If you're a runner it tends to be a way of life. Something you get used to, something you don't like to miss. It can feel like a duty sometimes, even a chore. We all know that it can be hard work. Sure it's a brilliant cardiovascular workout that gets the heart pumping and the oxygen flowing. After a long run or a hard session you feel great but you've really earned that 'feel good' factor - that sense of well-being, that beer, that big slice of chocolate cake.
But is there an easier way? Can running be pleasurable as you do it? Fun on the run, as it were? I reckon it can be, but you need to think about it - work at it even. So, what's the secret?
OK, first step, leave your stopwatch at home. There's enough time pressures in everyday live - work deadlines, picking up the kids, preparing meals. Take time out from those demands, enjoy an unstructured experience and let your mind relax as your body exercises. Give yourself options, if it seems like it's going to be tough, keep it short, head home after three or four miles; if it feels right go the extra distance.
It's good if you're mentally relaxed but how do you avoid cranking up the physical demands on your body. Step 1 is to start out easily, running at a very modest pace for the first 10 minutes or so. Let your heart rate rise steadily, gently letting your body come to terms with the fact that there's going to be some work coming up. After an easy warm-up, stop and take time for some gentle stretching. We've all got our trouble spots - for me it's tight calves and hamstrings. Some modest extensions make me feel springier and ready to move.
Then you're running again, still at a gentle pace, but feeling aware of your body. Getting into a groove, relaxing your breathing, letting your body move along at a rate it's comfortable with. Location can make a big difference, if you're running on crowded city pavements, you're alert to pedestrians, conscious of the jarring on the hard surface, so not ideal for getting into the 'zone'. Find places that you really enjoy - parkland trails, riverside paths, countryside routes - and work out how you're going to make them 'do-able'. It's worth the effort to have pleasant surroundings and good underfoot terrain.
Happy running means comfortable running. Make sure your kit is up to the job. Shoes with sufficient cushioning, jackets, tops and shorts/tights that fit well and keep you cool/warm. You don't want to feel too hot as you run along, or cold and wet in winter. Get it right and you'll be a contented runner. Comfort also means that your body has the fuel to keep going. Calculate pre-run meal times/top-up snacks, take a sports drink along with you, or a couple of jelly beans to give you that extra boost.
This is the time to remember that as a runner you're a very lucky person. Not everyone can do what you're doing. Don't take it for granted. There may come a point when you can't do this due to age or infirmity. Hopefully, you'll drop down dead after a long run when you're 92 but the fact that you're in sufficiently good physical condition to run three, or five or 10 miles is to be appreciated; savoured.
Now as you're running along on a nice yielding surface, the river gurgling gently beside you, cool in your wicking vest and feeling good after a recent hydration stop, you start to count your blessings. You are that mythical being: The Happy Runner.