What should I think about while jogging?
December 18, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

You are a jogger. You do not necessarily LIKE jogging. What is your headspace while jogging so that you keep going?

I started attempting to be a jogger last year. There were some ups and downs related to childcare and health and life and whatever but I kept starting again, and again, and again, and FINALLY I'm in a stable situation where I can reliably work out 3 times a week, and I am jogging. (If it matters, I'm jogging on an indoor track at a very low-key facility where there are a lot of different ages and body types and no pressure to be super-athlete-guy. I like it a lot.)

I am doing a couch-to-5K and I'm on week 4, which starts to have intervals of 5 minutes of jogging. I made good progress the first three weeks and could feel my stamina growing as I tackled the ever-so-slightly-longer jogging intervals each week, but the 5-minute interval is a wall for me. (I'm also having an intolerably stressful work week, which I know isn't helping.) I know my physical training IS coming along and this is just a bump, but my mental training is shit and I'm not sure how to fix it.

At first I was really excited and I was just thinking about how excited I was. But now that I'm hitting my first really rough patch, AND the jogging intervals are extending a little bit, I find myself thinking, "Ugh, I hate this, this is awful, I don't want to do this, uggggggh" or else "How much longer? How much longer? How much longer? I'm never going to make it. Why is this taking so long? I just want to quit."

I know that people who do long-distance running often go into a zone, but I'm just a beginning plodder going for very short distances. There really isn't time to get into a "zone." But my attempts to redirect my negative self-talk aren't working. Telling myself, "Just get to the corner -- just get to the pole -- just get to the windows" helps and gets me through the end of the interval, but it also makes it seem even LONGER and makes me feel more discouraged. Saying, "I love this!" isn't true, because I don't really even like it. (Sometimes I like how I feel after I'm done, but I don't like the process.) Trying to think about, say, a novel I like works a little, but my thoughts pretty quickly drift back to hating jogging, like, "You know who else would have hated jogging? Elizabeth Bennet would have hated jogging." I think it would help if I could close my eyes and NOT think while I jog, but obviously that is going to end very badly.

So -- what should I think about? What do YOU think about? What kinds of positive self-talk do you use, or how do you get in a zone, or how do you distract yourself?

I'm not interested in running on a treadmill (I fall off them like whoa), and it's not feasible for me to run outside right now (too cold, and for the gym childcare you have to stay in the building). I do actually like the track, and I don't mind going in a circle. I get to actually move instead of being in one place on a treadmill, but I don't have to make decisions about my route and my water bottle and stuff is all right there.

Oh -- also -- I am using a music podcast that tells me when to speed up and slow down, and the beats of the music are the "speed" of the walking or jogging, so that I'm not giving in to the temptation to run too fast, and I don't have to track my own time or distance, I just run until the music tells me to stop. I know roughly how much of the track I cover in one minute, so I usually know I need to go around the track "about X times" for 5 minutes or whatever. It's not exact but I have SOME idea of how much farther I have to go.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Health & Fitness (46 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I did couch to 5K, and listened to really familiar music the whole time. Being able to "read" the lyrics in my head made the time go a lot faster. May not work if you're dependent on the music podcast, though.
posted by amicamentis at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh boy, I know this feeling.

When I'm running and just feeling good, I find I don't need to focus my thoughts too much. I just drift around and muse on life, funny jokes, possible plot points for stories, etc.

But when I start to flag, (or, at the start of runs, when I'm not "in the zone") I so feel that temptation to think in terms of "how much further?" and it's really frustrating for me. So, I turn to my breath and almost meditate while running. Feeling the in and out, where the breath is reaching, the evenness of my cadence. I note that I'm getting agitated, but accept that and keep breathing.
posted by Paper rabies at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I did couch to 5k in spring of 2010, and currently run a little more than 50 miles a week.

Most days, I listen to podcasts. Some days, music. When I race, I don't wear headphones, so I think about my pace, my breathing, my alignment, my cadence, stuff like that. In desperation, I sometimes count or list the states in alphabetical order.

I would caution against using music at first though, even from an app, if you at ALL feel like you're running at an uncomfortable pace. ALL of your runs for the first few months should feel super easy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Positive visualisation helps.
posted by mani at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Can you think about what you're going to do after your run? Or what you're going to do over the weekend? For lack of a better expression, when I'm running and thinking, it's nothing profound, just "shooting the shit." I make to-do lists, think about what I'm going to wear to work the next day, whether there are important things on my calendar this week that I need to be aware of, do I need to wear a suit that day?, I don't have to cook dinner tomorrow because we're meeting a friend for pizza, etc.

