I was once an avid runner who turned into a competitive runner.
I completed numerous half marathons.
As an avid runner I would shoot for two to three longer runs a week (five miles at first), which soon became four eight mile runs a week at minimum.
My running obsession developed over a six year period.
For the first two years, running was my biggest hobby. I completed long runs frequently, but not every day.
For the next four years, running began to rule me. It consumed most of my thoughts.
Next thing you know, I was the runner who felt guilty if I didn’t run at least five miles each run; I felt guilty when I didn’t run every day.
It was grueling. I was constantly consumed with being able to “run-off” what I ate each day.
Something had to change.
I finally let go over my everyday run obsession in 2013.
I began lifting weights, running intervals on a treadmill and slowly removing one run from my schedule every week. I also began to focus more on my nutrition.
Today I am an Occasional Runner.
“Occasional Runner” [CROF] Definition: someone who decides on a whim to go jogging for pure bliss, mental clarity, fun, sun or to listen to music.
Now instead of trying to complete one [four to five mile] run a week I do it randomly.
In example, if I am on vacation I will take a random early morning jog to explore.
Or, I run just because.
For instance the other day the delightful weather enticed me to run outside.
But here’s the thing… when you aren’t used to running for your main form of exercise, it’s a bit nerve-racking to randomly set off for a run thats longer than five minutes.
Before I give my tips on how to make the Occasional Runner’s run that much better, let’s talk about my former past as an obsessive runner and why I came up with the term “Occasional Runner.”
Why I became an Occasional Runner
In high school when I first began distance running I quickly lost weight.
After the initial weight loss, I thought running was the only way to lose weight and to stay slim.
I figured, if I have to do this all the time [in order to see weight loss progress], I am going to get really good at it.
Did I mention I am uber competitive?
Before long I was racing myself every day to see how much faster I could complete my various neighborhood routes, with my confidence and self-worth always riding on the outcome.
Here are some negative mindset issues that surrounded my obsessive running phase:
- If didn’t feel good (i.e. sick, tired, allergies, hungover) I still ran
- If my legs were chronically locked up, (I barely foam rolled/stretched/rested), I still ran
- Even if I “needed” to run a ten mile run and barely had the time… I still ran
- I thought I literally had to run to lose weight or maintain the weight I was; even if I lost weight I still ran
None of these things are healthy and none of them made running fun.
I think the endorphins of the “runner’s high” felt at the end of each run clouded my mindset enough for me to pencil in another run for the next day.
I always fit that run in the next day, no matter what.
Running SUCKED with that mindset.
Why do something because you feel obligated to do when you don’t enjoy it?
Once I realized I could lift weights, [and have a BLAST], do interval runs occasionally, eat well and see the body I wanted, I felt so free! So relieved!
Side note: this shift did not happen over night; it took a while and is another story for another time.
Freeing myself from obsessive running allowed me to remember the small parts of running I actually do enjoy (when my body feels good and I have time).
Running now is something I occasionally do for fun.
However, not running on a regular basis makes going into a five mile run out of the blue quite daunting.
Here are some things that stress me out when I want to run but haven’t in a while.
The Occasional Runner’s roadblocks
The other day while walking to my gym to use the treadmills for intervals runs, I decided to go for a jog outside instead.
It was so beautiful outside!
I listened to my gut urging me to ditch the treadmill idea and pound the pavement.
I thought to myself, without pain or injury I can do this!
But it was nerve-racking; as an Occasional Runner now there are several things I’m not up to speed with like I used to be:
- I no longer have a perfect gauge on pace
- I no longer have four different go-to routes which I know the exact distance and how long they take to complete
- It’s daunting when you have fading memories of running 90 minute runs, 10 milers, and now can’t remember the last time you jogged more than 15 minutes
- Form… am I doing this right? I barely remember how it feels when my form is on point.
- Aerobic capactiy: do I have what it takes to actually do this?
The qualms aforementioned are all things that went through my head in the thirty seconds I contemplated running outside the other day and continue to ponder during the first five minutes of my run.
The thing is, when you don’t run often (and you have a former knowledge base about from what seems like eons ago), it is easy to get in your own head about the run…. be nervous… and talk yourself out of it.
I know what it feels like to think that if you don’t run for an hour, you’ve failed.
Stop thinking that way!
Most people would surprised at what they are actually capable of it they cleared their mind of all the roadblocks they heed during a run or any physical bout of exercise.
In the first few minutes of my most recent run I think the thing I feared most was stopping after only three minutes.
As a competitive and physically fit girl, I want to be the Occasional Runner who can decide to run four or five miles on a whim.
I remind myself that have the strength to do this– I lift very often. I just don’t run often.
If I consistently log good runs as an Occasional Runner, this should be no problem over time.
Part of being consistent takes commitment and we commit to things we love.
If I keep the occasional running fun and enjoyable and treat it like an escape... I can stay consistent and improve my times each week.
Disclaimer: as I have recently taken time away from running I have not taken time away from movement. I think my time spent getting stronger has drastically improved my running speeds.
Sunday I ran five miles in 43 minutes.
Six tips for the Occasional Runner
1. Take a relaxed mindset: anything is better than nothing; surprise yourself!
Have fun! This should be an outlet, a stress reliever and an escape. Let your mind drift; enjoy the sun and music and don’t worry about when you are going to stop or when it will be over.
Worst case scenario: you decide to stop after five minutes, so what? Just walk!
You get your walking in for the day!
The second you start approaching your runs like fun, therapeutic time it becomes less stressful; realize you can’t mess it up.
