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  • Writer's pictureisaacmathu

What I've Learnt from 4 Years of Mostly Terrible Running

I love running now and I am making a lot of progress, but it didn’t have to take four years to get to this point. 

Based on my Strava history, my first proper run was on March 26th 2019. I ran for 2.2km (1.3miles) at a laborious pace of 6.50/km. Today, almost exactly four years later, I recorded my longest run on Strava — 10.4km (6.5miles) at a pace of 6.30/km.

Honestly, it’s ridiculous that it has taken me four years to run a decent 10k. That’s much, much longer than a standard couch to marathon training program. 

But it didn’t have to be this way. I made a lot of mistakes when I got into running, the biggest one being my ignorance. It’s only in the last one year that I’ve finally made big improvements in running and come to enjoy it. 

When I couldn’t even imagine running a marathon before, right now I’m planning to train for one or two this year. I’m still an amateur, but an amateur who is learning and growing. 

If there are any fellow amateur runners out there who, like me, feel like they are going nowhere, here are the 6 biggest lessons I’ve learnt from four years of mostly terrible running. 

1. Ignorance is the Biggest Obstacle 

The biggest mistake I made, and the reason it took so long to improve my running, is that I did not bother to learn about running. I assumed you simply start running and get better as you go. So I did stupid things like: 

  • Focusing on speed instead of distance and endurance. 

  • Running with the wrong form, leading to frequent injuries and soreness that took the joy out of running. 

  • Tiring myself out instead of going slow. 

As a result, I made very little progress in three years. I couldn’t even manage to run more than once every one or two weeks because of injuries or just not looking forward to the tiredness and stitches. And without the consistency, I was stuck in the same place for years.   

The turning point in my running came when I started binge watching YouTube videos on running and reading running blogs. I learnt about form, slow running, cross training, breathing and other crucial aspects of running. 

When I incorporated these in my workouts, I suddenly found myself excited about going on a run. From one run every couple of weeks, I now run 2-3 times a week and I am slowly building up to 4-5 days as I prepare to participate in races. 

I don't get any injuries, I am having fun, and I am seeing actual progress in both distance and time.   

Note: Running theory can, as with any hobby and sport, get deeply technical. No need to bog yourself down with too many details in the beginning. Learn the basics first, then advance your knowledge as you improve your running. 

2. Slow the Heck Down 

I am a driven person, usually not in the right ways. When I have a goal, I go at it as hard as I can. I have since discovered this is usually a wrong approach, both in running and life. 

We could all do with some slowing down. Slowing down doesn't mean you are slacking off or not giving it your all. It means you are taking time to learn, adapt and grow. 

I thought I could go from the couch to blitzing down the trail at lightning speeds. But that only led to slower running, zero growth and endless injuries.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the last year, and which I still struggle to stick to, is slowing the heck down. I already know the science behind ‘running slow to run faster’ (here’s a video explaining the idea), but implementing it is harder than I anticipated and it’s something I have to keep practicing to get better at.

It goes against my go-getter personality. But I have learnt to leave my ego behind and enjoy slower runs. These ‘lazy’ runs have increased my distance and speed, while eliminating injuries and allowing me to actually relax while running (something I could have never imagined a couple years back).

Consequently, this has opened my eyes to the benefits of applying this principle of slowing down in other areas of life like my career, relationships and other forms of exercise.      

3. It Matters That You Enjoy It

For a long time, I loved running but I did not enjoy it. I subscribed to the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy. So rather than enjoy it, each run was a tiresome and stitch-inducing huff and puff. That did not do any good to my hobby. 

Now, I know better. It matters a great deal that I enjoy running. I still get tired, I still dread hill runs and on some days I am not in the mood to go running. But through all this, I still have fun and find running to be incredibly rewarding both physically and mentally. 

That’s why I am so glad I am getting better at slowing down. It’s the only reason I have come to enjoy running more. 

4. Smooth Progress is a Myth 

As part of my driven personality, I expect my graph of progress to be a smooth line angling ever up, never faltering. In reality, that’s not how progress on anything works and coming to terms with that eliminates negative feelings of guilt and self-punishment over failure and stagnation, real or imagined. 

There are weeks when I am running way behind my PB times. There are days when I struggle to finish a 5K, even though I’ve run it countless times. Back when I was starting, such challenges used to discourage me and I would inevitably do even worse. 

Now, I am perfectly okay with periods of stagnation or even a drop in performance. Instead of self-flagellation, I try to figure out what’s happening. That’s because such moments are usually a signal that something’s not right — maybe I’ve been going too fast, or I could be sick, or there’s something that’s stressing me. 

Looking at the big picture (e.g. my progress over several months rather than my weekly ups and downs) gives me a better idea of how much progress I’m making. 

5. Do It Alone First, Then Together   

This one is a bit subjective. I found that it helped to start running on my own. It allowed me to figure out whether I really liked it without any social pressure. Later, as I got better at it, running solo gave me a chance to test myself at different paces without worrying about keeping up with a group. 

But I should have joined a running group or at least gotten a friend to run with sooner. I am just now getting into social running and it’s wonderful. In addition to all the benefits of spending time with people, running with others gives me a chance to challenge myself, it motivates me and I get to learn new things from other runners. 

You may find it easier to start running in a group, but make sure you also get some solo running time. 

6. Consistency is the Only Way to Grow

After slowing down, the other major running lesson I’ve learnt is consistency. Having a weekly running routine and sticking to it each week is how I’ve gone from running 5K to 10K and it’s how I’ll soon run a marathon. 

To be honest, consistency doesn't come naturally to me. I want big results and I want them now. But, as I have learnt, the real hardwork and dedication is in consistently showing up. 

Having fun is a big part of being consistent. Because there is no immediate improvement to motivate me after each run, the promise of enjoying myself is part of the reason I am consistent. 

I’ve also discovered that it’s important to track your improvements, no matter how small. When I assess how I feel and check my stats, I can usually spot small improvements week over week. It can be running a couple of seconds faster, feeling less tired, or managing to run slower. Highlighting those to myself helps keep me motivated and remind me I am drawing closer to my bigger goals.  

About Isaac: I am a health & wellness writer that loves to help people stay healthy and live longer. If you liked this article and would like to work with me, shoot me a message. I write blogs, newsletters, and most other types of health content.

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