Ask LH: I’m Fit, So Why Do I Suck At Running?

Ask LH: I’m Fit, So Why Do I Suck At Running?

Dear Lifehacker, Today I decided to go for a run on my lunch hour. Despite having regularly done cardio on an elliptical (80 rpm average on level 12 hill setting for 30 minutes minimum) and cardio at the Kickboxing gym, I hit a wall at around the three-kilometre mark and couldn’t continue. I consider myself fit, so why did I blow up so quickly? Thanks, Cardio Fan

Cramp image from Shutterstock

Dear CF,

The reason your body gave out earlier outdoors compared to the gym could be down to a number of factors, including weather and terrain (was it hot? Was the ground rough and uneven?), hydration (did you take a water bottle with you?) and footwear. Also, elliptical equipment and treadmills tend to put less strain on your body compared to real running where the impact on legs and feet is more jarring.

We presented your question to Jason Fitzgerald, an exercise blogger and running coach with more than 15 years experience. Here’s what Jason had to say:

The rule of specificity is at work here! You didn’t feel good because you haven’t been running (though all that other cross-training will help your overall fitness). Unlike the elliptical, running is very plyometric. You’re essentially doing thousands of single-leg hops with every run. If you don’t practice that, you won’t ever feel good doing it. It often takes 1-2 weeks to get your running legs back underneath you and a consistent 4-5 days of running per week (at least) to feel good most days.

In other words, practice makes perfect! Other ways to improve your running performance include increased strength training, choosing the right footwear and methods to beat the heat. You can find more in-depth running tips here, here and here. Good luck!

If any readers have their own urban running hacks, let CF know in the comments section below.


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  • A bottle of water for 3km? Really? If you’re properly hydrated, and it’s not 35 degrees plus, you should easily be able to exercise for an hour without drinking anything.

    Running is far higher impact than any cardio you do at the gym, that’s why it’s harder. Machine cardio just doesn’t compare.

    • Running is far higher impact than any cardio you do at the gym

      Is that right? I thought that skipping rope is on par with running (outdoors) in terms of impact.

      • Probably not if you’re doing it on compound padded flooring like most modern gyms. Plus skipping pretty much prevents you from landing heavily on your heels or you wont jump in time for the return, keeping you springing on the balls of your feet. There’s nothing stopping you from running badly except yourself, and heelstrike on a solid surface like cement or bitumen is harsher on the joints.

  • and that’s why running sucks… Go for a walk, climb a tree, and do some body weight exercises – a better workout with less impact on your joints…

    (and lots of people just don’t run properly, and blame the pain they feel on running, and not on their abnormal gait…)

  • Forget the gym. Unless you want to muscle up there is no point in going to the gym. Just go out there and run. Running is the best thing once you start doing it. And it doesn’t cost any money, once you have the proper running gear

    If you are worried about not having the time, I will tell you this. You can run once a week, that is all you need if you are very busy. With that you can achieve any goals if you are constant. Even half marathons. Totally possible running once a week.

    Just wake up earlier next Saturday/Sunday morning, put your gear on and run. I recommend joining one of those park run races. They are free and well organised. Or you just go and run by yourself.

  • ha ha. laughing at people arguing for and against gym going and running.
    how about just do what works for your body.
    ive only recently taken up running in the last 6 months. i dont enjoy it, but i have gotten better and it didnt take long for me to get a good technique compared to not having a technique at all. i end up with very sore calves though, which means something is still off in my technique.
    if you want low impact cardio though, bike riding and swimming might be for you.
    if you want lean, strong muscles, do body weight training like push ups, chin ups, squats, planks, sit ups and those types of things. if you want bulk, go do weights. and with all these things having the appropriate diet will help you immensely.

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