Distance or steady-state running is so much more fraught for me than going to the gym or doing other kinds of workouts. Some of this is because running is undoubtedly physically challenging for my short achilles tendons and asthma, but a large, perhaps larger, factor is mental: my expectations.

When you go for a training run, you have very explicit expectations for yourself on time, distance, and pace. While workouts almost always have specific goals too, falling short of those goals is significantly less difficult in the gym than on a run: not doing the last set feels very different psychologically from literally not making it home. It can be a challenge for me to stay positive during training with such high expectations, and it’s so easy to be hard on yourself when you’re tracking every step and minute.

First runs – the run you take after a long break, or perhaps your first run ever – are especially sensitive. Your expectations for yourself are likely not going to match your abilities. Plus, it’s easy to mentally view the whole success of your training, and even your race, on this first try. But really, the only thing that’s important about this first run is that you do it. Here are some steps I took to ensure that my first run ended triumphantly, and wasn’t bogged down by heavy expectations. These tips also apply to any run in which you want to take some pressure off: the run after an especially bad one, for example, or when you’re simply feeling like training has been more chore than joy.

1. Choose a route that makes you happy and isn’t too familiar.

This run is meant to remind you how much you love running, and excite you for the training journey ahead. An easy way to do that is to pick a route that will bliss you out. I chose a route that I don’t get to run very often, partly because it’s a hometown path that makes me feel very content, but also because it doesn’t have any major associations with my past training. If I had run a route that I used constantly last year it would have been too easy to make compare and criticize myself.

2. Don’t set a pace or distance goal.

Set low or no expectations! This run is all about re-introducing yourself to running. The worst thing you can do is set specific goals about what you will or won’t be able to do: you honestly don’t know where you’re at, and you have some time to find out. I recommend simply choosing a low-key time (~30 minutes) and doing a simple out and back.

3. Don’t use a run tracker, or if you do, only hear your elapsed time.

It’s likely that you won’t be very impressed by your pace on this run, and there’s nothing to be gained by hearing it. Being told by Nike+ every few minutes that your pace is slower than you’re used to is either going to bum you out, or make you run too hard, neither of which are setting you up for a good second run.

4. Pick a playlist that is very positive.

We all have songs that make us feel great while we’re running. For this first run I made a playlist that was nothing but positive and it helped me feel like I was flying even though I was most likely flailing. (The playlist below is 50 min long)

5. Remember how much you enjoy this!

There will be training days that feel like dragging bricks, and mornings where you swear you will never run again, but this is not one of them. This run should remind you of how lucky you are to be able to run, and how different it is than being on the treadmill inside. Finish with a smile and know that your speed and form can be improved, but you’re already strong mentally with no training at all. 




  1. Nuala says:

    All so true! I like the idea of enjoying the carbs earlier in the day so there’s time to work them off before bedtime! I’m told we should eat protein within one hour after exercise. Or the body will break down muscle. Even a piece of cheese will do. What does your research suggest?

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