Sometimes I'll try to mentally sort out a problem or focus on a task - what things can I do to my apartment to make it more homey, what stuff do we want to do on vacation, do I know anyone who has traveled to the place where we want to go. I frequently think about people - usually just in a general, I should email that girl context but sometimes more, like I hope her dog is okay, maybe she'd be interested in meeting for happy hour at the new place around the corner.

This doesn't happen often but sometimes I'll do an Angry Run where I'll think, what the hell is that guy's problem?, if he was here right now, I'd give him a piece of my mind, okay, I can't say that to him but I should say something to let him know that what he did isn't cool, but maybe he just didn't realize it, maybe I'll just tell him what that's a rough subject. It might be a stretch to describe that as problem-solving but in some ways, that's what it is.

I doubt that will help but I hope it does. I will say that running gets easier. Sometimes I just use it as a space to not think for half an hour or whatever. It's okay to have off time. And I'm not doing a lot of thinking while I'm watching TV either so this isn't that different. YMMV :-)
posted by kat518 at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hello - I am you!
I've been steadily working on increasing my fitness levels and I'm pleased to say that after a fair amount of time (6 months) of "How long have I been running? ONLY 2 MINUTES????" and "How much longer is this going to take?? I'm BORED" I reached the point a couple of weeks ago when I realised, during my run, that I was "in the zone" and really, really enjoying it!

Things that helped me:
*Podcasts - find a few that you like and believe me, you'll zone out in no time
*Music - sometimes a play list helps, sometimes I choose a full album to listen to
*Take breaks - some days I'm just not feeling it, and that's OK. A break day is your body's way of telling you to slow down for a minute
*focusing on my breathing in and out. This is especially helpful at the beginning of a run when I'm not yet in the zone. It calms me down and focuses my attention
*TIME and PERSEVERANCE - seriously, the number one thing that helped me get to a comfortable level of running was sticking with it and not giving up. I kept on running, day in day out and didn't throw in the towel when things got hard.
I'm really proud of myself now. I've NEVER been a long distance runner, I hated running with a passion my whole life, but now I'm running 10 miles a week ish and it's wonderful!
I'm not going to say it's easy, because it's not, but stick to it and you'll get there. Seriously, all of a sudden it will just hit you and it will feel amazing!
posted by JenThePro at 10:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yay, you! I would really struggle with this on a track too - for me running outdoors and listening to music are faves, but since your ears are already occupied and outdoors is not an option:

* If you're feeling desperate to stop, and these are the thoughts that you're trying to overcome, you might need to slow down a bit.
* I find it easiest to get into the zone if I stare down at a particular point about 2 metres ahead of me. It just starts to become hypnotic. It's more likely to happen at long distances, but not impossible on shorter ones.
* Meditation - concentrate on the sensation of the soles of your feet hitting the ground or on your breathing. Every time your attention moves away, notice that, and move it gently back without berating yourself at all for the wandering of your mind. If you can practice mindfulness meditation off-track it'll help.
* Find a running buddy. Ideally, if you're starting out, you should be going at a pace where you can sustain conversation. Stick your phone in your pocket or an armband instead of using headphones so you can hear the intervals in the background, and chat your way round the track.
* You might find that this improves once you're on to running for longer instead of doing intervals. When I'm doing intervals, I get very frustrated and find myself always wanting to stop, because I'm constantly waiting for the end of this interval. Once I get to just running, I can switch off from that and just let time pass, and it becomes much easier mentally.
posted by penguin pie at 10:50 AM on December 18, 2013

Concentrate on the music: play it really loud if you have to.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: I can't run regularly anymore (sob) but when I did, my main thought trains in no specific order were:

- how $_BOOK I am currently reading could be made better with dragons
- famous butts I would like to see running just in front of me
- how the next season of $_SHOW might turn out (with or without dragons)

Really it's just very idle stuff that encourages multiple trains of thought at once such that it is almost a surprise to come back to yourself and realize you've been running the entire time.

Music is okay too but as r317 says, it can sometimes push you harder than you need/want, and you don't notice until it is too late. (For me, "too late" = "i must now throw up in the public trash bin right outside the chinese consulate for the 2nd time this week")
posted by elizardbits at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also personally it helps me a lot to focus on how long I've been running for and not how far I've run. My goal was never distance, though, it was always X number of minutes per day.
posted by elizardbits at 10:53 AM on December 18, 2013

Just noticed you said your podcast sets your pace - you might need a slower podcast, or to be taking smaller steps.

On preview: What they said.
posted by penguin pie at 10:53 AM on December 18, 2013

I find familiar music really helpful as well. For pace, I currently use Runkeeper on my phone, and have it set to give me average pace, average split pace and current pace every two minutes. That way I don't have to rely so much on music to keep my pace and use it to set my level of interest instead. You could probably do this with a podcast as well.

