Rekindle Your Love of Running

Flexibility

We don't mean the touch-your-toes variety. We're talking here about the give-and-take that's necessary for any relationship to survive. If

your expectations are rigid, sooner or later something will break-most likely your spirit. Not only that, but adhering to your training schedule too obsessively may leave your priorities all out of whack.

Running should bend to accommodate your life-not vice versa. If you're feeling crummy, be flexible enough to allow yourself a day without running, advises sports psychologist Jerry Lynch, Ph.D., author of Running Within. "If you take that day off, you'll come back with more enthusiasm and more joy for the next run," he says.

Appreciation

Sheila Stanley-McIntosh, 40, of Atlanta, had been running for 8 years when she slowly lost interest. (Not quite a 7-year itch, but close enough.) "My canine running partner began to lose her enthusiasm for running, so I shortened my distances for her. Then my weekend group fell apart. Then we bought an old house and had it renovated, so I was managing two homes," says Stanley-McIntosh. When she tried to run again, she was plagued by a series of injuries. Four months later, healthy and with a new training partner, Stanley-McIntosh finally resumed her running. "Now, when someone asks me why I run," she says, "I reply, 'Because I can.'"

Spread the Love

As those great British philosophers Lennon and McCartney once said, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Every relationship is a two-way street, and the more you put into it, the more you'll get out.

There are plenty of ways to "give something back" to the running community, from volunteering at a local race, to assisting your local high school cross-country coach, to encouraging a sedentary friend to join you for a short weekly jog. You'll feel better about yourself, and being around new runners will rejuvenate your own love for the sport.

Even an activity as simple as cheering at a race counts. Remember the boost you get from the screaming spectators in the final miles of your races? Here's your chance to reciprocate. And just try watching a major marathon, such as New York City's, up close without aching to train for a race of your own.

Speaking of racing: It pays to love your competitors, too. (Well, not literally... that would be another article altogether.) Trouble is, many of us see other runners as adversaries, enemies we must destroy in our dash to the finish line-a mind-set that takes a real psychic toll, says Lynch.

Instead, embrace the competition. See competitors as friends who will help you run your best. "The word compete comes from the Latin word competere, to seek together," says Lynch, a former top masters racer. "When I competed, I noticed that if I showed up at a race and thought, 'Wow, look who's here-he's such a great runner,' I did better."

So what are we left with? The initial thrill of the beginning runner inevitably fades. You can't stay gaga forever. The good news is that beneath the infatuation is something even better, more mature, and ultimately more rewarding-a love that will sustain you for years to come.

Lynch gives the example of the hungry young runner living from one PR to the next. That's fine, Lynch says, except that PRs are pretty ephemeral things. You can't rely on them forever to keep you motivated.

"You earn a PR and you're excited-but it lasts about 2 weeks, and that's it," Lynch says. "The joy of the process, on the other hand, lasts forever.

"By age 45, I was burned out on competition. I was afraid I was going to stop running. But when I made a switch to non-racing, it was just the opposite: My running became even more enjoyable, because the rewards were much more internal.

"Today when I go out for my run, the reward is right there. It's immediate."

What a lovely thought.

More: How Exercise Boosts Your Brainpower

Ask Dr. Love

Expert advice for the lovelorn runner.

Q: I've been with the same shoe model for years. Lately I've caught myself flirting with a new, flashier shoe. I make up excuses to go to the shoe store just to see it. I haven't even tried it on, but still I feel terrible. What should I do?

A: There's nothing wrong with looking. You're only human, after all. But there must be a reason you've stuck with one model all this time. It sounds like a rewarding relationship so far. Ask yourself, "Am I really looking for a new shoe? Or am I looking for something more?"

Q: I fantasize about spending the weekend with my bicycle, but could I live with the guilt?

A: Go ahead-and don't feel guilty! Cross-training is a great way to stay motivated and to develop muscles that running may neglect. Cycling in particular is a terrific low-impact activity. Plus, a bike makes it easy to scout out new running routes.

Q: How will I know when I've found the right shoe for me?

A: Trust us, you just will. It'll feel like the two of you were made for each other. Your heel will fit snugly, your forefoot won't feel pinched, and your longest toe will lie about a thumb's width from the tip of the shoe.

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