You’ll double over, gasping for air with another two kilometres of pavements, roads and park paths ahead of you. Questions are running through your mind: why are you doing this? Wouldn’t a few reps in an air-conditioned gym suffice? Congratulations you’ve joined the “Cardio Sucks” club (membership: almost the world’s entire population).
The reality is running isn’t easy, and it will never be just a “walk in the park”, but it doesn’t need to feel like the end of the world. Ultimately, the more steps you can rack up, the better your heart health, stamina, hell, even your libido will be. But how do you get through that wall, the one that stands in front of you every time the cardio bug bites.
Most running fanatics will convince you that persistence is key—and they’re not wrong. Stringing together regular sessions, just like the gym, will translate into monumental gains as long as you’re always testing yourself. But here at MH, we don’t believe that running should be torture. That’s why we’ve compiled a few tips that turn your cardio sessions into something you enjoy (or at least can tolerate.)
1. Choose a Manageable Programme
Many newbies to the tarmac opt for a rudderless approach, hitting their routes with no intention other than putting one foot in front of the other to string together a reasonable distance. But if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll quickly tire yourself out, and those ambitious distances will start to feel as elusive as the next Game of Thrones novel. (Come on George, just finish it already.)
The trick? Choose a training programme that will guide you from zero to hero. We’re big fans of Couch to 5K and its infinite variations because it scales the challenge based on your fitness level slowly prepping you for that coveted 5km stretch. Workouts start off easy with alternating walks and runs that will let you catch a breather before picking up the pace again. That way you won’t run yourself ragged, and you’ll have energy to run again down the line.
Our friends at Runner’s World have put together their own Couch-to-5k plan, but you can also simplify your life by downloading an app like C25K which features voice prompts that let you know when it’s time to warm-up, walk and run while automatically tracking exactly where you are on the programme’s schedule of workouts. Running groups like adidas Runners also meet regularly for sessions tackling a similar training plan; perfect if you’re looking to run alongside a group of likeminded (and like-legged) individuals.
2. Get More Sleep
When you sleep, your body starts going through the motions of repairing and regenerating tissues, reinforcing your muscles for your next tarmac session. No surprise, then, that shorts nights and fitful rest translate into havoc on your runs. Research published in the European Journal of Physiology found that a single night of serious sleep deprivation caused people to get fatigued far quicker when tackling strenuous exercises and tasks. Not only will this cut your runs short, but it could also tank your speed.
3. Stop Worrying About Others
You’ve just been lapped by a guy twice your age and he’s probably going to do it again. While the male ego isn’t built for these overly humbling moments, it’s important to have perspective. Maybe he’s been training his whole life? He could be an Olympian. Or, you’re just not as fit… and that’s okay. That’s exactly why you’re out here, to build up your fitness base, burn calories and keep your heart happy. Keep your eyes on the prize, not on your “competitors”.
Instead of thinking about how slow you are, or how embarrassing it is to be left in the dust, draw inspiration from the fleet footed individuals around you. They represent the possibilities of sticking to your training routine, and one day you might also coast through your runs.
However, what if you’re worried about making a scene with your awkward running antics? It’s a fear that many newbie runners share—i.e., that their first forays into the world of running will look awkward, silly or weird. It’s a natural anxiety, don’t get us wrong, but it’s also bordering on paranoia. Trust us, nobody is looking—everyone is out there in their own worlds: whether they’re training, walking the dogs or just sunning on the pavement. And the same advice from above applies: keep your eyes on the prize, remember why you’re out there in first place.
4. Ditch the Headphones
Running without a playlist is heresy, right? Well, if you’re struggling with pacing yourself, ditching the cans could be a wise decision. When you’re plugged into the “Big Techno Festival Bangers” ensemble of tunes, some suggest you can’t concentrate on your breathing leading to over exertion and flagging out of your runs too soon. Leaving the tunes behind will also free your mind to work through other things while you run, like work stress, meal prep, or whether King Kong could really beat Godzilla in a brawl. (FYI in a fair fight, Godzilla wins every time.)
But music can have its place, too: many runners like to zone out as the miles fly by, entering into a state of Zen as they run in sync with the rhythm of their favourite songs. However, there’s also your safety to think about. With motorists becoming more and more blasé about stop signs, red lights and traffic laws in general, it’s important to stay alert. Fortunately, buds like the new Apple Airpods Pros, let you switch between noise canceling and all-around awareness “transparency” mode on the fly so you can keep your ears open for an oncoming taxi that’s decided the pavement is a side street.
5. Drink Water (Coke Doesn’t Count)
…well it does, but pure H2O is your best wingman on the track. Without adequate hydration, your running efforts will always feel like torture—especially in the heat. Cardio makes you sweat, and that means you’ll spring a leak as soon as you pick up the pace. Fail to get properly hydrated and your blood will thicken, tanking your heart’s efficiency and ramping up your heart rate (and blood pressure). That’s in more serious cases, but even modest dehydration can hit the brakes on your running ambitions. Bottom line: um, bottom’s up?
6. Always Warm-Up
Even if it’s just a few stretches. There’s a reason most running programmes have a few minutes of warm-up walks or jogs built into the opening segment. Research has found that performing a warm-up can significantly reduce your injury risk. Plus, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers discovered that participants who performed a dynamic stretching routine before hitting the treadmill were able to exercise at a higher intensity for longer than their “cold” counterparts. Try our six warm-up moves designed to make you a faster runner.