I also use running time for "alone time", i.e. if I am ruminating on a personal situation I will ruminate while I run, and if I am excited about when my new sexy party shirt is gonna be delivered then I'm thinking about that, and if I'm puzzling over a work thing I'm thinking about that.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2013

GREAT JOB sticking with this! For me, music/singing along in my head is the easiest way to get through mental rough patches.

I also like to think about planning all sorts of stuff to keep my mind occupied. The options are endless: thinking through Christmas gifts for my family, what to make for dinner this week, how to redecorate a specific room, what food/drink to serve at an upcoming party, planning a possible vacation, etc. The key for me is low-stress topics (i.e. not work.) that let my thoughts drift into other pleasant-enough directions.
posted by soleiluna at 10:58 AM on December 18, 2013

Keep telling yourself, "I'm a runner." Not a jogger, not a fitness enthusiast, but a runner. The distinction is that runners have a commitment to the sport that goes beyond how they feel.* The more you tell yourself, "I'm a runner, therefore I must finish this one run," the more you'll believe it. And you can even tell yourself that this is the last run you'll EVER have to do, after today you can hang up your shoes and hit the nachoes and beer and sausages. But today, right now, you're running. Because you're a runner.

*Potential derail here; "jogging" v. "running" is potentially contentious, and I'm not suggesting you look down your nose at anyone who calls themself a jogger. Hell, if you want, make your mantra "I'm a jogger, therefore I must finish this one jog."
posted by disconnect at 10:58 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ah hah! Indoor track running! I got to that part of your question and thought -- noooooo!

See, indoor tracks are utterly boring. And I speak as someone who is fine running on a treadmill -- because on treadmills I can look at the display, or a TV. There is nothing whatever to see on an indoor track except the same stupid track. And then all you do think is how much you want to stop. Please consider learning to run on a treadmill because I promise it is not that hard to figure out how not to fall off.

I really recommend leaving the track for an outdoor course. Even just one near the gym and the child care area. There is a huge amount to see outside, even if you run the same path every time. You think about that, and about the weather, and about how your body feels, and lots of other things.

Although not necessary for enjoyment, I also like bringing music or an audio book when I run or walk for exercise.
posted by bearwife at 11:09 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I did Couch to 5k earlier this year, after starting jogging around July/August. Running is still new to me, and there are still many challenges, but there are a few things that keep me going.

- fun, loud music that I can silently sing along to. often times this encompasses music that I would probably never listen to under other circumstances, but some reason, in running, brings the power out of me. A lot of the music I listen to when running is very loud and very angry, which is not at all how I am in real life. But in running or working out, the angry music brings something fierce out of me (before I come in from the cold to drink my Chamomile and honey)

- there's an app called "zombies! run!" which a lot of people like, that interrupts your playlist to follow a story about zombies chasing you. the app wasn't as motivating or interesting as I had hoped, but I still sometimes pretend like other people are zombies, and that I need to get away from them (or pass them, get ahead, etc).

- running outside. SO much more interesting than running indoors, even when the weather is crappy. I would much rather run in cold and inclement weather, than the treadmill. It rained last night and then the temperatures dropped below freezing, so this morning there were icy patches EVERYWHERE. Dodging the icy bits kept me on my toes, and I think being aware of my step and what lies ahead helps keep my mind from wandering and thinking how tired I am, or getting bored. Dodging the icy or wet parts of the path, or mud, or whatever, also makes me feel ever so slightly more ninja like. There's also just so much more to see outside, even when the weather is pleasant.
posted by raztaj at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2013

I concentrate on the other people on the track or in the gym. Passing them, avoiding them, making up stories about them... whatever it takes to occupy my mind.
posted by Etrigan at 11:20 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally I think of dogs running outside when I'm having a hard time settling in to a run. I'm not a dog person but dogs always look so happy when they're running. (Well, mostly.) I try to imagine being the dog: outside and running and with their human. All is right with the world. BE THE DACHSHUND.

If you haven't already, read Born to Run. I think it's all but impossible to read that book and not want to go for a run. It will also provide some great imagination fodder for runs.

I also agree with the suggestions above that you may also be running too fast (even if it doesn't feel like it). You can keep the same BPM but reduce your stride length to slow down further. Could you carry on a conversation during your running intervals? If not, try slowing down to the point where you could, and see if it helps.

I personally find it easier to run intervals by distance than by time -- so instead of running until the music stops, you could try running for X laps and then walking a lap, and repeating. May or may not work for you, but maybe worth a try?

