How to run when you hate running

How not to bonk
Use our tips for how to run when you hate running and you’ll be surprised by the strides you can make on the road or trail (Image credit: Getty)

Running is one of those activities that many of us aspire to in theory, but in practice, we just hate. There’s a lot about running to venerate: it looks graceful (usually), it’s free and requires no apparatus, and runners epitomize athleticism and agility with all their lean muscles and intense, moody vibe. So, you get yourself all decked out in the flashiest running top and new running shorts and head out expecting to look cool and see practically instant physical results. However, within minutes you’re breathless, red in the face and bored. But before you write running off as just not for you, read our tips for how to run when you hate running and you might be surprised by the strides you can make on the road or trail. 

Two men take a break from running

Before you write running off as just not for you, read our tips for how to run when you hate running and you might be surprised by the strides you can make on the road or trail (Image credit: Getty)

First, it’s helpful to figure out why you hate running so much, as this can help you determine whether it’s actually worth pursuing, and if so, what you need to do to learn to love it. As far as we’re concerned, there are three broad reasons why you might hate running: it hurts, it’s hard or it’s boring. Let’s look at each of those three categories now and help you decide what you can do. 

How to run when you hate running because it hurts 

OK, so this could actually be a valid reason for not running, at least until you figure out why it hurts. Let’s say you're experiencing real pain (and not just tired muscles) in your feet, ankles, knees, hips or back – that’s a good sign that something in your body isn’t happy about running. However, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, necessarily. It might be your running gait, technique or pace that’s causing the problem, or you may just need different shoes or to try a different surface. We recommend consulting a professional physical therapist to get to the bottom of why you’re experiencing pain. The answer might be to run differently, or it might be not to run at all, in which case, there’s always hiking. 

A runner crouches down to massage sore thigh muscles

Pain can be a valid reason not to run (Image credit: lzf)

How to run when you hate running because it’s hard 

Kind of like yoga, running very often doesn’t feel like how it looks on the cover of a magazine. Your legs feel like they’re filled with concrete, your lungs burn, and you regret every life decision that has brought you to this point. What can we say? Some people love doing hard things and others simply don't. There might be some genetic or neurochemical reason for it, or maybe it’s the way you were raised, but aversion to physical challenge can be a very real obstacle to running. Running is often just hard, which isn’t in and of itself a reason not to do it, but if it’s the reason you’re not doing it, there are a few things you can do. 

1. Slow down 

You might simply be trying to go too fast, which means you run out of steam faster, give up and then feel discouraged. You’re not Usain Bolt. Forget about hitting a certain goal of miles per hour and start with our article on how to pace yourself when running to find a sustainable pace that you can maintain for longer. 

Woman road running in the countryside

Forget about hitting a certain goal of miles per hour and learn to pace yourself (Image credit: Getty)

2. Go for shorter distances 

With running, we often get a distance goal in mind that is a little, ahem, lofty. “I’m going to start running five miles three times a week,” you say to yourself, only to drop out before mile two and hate yourself. Instead, forget about a target distance for now and try running for time – say 20 or 30 minutes – at your newfound sustainable pace. If you really want to increase your distance, try a program like Couch to 5k to break it up into bite-sized pieces. 

3. Get the right shoes for you

Even though running is a fairly low-maintenance sport when it comes to equipment, a good pair of shoes can make all the difference. You might think choosing running shoes comes down to what color you like, but when you compare the best trail running shoes, for example, you’ll be surprised to see the difference that aspects like drop, stack height, weight and grip can make. The wrong pair of shoes for your gait and terrain can really slow you down and make running feel more difficult than it should be, while the right shoes will give you that nice rebound underfoot and a spring in each step. 

Plus, a new pair of shoes will make you feel guilty every time you step over them lying in the hall, and can motivate you to get out there and actually use them 

A runner tying their shoelace on the trail

A new pair of shoes will make you feel guilty every time you step over them lying in the hall and can motivate you to get out there and actually use them (Image credit: kupicoo)

4. Don’t be afraid to walk 

It’s not unusual to be embarrassed if you have to stop and walk during a run. Somehow, we think it signals failure instead of demonstrating how hard we're actually working. But not only is there no shame in walking (and by the way, no one is watching or judging you), there’s plenty of evidence that running intervals have great benefits. Rather than running as hard as you can then gasping, bent over, with your hands on knees for two minutes, slow down and mix up five or 10 minutes of running with two to five minutes of walking. You’ll see your overall fitness improve in leaps and bounds. 

5. Reward yourself 

When in doubt, give yourself a good old fashioned bribe. Researchers at the University of Iowa (opens in new tab) found that rewarding yourself with a treat is a good way to make a habit stick. After all, you’ve earned it, so help yourself to your favorite yoga class, a little chocolate, or that glass of wine if it helps you stick to your guns – just don’t go too wild and enjoy in moderation. 

Woman enjoying chocolate after a run

Never underestimate the healing power of a Mars bar (Image credit: freemixer)

How to run when you hate running because it’s boring 

So what if running doesn’t hurt, and you don’t find it super hard, but the real problem is that you just get bored fast? Some of us love the repetitive movement of activities like running, hiking, swimming and biking because we really get in the zone, but maybe you’re one of those people who have no idea what that 'zone' is and how to find it. This could be down to the type of running you’re doing (ie on a treadmill) or the mechanics of your personal attention span, but whatever the reason, there are ways to spice things up. 

1. Try trail running 

If you’re running on a hamster wheel at the gym and you’re bored, it’s no wonder – head outdoors. While road running can be great, trail running can provide an even more immersive experience. You’ve got varied terrain to focus on, gorgeous views to feed your mind and the elements provide an unpredictability which certainly keeps things interesting. 

2. Invite a friend 

Running with a partner – especially the right partner – can be a fantastic way to source motivation, enjoy some good company and make time fly by. Invite a friend out on a run, or join a local running club. 

Women running together on remote trail

Running with a partner – especially the right partner – can be a fantastic way to source motivation (Image credit: Getty)

3. Listen to music, or a podcast

Though we like to keep our ears open on the trails, you might want to invest in a pair of running headphones. Good music for running can do wonders to boost energy and pace, or if you’re a lifetime learner or true crime junkie, lose yourself in a good podcast and you might be sad when your run ends before you find out whodunnit. 

4. Track your stats

Fitness trackers are all the rage these days, and though you might think they’re only for serious runners, lots of users find they’re great for motivation. If you’re naturally inclined to find data interesting, or a little competitive, you might find that knowing how many calories you burned, your average pace or heart rate gives you a compelling reason to keep running. Perhaps you just want to beat your last time or lower your recovery time, but whatever the reason, that ticker on the wrist can really keep you moving. 

Runners at the starting line of a race

Entering a race might actually help you get into running (Image credit: Getty)

5. Enter a race or parkrun 

This might sound crazy, since the whole idea is how much you hate running, but if you are on the competitive side, entering a race might actually help you get into running. We don’t mean that you should sign up for a marathon with no training, but perhaps set your sights on a friendly 5k happening in a few months time to give you something to train towards. Another option is to join your local parkrun – being with other people and the community vibe might make running seem less like a chore and more like a fun event. 

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.