We all know that running is hard, and it’s part of what we love about it. We love the feeling of conquering a hard workout, or of exceeding expectations in a race. This is part of what keeps us hooked and coming back for more. We talk a lot about how to push through, how to go beyond our limits, and how to manage the pain. While this is an important element in achieving our goals, I want to talk about another important factor, which is making sure that we don’t lose the enjoyment in our running!
I’ve noticed a lot of distraught runners at the races I’ve attended recently. I am used to seeing it after the race is over, but I have noticed it a lot more in the faces of many runners before they even get to the starting line. They are overwhelmed with nerves, letting these nerves drain much of the fun from the event, not to mention leaving them low on energy and inevitably struggling to perform at their best once the gun goes off. Chasing goals should be fun and exciting. Yes, we expect these goals to be difficult and challenging - which is why we set them in the first place, but they shouldn’t be overwhelming. It’s important not to lose perspective of why we run. There are many reasons that we took up running in the first place; to improve our health, to socialize and be part of a community, or as an outlet for stress. No matter what our “why” is - we must keep in mind that running should be adding to our lives, not taking away from it.
So what can we do to keep a more balanced perspective and get the most enjoyment from our running?
1. It is important to remember that to run is a choice. We choose to run because we love it. We choose to set running goals that we hope to achieve along the way. We choose to enter races and set goals for those as well. However, we can also choose to stop running, or to change directions with our running at anytime. Remember that you’re not on a runaway train, you can choose to get off (or back on) at any time.
2. It is important to remember that a few nerves on race day is normal and totally appropriate. You probably won’t have your best performance if you’re completely apathetic or uninspired to race, however, getting too buzzed in the days and hours leading up to the race is not a good thing. So if you feel this nervous energy creeping and starting to get out of control stop and take some deep breaths. It’s amazing how just 3 deep breaths (4 seconds in on the inhale and 4 seconds out on the exhale) can make a huge difference in how you feel.
3. It is important to remember to congratulate yourself when you achieve your goal. You worked hard, you put it on the line and you did it. That isn’t easy. Give yourself a little time to think about all you have accomplished before you plan out what’s next.
4. It is important to remember that if you didn’t achieve your goal, the world isn’t ending. No one achieves their goals every time around, and there’s always something to be learned and carried through to the next time. We are not robots and no matter how hard we try we don’t always hit the mark. And that is ok. I’m guessing you don’t think any less of Eliud Kipchoge even though he didn’t break 2 in the marathon yet, right? Of course not. Regardless of how we finish we all still need some down time to recharge our bodies and minds.
5. It is important to remember that you need to train in cycles. What goes up has to come down. When you put lots of time and effort into achieving a goal you also need to plan for some down time after the event. Whether or not you achieved your goal, you still need some regrouping time to process what worked and what didn’t, and decide what’s the best next step.
6. It is important to remember that when deciding what to target next you don’t forget to think about how much time and energy you will have to commit to reach this next goal. Think about how this will effect your family, work and other life commitments. Sometimes the next big goal requires many more training hours, and over-committing can take the enjoyment out of the process. Your new goal needs to be realistic based on all of these factors. If now is not the time, put it on the shelf and come back to it when it makes more sense.
On a personal note I have spent over 20 years of my life as a professional runner. As an elite athlete I spent almost all of my day training, recovering and visualizing upcoming races. Running was my job and races were my performance reviews. I love that I have been able to do this as my profession, however, it wasn’t always easy. I too struggled with taking my goals too seriously and losing some of the enjoyment in the process.
I used to think that it was this all consuming lifestyle that set me up to place too much importance on my running, but I was wrong. Over time I realized that as runners, regardless of whether we are chasing a goal of being in the Olympics or finishing our local 5k, we are more the same than different. At all levels we have a tendency to hold on to our running a little too tightly, and that squeezes some of the joy out of it. Most of us choose to do our sport because we love it, but many times we are just one step away from losing that delicate balance. Over the years I have observed that most athletes that have longevity in their sport have the ability to dance along this fine line, and I think this should be the goal for us all.
Get out there and ENJOY your run today!