Sometimes I wish I had been around for the early days of jogging, when you could put on an earth-toned sweatsuit and simply put one foot in front of the other until you felt like you were done. Running in 2020 involves a world of Strava and Garmin and apps and stats. Even the gentlest, most beginner-friendly way to learn to run is strictly measured: so many seconds of walking, so many seconds of running, changing with each workout until you graduate by running the specific distance of five kilometres.
None of this is necessary. You have always been able to run as fast or as slow or as far as you like. Your speed doesn’t really matter unless you have a time goal for a race, and even then most of your training should just involve putting in time on your feet in whatever way is sustainably comfortable for you. (Most of us are probably running too fast anyway, because we are worried about our pace. Better to slow the heck down.)
I’ve done some races, but I now run mainly for the general health benefits and because, hey, why not. I don’t worry about the numbers on any app; most of the time, I don’t track a darn thing. So I felt a sense of deja vu when I saw exercise physiologist Georgie Thomas give this slacker approach an insta-friendly name: intuitive running.
It’s an anti-hack: It makes your life better by removing the rules you thought were helping. Just go out and move your body on foot without worrying about how fast or how slow or what your numbers are or whether you’re doing it “right.”
While I think it’s valuable to learn to keep a consistent (slow) pace, that’s a skill you’ll pick up over time. Learning how to relax enough to enjoy a run is also something that takes practice. It’s ok for running to be hard at first, and yet you still deserve the experience (and, potentially, the joy) of doing it.
So do as Thomas says. If running makes you feel like you’re dying, start running and then just stop when it gets to be too much. Walk until you feel like running again. Run until you feel like walking.
Over time, maybe you’ll learn how to blend the two into a smooth pace. Or maybe you’ll discover that you like to live your life in extremes, going as fast as possible and as slow as possible in turn, and that is all you need. Give it a try — leave your Fitbit at home, use your phone for music (if you must use it at all) — and see if the road or trail feels more welcoming when there’s nothing to accomplish and nothing to measure.