I also find it easier to run steadily than to run intervals. Once I've been running for five or ten minutes, I settle into a groove and the next twenty minutes go by much faster. So this may get easier for you once you're no longer running intervals!

While most people start running with music these days, some people find it easier to get into a groove without music. (I'm not one of them. But it's something to consider trying, at least for one run. Also, some races ban or discourage running with headphones, so if you're planning on running a race where that's the case, better to get into the habit of running without music now!)

Also, this isn't part of C25K, but sprints are a good way to get quick endurance gains (at the cost of, well, doing sprints). Not for everyone but it works for me. If you're not a fan of sprints, running at normal speed up a hill will do the same thing. Run uphill for the distance between two/three/four telephone poles, walk back, repeat.

Running outside from Point A to Point B is immensely motivating, once the weather improves.
posted by pie ninja at 11:21 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

C25K high five! That stretch of C25K where the running intervals start getting long is a drag, but I found it was the hardest part; after getting over that initial "what do you mean I have to run for five minutes without stopping" hump, I found myself getting impatient at having to slow down and walk; finishing the last session it was almost anticlimactic.

Early on I tried one of those podcasts that provides its own generic electronic music at the right tempos, and it left me completely cold... Like many others, I like running to my favorite tunes, and being a big nerd I went so far as to analyze the BPM for each track in my iTunes library and assemble playlists that a) had tunes I liked and b) At a tempo appropriate to how fast I was trying to run. (I concentrated on running tempo; I didn't care so much about trying to walk in time to music.)

I used the C25K Free iPhone app, which can run at the same time as iTunes; it just ducks the music to tell you when to walk or run. (I don't know what kind of phone you have but I'd be surprised if there wasn't something equivalent for Android.)
posted by usonian at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: I like the "I am a runner" idea from disconnect above... building on that idea, can you pay attention to your muscles? When I play soccer, I am focusing on my desire to master the sport; foot placement, how I kick the ball, how I am reading the play at hand etc. (Of course soccer is inherently more stimulating than track running alone.) Is there an aspect of running you wish to master? Can you get someone to critique your run? Can you get a run-buddy? A garmin running watch that times your laps/speed/heart rate etc.?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2013

At my old gym most of the machines had a "track" on the screen, and there was one that was super fancy and actually a hiking trail that someone had carried a camera along and you could jog along too. I got used to messing around with my footwork as if I was actually runnning the trail, and would sort of bob and weave on the treadmill.

Now that I don't have those super fancy treadmills, I sometimes visialize an obstacle ridden course and hop and skip and dodge around other obstacles. (yea I probably look insane on a treadmill but whatevs) and sometimes I just increase the incline like crazy and just walk when I'm tired because damn it I'm trudging up a mountain (in my head at least). Sometimes I assign myself a quest, but usually I'm not imaginative enough for that.

For going around on an indoor track, you could try weaving from side to side on the straightaways- (not recommended on turns), and then it turns into "hey after this turn I can do a sine wave again!" instead "oh god more straight away"
posted by larthegreat at 11:32 AM on December 18, 2013

I don't run (can't stand it) but I do a lot of kayaking, and there are times when I really do not want to be out in the cold and the rain. But I still really need to go kayaking because, well, I'm a kayaker. That's what I do. Even when I am thinking, say, "Man my hands are cold, my butt is sore, this water is too wavy."

I tend to think through upcoming plans (not all of which are real). I'll plan a trip, or remodel the kitchen, or figure out how to tell someone something complicated. I prefer thoughts that are fairly organized and linear, so that if my mind drifts I know right where to go back once I realize that I've drifted.

I also recognize (and remind myself of this all the time) that the first part often feels totally draggy. I kayak towards a bridge, and I know that, until the shadow of the bridge falls on water I can see, I'm likely to not feel up for much of a kayak. But once I can see that shadow, I am in the groove and I can count on it feeling great. You'll get there, and then once you know at what stage in your run this happens, you can make promises to yourself about just getting to that point and two feet beyond that. Then happiness and comfort take over. I often find that, when I'm almost done, and can see the boat house, I really don't want to go in, and will just kayak on by for another loop. As I've done this often, I know I can count on getting past that wall and really loving what I do, and that really helps me power through to the wall.

Best of luck, and congrats. This is an awesome thing you are doing.

