A few years ago, I would have told you that running was kind of my “thing.” From 2011 to 2016, as Forrest Gump so eloquently put it, “if I was going somewhere, I was running.” In those years, I racked up an impressive amount of miles, including a full marathon, about a dozen half marathons, countless 10ks and 5ks, and a Ragnar Relay.
And I loved it. Like head-over-heels, butterflies-in-the-stomach loved it.
But that’s not the way I feel today. Somewhere between the major life changes I’ve experienced over the past few years (including buying a house, moving to a new state, launching a business, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and tying the knot), I have officially fallen off the running bandwagon—and fallen out of love with running.
The thought of a popping in my headphones and running a 10k just doesn’t fill me with the same excitement it used to, and there’s something about that that makes me really sad. But just because running and I are going through a rough patch doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw in the towel on this relationship. I’m determined to fall back in love with running—and what better time to do it than fall, with all its perfect weather, gorgeous foliage, and promises of a post-run pumpkin spice latte?
I know I’m not the only runner whose relationship with running has hit the skids, so I asked the experts how to reignite the spark in my relationship with running—and how to not only lace up my shoes and hit the pavement, but to actually enjoy it again.
1. Remember what it’s like at the finish line.
One of the most swoon-worthy parts of being a runner? That feeling you get when you cross the finish line of a big race. When you’ve been out of the game for a little while (or, in my case, a long while), it can be easy to forget just how amazing that post-race feeling is. So why not hang out at a finish line to remind yourself?
“Volunteer at a local race ASAP—and then sign up for one a few months down the line,” says Jessica Sebor, 10-time marathon finisher and current partner at Day/Won.
When you volunteer at a local race, you get to see and experience the pride runners feel when they cross the finish line and remind yourself that you can feel that way again too. “There’s nothing like seeing other people experience that finish-line feeling. Volunteering will give you those warm-fuzzies and motivate you to reach your own goals,” Sebor says.
2. Enlist an accountabilibuddy.
“When you fall out of love with something, it’s usually either because it’s gone stale or you’ve gotten jaded! Accountability partners give you a new, fresh reason to get out the door and perceive running through a different lens,” says Nicole DeBoom, founder of Skirt Sports and president of the nonprofit Running Start.
If you’re struggling to find joy in running, find strength in numbers. Having a running buddy will not only help you stay committed to your running schedule, but it’ll also make the process a lot more fun (is there anything that makes a long run go by quicker than some good, old-fashioned gossip?).
“Multiple studies have shown that people with accountability partners are more likely to stick with an exercise routine than those who go it alone,” Sebor says. “But beyond simply getting the job done, a buddy makes running much more fun. Running with a friend makes the workout feel more like a social meetup than a solo chore.”
3. Put some skin in the game.
If you’re the competitive type (guilty as charged), there’s no quicker way to spark motivation toward something you’re dreading than turning it into a contest.
“Strike a deal with a ‘run reward jar.’ Put 30 one-dollar bills in a jar, and every time you skip a planned workout, take $1 out,” says Stamford, CT-based personal trainer Lauren Seib. “At the end of the month, use the extra cash for something that makes you shine, like a massage or dinner at your favorite restaurant.”
Because you won’t want to take money out of the jar (and “lose” against yourself), you’re more likely to get up and run even when you don’t want to—and because you get to spend the money on something fun at the end of the month, it gives you something positive to look forward to.
Want to up the competition? Loop in someone else and raise the stakes. “For a little twist, try this with your best friend or significant other,” Seib says. “The runner who skipped more workouts throughout the month buys the other dinner!”
4. Make your run fun.
After taking some time off from the running game, running can feel long, monotonous, and kind of boring. Not so fun, right? By consciously looking for ways to make your runs more entertaining, you can push through early training and make it out to the other side (where a long run might actually sound like your idea of a good time).
So how, exactly, do you make your runs more fun?
First, you can break up some of the monotony with strength training. “Add in strength moves at certain markers, like five push-ups every stop sign or tricep dips on every other park bench,” Seib says. “Your legs will get a breather, and the rest of your body will get some attention. Win, win.”
You can also make things more fun by switching up your route. “Try a new loop you’ve been wanting to sweat-test or take it to the trails,” Seib says. And if you’re not sure where the most fun runs are hiding? Hit up your social media feed. “Still feeling ‘blah?’ Blast an Insta story asking your followers for their favorite local paths for fitspo,” Seib says.
5. Start slow.
In your quest to fall head over heels with running again, you might be tempted to hit the ground running (literally), but nothing will kill your rekindled love affair quicker than an injury. So make sure to start slow.
“Engaging in any athletic activity in a high-strain or vigorous manner without proper acclimatization can ultimately lead to injury,” says Michael Ryan, orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center. “Returning to running requires consistent and graduated training to allow the body to respond.”
If you want to avoid injury, ease your way back into a regular running routine and increase your mileage slowly. “In general, it’s recommended not to increase activity or mileage by more than 20-30 percent per week,” says Miho J. Tanaka, M.D., director of the women’s sports medicine program at Johns Hopkins.
6. Make running a practice in gratitude.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to have positive benefits, including improvements in mental and physical health—and according to Sebor, it could rekindle your running flame.
“Up your mental game by practicing gratitude before, during, and after every workout. Whenever I don’t feel like getting out the door, I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to move my body and work up a sweat,” Sebor says. “Also, this sounds cheesy, but physically smiling during a run can make everything feel better. Meb Khelfezi does this during races, and as an Olympic medalist, he’s probably on to something! After the run, thank yourself for doing something good for your mind and body.”
Reminding yourself of how grateful you are for running (even when you don’t feel like it) can make it easier to lace up your shoes and get moving. “It’s normal to dread the first few steps, but it’s rare to finish a run and say ‘I wish I didn’t do that,'” DeBoom says. “You’re almost always more grateful, clear in mind, and healthy in body after a run.”
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer and accidental marathon runner living in Portland, OR. Keep up with her running adventures on Instagram @deannadebara.