Perhaps you enjoy the sounds of nature or traffic, or focusing on your own thoughts instead. Great. Use it as a trigger to tie a pleasant activity to a not-so pleasant one.

What’s more, running is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, a place we mainly look at on Instagram. I’m an avid hiker and try to do it on most weekends, but on a daily basis, I don’t go out nearly as much as I should. By running outdoors, I’ve discovered how much I enjoy the invigorating feel of a light rain or wind against my skin. I use that as one focal point from which to derive joy as I bound forward.

Young woman stretching her leg on a running track.photo credit: Hannah Hlavacek/adidas Group

Pace yourself to big rewards
By diligently following the run-walk-run method championed by many running coaches for beginners, I ended up accidentally running a 5K in September. It happened because I got into the proverbial flow and didn’t feel like stopping. The sense of accomplishment washed over me afterwards, and this brings me to a warning: Running might have the power to boost your confidence, so be careful if that’s something you want to avoid.

Last spring, every runner was passing me by on the street. Today, they still are – I’m what you might call a slow poke. I’m fine with that, because sometimes the fastest way to results is through taking your time. If there’s one thing my struggles in striding have taught me, it’s to have patience in the long run. As an apprentice in running, my current focus is on building endurance, not speed, which calls for even more patience. Though I have yet to experience the elusive runner’s high, completing a physical effort using solely my body raises my spirits.

The thing that got me back on the road, year after year, was that no one ever told me I have to go running. When I’m pushed to do something, my inner rebel breaks loose and I resist. The motivation has to come from within, and oftentimes I need to trick myself to uncover it. I choose to run simply because I want to. If you do, too, I have good news: Running doesn’t judge, so it’s always ready to welcome you with open arms (swinging naturally like a pendulum). Let your running practice develop organically and see where it takes you.

About Maria:

Maria Nokkonen, content creator at adidas Group

Originally from Finland, Maria works as content creator at adidas Group in Germany. Her greatest loves are reading, writing and travelling, as well as harnessing the benefits of exercise for the body and mind. She enjoys trying new sports, but a few staples remain constant: yoga, hiking and now also running – everything that doubles as meditative practice.

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