Beginner Runners: When Does Running Become Easier?
A passion for running is very rarely (or ever) a case of love at first sight. Instead, it has to be worked for. Earned. And while it’s hard to imagine that anyone can ever find a 30-minute tempo run enjoyable, that’s exactly what happens if you approach your initial rendezvous with the sport with patience and an open mind. If, instead of throwing in the towel after three weeks of seeing (and feeling!) no results, you keep your eye on the prize while giving your body a fair chance to adapt to the rigors of running.
But how long does it really take for the body to get into running shape? And at what point does “this sucks!” turn into “yes, I’m a runner for life!”? Let’s find out.
How does running become easier?
Many beginner runners set it as their goal to complete a 5K run without stopping. And while this is a good and very achievable goal, beginners often forget that, in order to reach that goal, a number of physiological changes, triggered by clever, consistent training, has to take place within the body.
Like what kind of changes, you ask? Well, with endurance training, one of the stimuli provided to the body, is energy depletion. With consistent application of this stimulus over time (i.e. through consistent training), this stimulus then leads to certain genes being switched on or off, which, in turn, changes the rate of protein synthesis and breakdown in the body. So, in the case of endurance running, the gene for the generation of mitochondria (or energy producers) is, for example, turned on. This then leads to more mitochondria being generated in trained muscles, allowing you to produce more energy through aerobic processes while running.
And while this is only one of many physiological changes that take place in the body as you start running, it should be clear that proper adaptation to training takes time.
How long does it take the body to physiologically adapt to the rigors of running?
But how long will it take to notice a difference in your body’s ability to deal with the rigors of running? According to former distance runner and exercise physiologist, Pete Pfitzinger, “it takes about six weeks to provide enough training effect to provoke a measurable improvement in your body’s abilities”. He adds that “approximately six weeks of long runs, tempo runs, long intervals, or strides will provide enough accumulated stimulus and adaptation that you will not only notice the improvement, but we could actually measure the change in a physiology lab”.
Six weeks may, however, still feel like an eternity. But don’t despair. Beginners often see and feel results sooner simply because they start lower down on the fitness ladder and their bodies are challenged more easily than that of seasoned athletes. According to certified personal trainer, Justin Fauci, “beginners see huge jumps in strength across the board every week with proper training”. That said, keep in mind that everyone is different. The exact time that it will take for you to start feeling the impact of training will depend on a number of factors, including your age, current fitness level, and current physical condition.
Also note that improved fitness is an ongoing process. So while running may start feeling easier for most beginner runners after six weeks of regular training, there will still be loads of room for improvement – something that can only be achieved through clever and consistent training. Remember that fitness takes time – it can and will not be rushed.
Tips for hanging in there until it gets easier
So what do you do until it gets easier? Is there a way to make dreadful runs more bearable while you wait for your fitness levels to pick up? Here are some tips from running legend, Hal Higdon:
- Start slowly. Start your workout with a walk, and only pick up the pace when you’re fully warmed up.
- Do your own thing. Forget about everyone else and run a pace that is suitable to your fitness level.
- Choose the scenic route. Distract your mind by choosing running routes with beautiful scenery. Also switch up your routes often to avoid boredom.
- Switch up your paces. Instead of always running at the same pace, switch it up from one run to another, and also within the same workout. Briefly running faster should help you focus on good form, while a quick water break can be rejuvenating as well.
- Run naked. Without a watch, that is! Every once in a while, free yourself from the pressure of running at a pre-set pace over for a pre-measured distance. Just run for the joy of it.
- Don’t go overboard! The start of a running journey is not the time or place to overdo it. Make sure that you rest and sleep enough in between runs, giving your body enough time to repair and rebuild itself.
- Get a running buddy. Sharing your miles and agony with someone can be wonderfully uplifting. And if you can’t find someone to join you, get a dog.
- Dress the part. Nothing fans the flame like some new running gear. So go on, treat yourself. Even if it’s just with a colorful pair of new running socks.
- Get a massage. If your budget allows, treat yourself to a regular sports massage. And if it doesn’t, invest in a foam roller and use it often.
- Hire a running coach. Because sometimes it’s just easier to keep going if you have someone to help you do it.
- Think metric. Kilometers tick by a lot faster than miles, which can be mentally easier to bear. So set your running watch to the metric system and rejoice as each kilometer flies by.
And lastly, but very importantly, remember to keep your expectations realistic. While running will certainly become easier as you get fitter, it will never be a walk in the park. There will always be tough runs and bad days – it’s what makes the running journey such a rewarding one.
Keep showing up
So, whatever you do, keep showing up. Keep lacing up and heading out, even if it sucks.
And remember that keeping in mind the bigger picture should make the agony more bearable: While it may not feel like it now, your body is busy with some physiological adaptations that will make running feel easier and more enjoyable in future. And this is something that simply cannot happen overnight.
So have the patience to be consistent (without overdoing it!) while your body does its thing – you’ll reap the benefits soon enough!
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- How long does it take to get in shape?, Online publication, Feb 14, 2017 ,