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By Eric Thorne
Running equals punishment – that’s what I grew up believing. Any time I screwed up in organized sports as a kid, the punishment was to run. Got caught stealing second? Run a lap. Dropped a pass in practice? Run two laps and so on. My experiences with running early on were often associated with punishment and that’s a hard stigma to overcome.
But, with almost twenty years of running for the love of running and roughly twenty-five thousand miles on my knees, hips, and ankles, I think it’s safe to say I have overcome. How does this happen? How does someone take a seemingly monotonous, painful form of punishment and turn it into a passion that’s part workout and part therapy? The answer is simple: MAKE IT FUN. Like many things in life, you won’t be good at it at first. I still have trouble many days during the first three, four or five miles of a run. That’s often the part that’s the hardest. Your body hasn’t woken up yet. It still doesn’t know what you’re doing. It’s often miles five to fifteen that are my best miles during a long run. Crazy but true. Since most people never make it past a five-mile run, they never get to the “zen” or “runner’s high” that makes it all worthwhile. Once your body gets over that hump, it’s able to go on cruise control and enjoy the ride. This takes practice (like anything else worthwhile) but eventually you’ll get there. You gradually work up the mileage and essentially “trick” your body into running longer and longer distances. If done properly, you can train for a 10K, ten-miler, half- marathon or full marathon in a matter of months. One leads to the other leads to the other. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You can do it physically. It’s probably your head that will get in your way. After my first half- marathon, I was exhausted (mentally and physically) and I remember thinking, “Could I ever do two of these back-to-back to complete a full marathon? No way.” However, having now completed more than fifty races at or beyond full marathon distance, clearly that answer was wrong and had I listened to it, I would have missed out on a ton of extra conditioning and miles and miles of additional fun. Always remember that there are no limits even when you try to convince yourself otherwise!
I believe that running is the purest, most primal form of exercise. And, like the book says, we were “Born to Run,” not sit on the couch or behind a computer all day. So, let’s get back to the “fun” I mentioned earlier. How do we make the most efficient, effective form of cardio fun? In my opinion, this is done by getting yourself off the treadmill and onto the roads and trails and by throwing away the watches and GPS devices (unless you really love them). We’ve all been there: thirty minutes into a run on the treadmill and because of all the clocks, mileage counters, pace calculators, and calorie info, it seems like two hours have passed. It is excruciating, painful, and super-boring. It starts to feel like a job and that’s not gonna turn you into a runner. If you don’t love it, you won’t want to do it forever.
Almost everyone loves the way they feel after a run, but very few love the run itself. Once you learn how to love the run, you will never want to stop. Throw away the GPS, put on some tunes (or not), grab some friends (or not), and hit the trails near your house or office. Go out for ten or twenty minutes. Go out for five miles. Just go out! Make it fun. Run through the woods like an animal. Run down the country road or sidewalk like you are five years old again. Think about everything (or nothing). Solve a problem. Sing out loud. Look at the world around you. Watch the seasons change. Enjoy the day. Just don’t run every day. In fact, don’t even run two days in a row. I never do. It starts to feel like work and I already have a job. Learn to love the run. You are a machine. Put your body into a position to treat your mind to that pleasure. HAVE FUN!
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Eric Thorne, 43, describes himself as an “ultrarunner.” Living in Phoenixville, PA, he works out at Club La Maison in Wayne, Main Line Health & Fitness in Bryn Mawr, and Valley Forge Park. Eric has completed more than fifty races of marathon distance or longer. He does a lot of his running on the trails of Valley Forge Park. Recent races include the Miami Marathon in January, the Hat Run 50K in March, the Hot Chocolate Run 15K in April, and the Bull Run Run 50 Miler, also in April. Eric is training for the “Race Across the Sky,” otherwise known as the Leadville Trail 100 Miler in Leadville, CO, in August. In addition to a rocky, hilly, all-through-the-night trail run, runners will have to deal with the Rock Mountain lung-searing altitude, 10,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level.