I’m learning a lot from my two daughters, and not just because they share facts every day that I didn’t know (Did you know that the Calendula flower helps cuts heal faster?). I’m also learning about life and running by observing them at play.
My girls are quite active. They can be seen most of the day running through the backyard and house. As I watched my three-year-old daughter run and leap across the front lawn the other day, I was struck by her huge smile. She was having a complete blast. You’ve seen the same look on your own face in photos from your childhood. Remember how good it felt to just let loose and run? There’s so much love for life spread across a child’s face when they run. It’s as if the mere act of running is delightful. What a concept!
I realized that the emotions I too often experience while running are closer to those that my daughters have when they are asked to stop and do their chores. How could something so enjoyable turn into such a drudgery?
It wasn’t that long ago running was play for me. I remember some very fun runs in college. One of the best experiences came while I was studying abroad in France. While on a weekend visit to Zermatt, Switzerland, I spent an afternoon running down the mountainside below the Matterhorn. I tore down the hill, launching myself into the air like a mountain goat and darting in between the trees like a deer. I must have had a smile on my face from ear to ear. So what happened?
Well, the pressures of life pulled me away from running, or so the excuse goes. When I did run, I ran harder and further to make up for what I hadn’t done – a sure recipe for disaster. I’d overdo it and hate how I felt. It wasn’t long before I began to lament running the same way I did getting a wisdom tooth pulled. It was something I had to do, but sure hurt like hell.
The good news is that I was able to figure out how to regain some of that inner joy from running. I thought I’d share some of my learnings that helped put a smile back on my face while I run.
- Integrate Fun: First and foremost, focus on having fun. For many people this is accomplished by training with a friend. For others, it’s all about having a spiffy new outfit. For me, it was the combination of listening to new music, running in nature, and finishing each run with a delicious espresso. Take a moment and jot down the things you really enjoy and brainstorm how you can include some of them into your running routine.
» Incorporate pleasurable activities.
- Walk and Run: My mom was an active woman, but about as far from being a runner as you could get. I was shocked to learn that she had begun training for the LA Marathon, and then went on to complete it. She did it through a combination of running and walking. At first, I must admit, I thought this wasn’t really running a marathon. After all, if you walk, you’re not running, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. Starting out with a walk/run plan enabled me to take it slowly enough for my body to regain the strength and agility it needed to run well. I began by keeping my heart rate between 65 and 85% of my maxiumum heart rate. This kept me from overdoing it, which helped me continue to have fun.
» Focus on a long-term goal, swallowing your ego for a bit.
- Make a Plan: Studies have shown that people are more likely to complete a task when they outline specifically what they need to do and when they are going to do it. I used the SmartCoarch on Runner’s World’s website to create my own customized training plan based on my current speed plus the date and distance of my next race. However you create your plan, make sure to integrate it into your daily calendar and print it out so you can check off what you accomplish each day.
» Plan for success.
- Track Your Progress: When you’re out there several days a week, it can be hard to notice your improvements. You need to track and log your progress so you can look back and see how much you’ve improved over the weeks and months. There are a number of ways you can get data on your run. I used a Garmin GPS watch and heart-rate monitor. That way I was could see that my heart rate slowly went down over the weeks while my distance increased. You can use low-tech techniques as well. Simply use a local track or run along the same route and use your watch to see how far you go in a set amount of time. The main thing is to capture some data so you can see your improvement over time.
» Use metrics to monitor and motivate yourself.
These are four of the things that helped me enjoy running once again. Give them a try and see if they work for you as well.
Keep in mind that too much pressure can lead to stress and kill the fun. So check back in with yourself from time to time. If you haven’t been smiling on a run recently, it’s time to switch things up. You may just need to ditch everything you’ve been told and listen to your inner child.
What do you think?
- When was the last time you found yourself smiling on a run?
- What have you found works to bring the joy back to running?