Oh. I also swim laps. I do a lot of math in my head then. Don't do any math while kayaking. Don't know why one exercise involves planning, and the other math, but that's what it is.
posted by Capri at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: stuff i think about:
-how excellent my current pandora station is
-the delicious cup of coffee/snack i'm going to have after the run
-people i need to catch up with
-plans for the future, furniture and design stuff, or artwork i want to get, or classes i want to take
-something i'm looking forward to doing that week
-i'm a martial artist so i imagine my opponent gassing out while i still have energy and then i run faster.
posted by zdravo at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Well, maybe I am outing myself as the most ridiculous person in existence, but the answer to your question is this:

I make a playlist of music to listen to, and then I make a story up in my head about that playlist. I make it the cheesiest, sexiest, most melodramatic story I can possibly come up with, packed with all my favorite movie stars and people I have crushes on and the dramatic, ego-stroking fulfillment of all my secret desires, and I pin the peaks and valleys of the playlist to the arc of the narrative in my head.

So, for example, during the warm-up phase, I have three kind of low key songs filled with guitar and those are the songs I'm playing when I'm living on the streets making my living as a busker, wandering from city to city. And then there's the slightly more dramatic song I'm singing when a Famous Musician captures me on video and the video goes viral and everyone in the world is like, "Who is this mysterious talent"? And then there's the showstopper when I anonymously audition for American Idol and then the Famous Musician is like "Oh my God, it's you!' because he's a judge on American Idol now and I'm like "I know!" And then there's all of my American Idol performances that bring the house down one after another as I become world famous and the Famous Musician falls madly in love with me, but we can't be together because I have a Dark Secret. And then there's the explosive climax where my Dark Secret is revealed and I sing about it onstage and it's so tragic and beautiful and everybody cries, and then there's the cooldown where I do an acoustic version of my Number One hit during a retrospective of my amazing musical career and I'm all wistful and sad about my time with the Famous Musician but it's okay because he inspired all my art and it's better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

Yes, this story is stupid. But I know it very well, and so every time I start my run, I cue it up along with my playlist and I watch it like a movie in my head. It works because I'm distracted but also because it keeps me on track pace-wise. Every couple of months, as my run gets longer, I revise my playlist and make up a new story, and that's appealing enough to get me out the door.

posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

I listen to This American Life and RadioLab podcasts on my phone. (~40mins ish, perfect running time).
posted by amaire at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Early on, I just told myself to shut up. "It's cold out!" Oh, shut up. "This hill sucks!" Yeah, so do you. Shut up. "Let's go home." Nope. Shut up. I'm a runner because I want to be a bad ass motherfucker, and BAMFs won't tolerate complaining. So basically, as long as my legs weren't giving out and I was still breathing, I kept running, because I'm a BAMF and that's what we do.

I also lied to myself like a crazy person. "You can quit after this block, I promise...NOPE I LIED, but this next block, okay? Really, this time. HAHAHAHAHA NOPE." I don't know why this worked, but it did, for me.

Another thing I did was make it non-negotiable, like brushing my teeth or going to work. I don't question that those things have to get done; why should running be any different? You're a runner, so this is what you do.

Now I don't have to do those things, because I've made my peace with running. So what I think about: my life. Work. The thing at work that bothers me. Things I'm excited about. What my siblings are up to. What I should put on my walls. Whether to go to Bermuda or Costa Rica for a vacation this year. It's like driving; my body goes on auto-pilot and my mind is free to just think. This is a time for me. I typically don't think about the running, because running is mostly boring.

You're a parent and a person who's very involved in your community; I bet that most of your time is consumed by other people and other needs. This is a time for you to be in your own head a bit.
posted by punchtothehead at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I did the couch-to-5K last year and discovered, at almost exactly the same point you find yourself, that it was the music that was holding me back from progressing. Sure it helped to pass the time, but I realised that it prevented me from concentrating on my breathing which (for me any way) is the most important thing.

Once I realised that I need to really get my breathing in order, it made a dramatic difference to my running technique and concentration. So, I ditched the music and didn't look back. Now I find that concentrating on my breathing acts almost like meditation, as other people have mentioned above. Sure there always have times where I start thinking about the next waypoint and the effort required to get there, but I find that just refocusing back on the breathing snaps me out of it.

Having said that, I haven't done any track running, but I can imagine that being more of a challenge. As others have mentioned, getting out into the more varied wider world may make a big difference as well. Personally, I often using running as an excuse to explore an area I am not familiar with.

Anyhow, if you haven't got the stage where you are comfortable with your breathing, work on this now and you may well find that the issue of what to keep yourself distracted with goes away.

(I also have never reached the stage where I would say running is a joy, but it does give you enormous confidence when you start getting up to the 5K mark)
posted by oclipa at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2013

Another recommendation for the "Zombies, Run" app.
posted by Sylvia Plath's terrible fish at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2013

I don't know how well this works on an indoor track, but sometimes, especially on boring or difficult runs, I imagine I have a rope tied around my waist that is attached to a tree/pole/lightpost/whatever far in front of me. i sort of visualize the object of choice pulling me into it- like magnets or well, the rope I previously imagined. It makes me run faster and feels easier-I kind of start to believe I'm being reeled in.
posted by atomicstone at 12:08 PM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: I did the C25K thing a few years ago, and ran into the same "what is my mind supposed to do while my body is working?? " issue. So I...