One thing I noted about my obsessive runner days was the guilty feeling I would get if I didn’t run far enough.
Freeing yourself from the obligation to run “x” miles or for ” minutes is like learning to love your body for what it can do and not how much you weigh, for example.
I want to be proud of myself whether I run for 20 minutes or 40 minutes based on how I am feeling that day!
What’s even cooler is that on days you aren’t so sure how well the run will go instead of trying to make yourself do something you aren’t amped about and feeling like you might fail you can set out to just try and run for five minutes or 20 minutes!
If you keep going after that, congrats to you!!
2. Go by heart rate; forget pace until the end
I used to know exactly what pace I was running at all times. After running day in and day out and even sometimes twice a day, I would know if I was at an 8 minute mile pace, 9 minute mile pace or 7:30 etc.
Unless you are an avid runner or you have an app on your phone telling you (I hate when the app tells me) you really won’t know how fast your running as an Occasional Runner.
Until you get home, map out your run and see how far you went in what amount of time, you won’t know……And that’s okay!
When it comes to finding the right pace, start off slow.
I would welcome the feeling of wanting to increase my pace as time goes on rather than feeling like I have to slow down to avoid feeling like I am going to puke.
As an Occasional Runner I only go breathless once or twice per run if I decide to push my pace for little spurts in order to pass someone or to finish fast at the end of the run.
Otherwise I am always easy breathing, imaging I am running with someone else and I could chat with them saying broken sentences.
Listen to your heart rate and make sure it is not too high, you want to stay in an aerobic heart rate zone.
Don’t worry about your pace if you are an Occasional Runner.
I have no doubts that you won’t improve you pace over time, but as you start running occasionally, don’t stress it– remember tip number one.
3. Set mini-goals and “song-goals” for distance
One of my favorite go-to tricks is setting a mini-goal to increase the time I spend running.
The first time I ventured out further than my neighborhood block I told myself I just wanted to run for four songs on my iPod.
If I made it through listening to the four awesome songs planned then I would stop and walk.
Over time I was able to make a set of five songs I deemed my “warm-up songs” and then I had five “working songs.”
Ten songs total!
On days I wasn’t so sure about running, I would set off to only commit to the five “warm-up songs” as a in order to test out how running would feel that day. This way I would get in a twenty minute slow jog at minimum.
Planning my run to music helped me push myself to run a little further than I would without the music.
Running to certain songs also gave me a gauge on how long I had been running (besides watching a clock) when I didn’t have an exact route in mind.
Another way I push myself distance-wise sans music is with physical markers.
For instance, if I am running in a neighborhood I will jog inbetween a set of three mailboxes and when I get the the third one I will pick up my pace for the next three, and so on.
When I first began running I would just try to jog to the fifth mailbox down my street…gotta start somewhere!
The cool part is that you get better over time.
Before you know it you can jog two laps before you get to the fifth mailbox 😉
Make a kickass playlist and decide to jog through “x” amount of songs!
You won’t regret it! Challenge yourself!
4. Relax your shoulders and land on the middle of your foot
When it comes to form, if you aren’t in the groove of running everyday… running feels entirely awkward!
Sometimes my shorts rub in weird places, I wonder if my elbows are flailing out too much and if I am nervous I shrug my shoulders upward.
First, I tell myself to just go without thinking about it.
I try to be relaxed and concentrate on landing on the middle of my foot. By focusing on my feet I don’t stress about how my upper body looks.
If I start to feel pains in my upper back or neck then I will reconsider my form.
Go with your gut and how it feels, take it slow to start and easing into it may help you maintain a loose, natural upper body swing.
5. Warm up the glutes before you go!
If you have two minutes before you go, doing some single-leg hip thrusts is a great idea. Having stronger glutes translates to more power and speed as a runner.
The stronger your glutes are the more force you can put into each step.
I spent most of my life quad-dominant; I rarely used my glutes; I rarely used them because I had never been taught how to properly activate them.
I now know how to activate my glutes because I have been strength training them for almost two years.
Even when it’s a rest day from training, I still try and do some single-leg hip thrusts before I run to fire up my glutes and get them activated before I start the run.
The best part about single-leg hip thrusting is that you can do it form a bench, chair or your couch (see video) and you can do them very effectively without any added weight.
Give these a try before your next occasional run!
6. Finish at a faster pace
Finishing a run is the best feeling ever; this tip is a feel good tip.
One of my all time favorite running traditions is picking up my speed at the end of a run.
Sometimes I pick it up for 30 seconds and go into a full sprinting speed at the end.
Other times I push it to a very fast run for two minutes at the end; it gives me quite the rush!
Finishing at the end will kickstart those endorphins and make you just a little extra sweaty.
It’s easy to really push yourself when you know the exercise is almost over.
I like the sense of accomplishment at the end of a run and picking up my pace, passing people on the way home makes me feel like a boss!
It is crucial to understand that I have nothing against runners who run everyday and do so competitively.
I am very much inspired by all of the triathletes and ironman competitors out there!
If you love running, keep it up!
However, my competitive nature and fat loss strategies as a teenager lead me to take running to a negative place where I was obsessive about running and it was unhealthy.
Avid running lead to obsessive running for me personally. My motivating factors had to do with my unhealthy image of myself and the thought that I had to run to look better naked.
This article is meant to help those who have had similar experiences when running (to lose weight) and have developed bad habits.
These tips are for anyone going about an occasional run to be able to make the MOST of it and have a blast!