How to get in the habit of running, by an Olympic gold medalist

learn how to run and enjoy it
learn how to run and enjoy it

By Faith Xue, Byrdie

I loved running from the start is not something you hear most people say. Sanya Richards-Ross is not most people. The Jamaican American track and field star has not one but five Olympic medals under her belt—four of which happen to be gold. When an injury and health problem almost took her out of the race (literally) in 2007, Richards-Ross persevered with not only her physical strength but also her mental stamina; the gold medals followed. Her journey is an inspiring one, starting when she was only 7 years old. "It was the most amazing feeling," she says about her first time running. "I felt like I was flying." Our own feelings toward running are decidedly less enthusiastic, though we'd love to eventually get there—which is why we were thrilled when Richards-Ross agreed to share her motivation secrets. Ahead, you'll find her thoughtful advice on how to make running a habit that you'll enjoy and even look forward to. Fancy that. Keep scrolling to see her tips!

Set realistic goals

New year, new you—which is great and all, but that doesn't mean you should expect yourself to suddenly start running five miles a day. "The most common mistake people make when establishing a running habit is setting too-lofty goals," Richards-Ross tells us. "Many people want to start off with 30 or more minutes of running, and it's not as easy as it sounds." Instead, she says it's okay to start slow, with a 30-minute mix of cardio, running, and walking. Then, gradually push yourself to incorporate more running. Set realistic goals, and don't beat yourself up when you don't stick to them—slow and steady will get you further than bursts of well-intentioned but unrealistic intentions.

Push through the pain

So you finally ran—and now your whole body hurts. Know this: It won't always be like this. "People underestimate how sore they may feel after going for their first run, and then get turned off because they think they'll always be this sore," Richards-Ross says. "The truth is the first couple of days are tough as your body adjusts to this amazing full-body workout, but the more you do it, the better you'll feel." Eventually, she promises you'll get to a point where you feel like a pro, and pain will be a thing of the past.

Run in the morning

There's a reason your evening runs never seem to actually happen. Things pile up throughout the day, and chances are low that you'll have the motivation to hit the treadmill or streets after a long and stressful day. That's why Richards-Ross recommends always running in the morning. "It's always best to work out early if you can," she says. "Not that it's more beneficial, but it makes it more likely you'll get it in." Think of it this way: The longer you prolong your workout, the more excuses you'll come up with.

Run somewhere interesting

The easiest way to make running a pleasant experience? Picking an interesting path. Richards-Ross recommends running somewhere interesting, with great scenery; taking in your beautiful surroundings can make the actual act of running more enjoyable. Running apps like Runkeeper will track your entire path, while Endomondo allows you to map out your routes in advance and makes running a more social experience.

Pick the right playlist

Never underestimate the power of the perfect playlist. Even pro athletes use music to help them get in the right headspace. Richards-Ross promises the right tunes will make time fly—and make you feel like you are too.

Visualize your goals

Even Olympians have days when they don't feel like doing their sport; Richards-Ross will be the first to admit it. "There are tons of days I don't feel like running," she says. "I love running, but many of my sessions are tough." Preparing for the 400 was no easy feat, and she admits many times she wished she didn't have to train as hard—in times like these, she says it's important to remember and visualize your endgame. "I would visualize myself standing on top of the podium and press on," she says. "The most important thing to remember when you're training or working out is your goal. Why am I doing this? That has to be your motivation."

Be kind to yourself

Ironically, it's easy to be hard on yourself—but Richards-Ross says it's important to be kind to yourself when it comes to your workout. "Whether you're a beginner or veteran runner, it's always important to listen to your body," she says. "If you feel good, keep pushing yourself and complete your run. If you don't, that's okay too!" Remind yourself that the very fact you went out and ran is doing wonders for your mind and body. If you didn't reach your goal or go as long as you wanted, Richards-Ross says to rest up and drink lots of water instead of beating yourself up. "The next day will be better," she promises.

Advice for beginners

If you're a running newbie, Richards-Ross says to start slow by incorporating 30 minutes of running and walking into your daily routine—and don't be ashamed if you do more walking than running. Another piece of valuable advice? Get in tune with your body. "I believe it's okay not to set any goals for the first week," she says. "Just run and listen to your body. If you feel good, keep running; if you don't, start walking." The most important thing is to keep moving in the early stages. Richards-Ross says to remember that running is the best whole-body exercise you can do, and to keep at it for at least 21 days—that's about how long it takes to turn anything into a habit.

You can follow Richards-Ross on Twitter (@SanyaRichiRoss) for more daily Olympic motivation.

Ever wonder what running marathons really does to your body? We've got the answer.

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