1. Imagined what movies would be like if they were directed by different directors (The Sound of Music directed by John Woo, Children of Men directed by Baz Lurhman, etc). Also - books written from the perspective of a secondary character. One of my favorites to think about is Gone with the Wind written from the perspective of Melanie.

2. Imagined trying to explain The Modern World to someone who magically appeared from the past. How to explain airplanes to Leif Erickson? How to explain One Direction to Mozart? How to explain modern politics to Martha Washington?
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, stop worrying about pace. Are you jogging or walking? If you're jogging, your only concern should be that you might be jogging too fast. If you are walking, then yes, you might walk too slowly to extract maximum health benefits.

Here's a study that bears this out [PMID: 23449779]

Longevity in male and female joggers: the Copenhagen City Heart Study.

I can't find a free link to the full study at the moment, but here's a brief look at an earlier report:

Regular jogging shows dramatic increase in life expectancy.

According to this well designed study, the *optimal* health benefits are to be found from slow to moderate pace jogging:

"Reviewing the evidence of whether jogging is healthy or hazardous, Peter Schnohr told delegates that the study’s most recent analysis (unpublished) shows that between one and two-and-a-half hours of jogging per week at a “slow or average” pace delivers optimum benefits for longevity."

Since that article, the study has been published, and it also shows that if anything, fast jogging can sharply curtail health benefits of jogging:

"Further analysis exploring the amounts of exercise undertaken by joggers in the study has revealed a U-shaped curve for the relationship between the time spent exercising and mortality. The investigators found that between one hour and two and a half hours a week, undertaken over two to three sessions, delivered the optimum benefits, especially when performed at a slow or average pace.
“The relationship appears much like alcohol intakes. Mortality is lower in people reporting moderate jogging, than in non-joggers or those undertaking extreme levels of exercise,” said Schnohr.The ideal pace can be achieved by striving to feel a little breathless. “You should aim to feel a little breathless, but not very breathless,” he advised."

So as long as you're actually jogging and not walking, you are fine pace-wise. That should take the pressure off from needing to monitor your pace at all (as long as you don't go too fast - you should aim at no faster than about 9-10 minutes per mile).

Once you have that out of your concern, the only thing to keep track of is time - aim at no more than about 40-50 minutes if you jog 3 times a week, or 30-40 if 4-5 times a week (U shape again - more than about 150 minutes of jogging a week is suboptimal). For that a simple alarm you strap to your wrist is enough - you jog until it goes off.

I'm very much like you in that I hate exercise in general - but I've been exercising for years and years, because it's critical to health. I also run in a circle - though I do that outside, on a track at the local athletic park. I wouldn't mind running inside. I don't need to run in nature - I love hiking, but don't need to distract myself with 'nature' while running. People are different. Some find running outside stimulating, some don't. I don't.

It is indeed helpful to have a running buddy (my wife, who also hates jogging).

Otherwise, this is what I do:

1)First, acknowledge that jogging and exercise feels awful, and sucks. It may always suck (has been sucking for me for decades). Accept that. It may never get better. Accept that.

2)It still has to be done. No ifs, buts, and maybes. Treat it as non-negotiable. Yeah, I already know it sucks - you still have to do it (that's my thought process every time I exercise). Sorry, you have no choice. DO IT. You must put that in your mind.

3)Strap on a simple timer, set it to the time you have to cover. AND DO NOT CHECK IT. Let it go off signalling the end.

4)Forget you are jogging - if you are a writer, or do any writing, concentrate as hard as you can on the issue you are working on. If find myself easily lost in that process and before I know it, the jogging is over. As your conditioning improves, this becomes ever easier.

5)Think about your plans - and get lost in those. Doesn't matter, whether it's about a kitchen remodeling, or how you are going to save money, or how you are going to make more, or where you want to go on vacation. The more seriously you think about this, the more involving it will be, and actually - double benefit: you get some quality thinking time in.

6)Think about the issues you have little time to think about otherwise. Because you never set aside time to think about them, you never do. Yet it is important to do so. Perfect match - exercise time, is also your thinking about "those" issues (whatever they may be, depending on you).

7)Learn another language through things like Pimsleaur on your ipod.

