5 Ways to Make Running Joyful

Find joy and learn how to love running with these approaches.

Now that I’m several weeks into re-starting a running habit, I’m reminded of my love-hate relationship with this sport.

Ah, running — it is a fickle one, isn’t it? At once so enticing with thoughts of shiny new running shoes and unforeseen trails, and yet also an absolute slog. For as we all know, to get to the waterfall at the end of the trail we must grind, sweat, bleed, and heave. Is it really worth it?

A younger me would remember that it is not about the destination, but the journey itself — and I’d like to slap him. True and wise words, but the coffee mugs, calendars, bumper stickers, and indoor decor still aren’t enough to convince my now-jaded 26-year-old psyche to actually roll out of bed and get the work done. I mean, I’m not getting any younger. I’m at the point where I feel the negative effects of ignored stretching. Dehydration is no longer an option.

So let’s reevaluate. How shall I get myself out the door this season? And how can this exercise be more of a joyful endeavor than a death march? Here are five approaches that are keeping me going. 

Mind the bounce

I’ve realized that joy goes hand-in-hand with a literal spring in the step. There’s nothing pretty about dragging your feet and slogging it like your back is broken. I’ve learned to intentionally run with energy, muscles tightening and releasing like a bow giving energy to an arrow, which brings motivation and anticipation for the next step. So let’s become mindful of our bodies, and when the spring fades, know that it’s time to be done.

Take a break

We can’t ignore that Odysseus didn’t make it back home without any pit stops. He went to shore, looked around, got some rest, and even hung out with Circe (wink, wink). If it really is about the journey rather than the destination, then we need to stop and look around at how the journey is unfolding. Smell the roses, literally (hopefully you’re running through some sick gardens).

Don’t run on empty

I’m done running on an empty stomach just to try to lose a few extra ounces. It’s not sustainable to exert myself when there’s nothing in the tank. A lack of fuel only leads to burnout. So I’m consuming the energy I need, and then using it. If you lose your breath, stop to rest and catch it. If you need to eat or drink, give your body what it needs.

Feed your emotions

No more sad boi songs. I’m purging my playlists of Lana and Lorde, and plugging into joy instead. Listen to songs that make you want to sing, that get your feet tapping, and you’ll find that you run just a little faster. We exercise for the endorphins, right? Let’s give them a fighting chance in our mindset.

Seek transcendence

I’ve also begun treating my workout not as an exercise, but as a meditation. Running used to be about pushing, striving, achieving goals that I didn’t really need (speed, muscle, a few lost pounds, a better physique, etc.). Goals are good, but falling short can also lead to unnecessary guilt and shame. Reaching a goal is a great feeling, as long as you know where to go next.

The reason I fell in love with running is the zen that it provides me — it gives me a feeling of freedom, of weightlessness. It’s not always easy to get there, but when you find your rhythm, there is nothing like it. When I’m in tune with my body, mind, and surroundings, it’s almost hard to leave the spirit behind. Call it a runner’s high, but it feels more like prayer to me. 

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