When you make jogging/exercising an iron obligation, and not optional, your mind will adjust. The trick is: make it a non-choice matter. I go to exercise, even though I hate it. But when jogging/exercising, I engage in the activities in points 4-7, and never actually think about the jogging part. I only hate it the few minutes when I'm preparing to do the nasty deed (putting on exercise clothes, shoes, getting there etc.), then I forget it.
posted by VikingSword at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Context: I run half marathons at a max now, but I remember the couch-5K days very well. Indeed, the 5 min intervals sucked.

My personality is such that I did very well by just... counting. I counted my steps. I looked at my timer and saw how many steps I typically did in a minute and then I counted. I counted backwards and forwards, I did addition, subtraction, different permutations of the way the numbers could be put together. Knowing when the endpoint is is very very important to me (I can't watch a movie unless I know how long it is. Even if I thoroughly enjoy it.)

I suspect I am one of the very few that finds this technique useful, but I thought I'd put it out there, just in case. (I did the same thing giving birth, counting, marching on the spot during contractions :) )
posted by gaspode at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

(oh, and nowadays I often pick a contentious thread on mefi and argue it in my brain from as many viewpoints - known users - as I can. I wish I were kidding.)
posted by gaspode at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer a couple of concerns --

1) I really like the music on the programmed podcast. It's basically what I would listen to anyway given the option.

2) The jogging pace is barely faster than the walking pace; the jogging pace is nice and slow and the walking pace is nice and quick. The beauty of the "paced" music is that it prevents me from going too fast, as my impulse is to dash out there and RUN, not go at a nice steady slow jog. I don't actually have any idea what the real "pace" is, just that I'm walking 130 steps per minute and jogging 140 steps per minute.

3) I really LIKE the indoor track (and there's plenty to see, it's an elevated track circling a couple gyms, one of which usually has a zumba class going on and the other open basketball; my favorite is the old lady zumba class because, dude, 80-year-old zumba ladies can MOVE and omg they are having so. much. fun.) and it's convenient for location, safety, childcare, lack of ice, etc. It's also the RIGHT AMOUNT of monotony for me, since I get to physically move (not like a treadmill) but I don't have to make any decisions (not like outdoors). But the biggest issue is that I have pretty bad allergies and when I exercise outdoors I get debilitating asthma attacks from trying to exercise-breathe through the constriction. The inhalers that work to stop the attack make me feel so sick and nauseated that I can't continue exercise anyway. My doctor is pretty adamant that I need to exercise in a climate-controlled indoor space to start, and that as my stamina and wind build I can give careful trials to outdoor exercise in clement weather when my particular allergens are low and see how it goes, and we can try some different asthma control methods (now that I'm not breastfeeding). But for now it's the treadmill or the track, and I was pretty delighted to find an indoor track so I can avoid the existential horror of the treadmill. The track makes me feel safe and in control -- there are other people right there if I have a really bad asthma crisis, I can keep my water bottle handy but not have to carry it, I don't have to worry about slipping on ice.

I know the track may get dull or repetitive in the long run -- or when I can TAKE a long run! -- but hopefully by the time that starts happening my doctor and I will have come up with some different options. Or I can become a zumba lady. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:32 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Understanding what your real pace is will be a milestone, and it will come if you keep it up.

I love listening to audiobooks while I run. My standard run is around 8K so I can get in a good 40 minutes on a story each time. It kind of gives me a perverse sort of "strengthening my mind AND my body" kind of kick.
posted by dobie at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2013

I know you said you're planning to run on a track. As a reminder, don't wear earphones in both ears while running on the road.

That said, interesting podcasts seem to make the time go by faster for me than anything when exercising.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:57 PM on December 18, 2013

I'm with gaspode -- I don't like the feeling of having to wear earphones while running, so I just count. Breathes, steps, seconds, squirrels, whatever. It makes it infinitely more doable to focus on something else and I find it rather meditative. Honestly, I count in my head nearly every time I run, and I find it difficult to get through long runs without doing it.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:12 PM on December 18, 2013

sexual reminisces, global conquest and simple but unsolved math problems.
posted by bruce at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2013

I know this doesn't do you any real good, but in my head is Dr. Who. Not, as in, replaying episodes. But I literally watch an episode of Dr. Who while running and that gets me to about 5k. The story arc keeps me going because I just tell myself that I'm allowed to stop when the episode is over. So sometimes it is "How long do I have left? Oh 23 minutes. Ok."

Though, the other thing I do is lie to myself. Which is a little weird. If I have 23 minutes left, I'll say, "Oh but that's okay 18 minutes because you'll walk the last five and that'll be fine." I know damn well I'm not going to walk the last five minutes. But there is something magical about immediately shaving off five minutes from the remaining time.
posted by jph at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2013

There are several free c25k apps - I found one that allowed me to listen to my own audio stream and put the walk/run cues on top. Now that I've graduated from c25k I usually listen to running podcasts. It makes great motivation!
posted by bq at 4:50 PM on December 18, 2013

When I used to occasionally lap swim, if I was aiming for a certain number of laps, I'd trick myself with fancy math:

Suppose I want to do 40 laps.
After 1 lap, I have 39 left.
After 2 laps...well that wasn't so hard, just 19 more of those.
After 5 laps--just do all that again 7 times.
After 20 laps, I have just proven that I can do 20 laps, so just do it again.
After that it's the home stretch, just a quick countdown.

So that's one potential psychological trick, but ...

How important is it to do the Couch-to-5K program in 9 weeks? Are you signed up for a race at the end of the program? Because if you're keeping your commitment, working out 3 times a week, then give yourself a break. If the jump from week 3 to week 4 is too hard when you're stressed (possibly affecting sleep?), you have the option to repeat week 3 and do "week 4" during actual week 5. Suppose this happens two more times during the program--you are up to running 5K in 12 weeks, big whoop. A rigid program can be good to keep you motivated, but if you already have good habits, you can use the program as a guideline and adjust based on how you feel.
posted by domnit at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also do the thing where I pick a landmark and say to myself, "Okay, you just have to run to that light pole." "Well, that wasn't so bad. How about you run to that bush, then." "Oh look, a parking deck. Just run to the parking deck, then. That's not very far." "Oh man, it's group of annoyingly fit people. I don't want to look like a wuss in front of them so I'll at least wait until they're out of sight before stopping..." And so on for X miles. It's not always that bad, of course, but...sometimes it is.

Sometimes I pretend that I live in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future and I must run to the village to warn the rest of my band that the [robots|zombies|cannibals|aliens|etc] are coming.

But yeah, lots and lots of lying to myself, ruthlessly breaking promises to myself about stopping, and so on.

I, too, have done the C25K and found that slowing down even if it meant going comically slowly was a good way to break through mental barriers regarding certain times/distances.
posted by ZeroDivides at 6:37 PM on December 18, 2013

I have found, contrary to everything I would have expected, that listening to NPR keeps my mind off the plodding. Music, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar, tempts me to count time. One step, two steps, three steps, so... many... boring... steps. But listening to a radio program with a lot of variety seems to distract me. I think it's the combination of storytelling, the fact that the segments have varying lengths (so I can't really keep time by them), and the lack of a beat is why it works for me.

You'd have to use a different app, though--I used one that would run in the background so I could listen to my radio app. It would just interrupt whenever it was time to switch paces.
posted by elizeh at 7:53 PM on December 18, 2013

I've got to run outdoors. Treadmills or indoor tracks are killer for my motivation- when I run outside, I can recognize landmarks so I know how far I've been, and I can notice sights and sounds that make the run a lot more enjoyable.

The other piece of the puzzle for me is the right kind of music. Kudos to all of you who can run and listen to podcasts, but for me, that doesn't help me keep up the pacing I need. For me, the best kind of music is the kind of stuff with a good, engaging tribal beat. As weird of a song as it might be, the all time best running song is Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. The Mick Fleetwood West African-inspired beat is an awesome metronome. A shame the song is only a few minutes long, but I'm in the middle of mixing a couple of longer versions that string out for 10 and 15 minutes.

Plus, added bonus: the BPM for this song is ideal. Somewhere around 180 BPM is where you want your cadence to be, so music that's in that range is awesome and keeps you from overstriding and heel-striking and other bad form!
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: So, it turned out I had pneumonia when I wrote this question. A little less pneumonia and a little more breathing has done wonders for my positive thought thinking!

This week I ruminated on personal problems, mentally inserted myself into a book I was reading, pretended I was dashing around to check all the castle's defenses, thought about fun things I can do with my kids as I get fitter, and pondered when I'll need new shoes. So I think I'm mostly back on track with good thoughts and you guys have given me some great ideas to try!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:17 PM on January 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I was first running, I had the song "It Feels Good" by Tony Toni Tone on my playlist. I would listen to that a lot and just repeat that thought in my head.

It feels good.
It feels good.
It feels good.

Heh, like an R&B robot only able to process one thought. I imagine whoever wrote that song did not intend for it to be Learn To Run Inspiration.

In any case, it was a really positive thought for me to repeat in my head because at the time, my body did not actually Feel Good while running. Felt rather bad in fact! Lots of pains and tiredness here and there. But telling myself "It Feels Good" helped me remember that in the big picture, running made me feel strong, competent, energetic, excited, healthy, etc.
posted by TheClonusHorror at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2014

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