As I worked on a talk for our 10K and 5K training group last week, I thought a lot about how running affects my mind. The talk focused on training your brain to run and why mental toughness is important. I can pull so many examples from my own experiences. So many times I struggled and failed mentally. But as I looked at where I am currently in my running journey, I realized something: I’ve found joyful running.
I still dread some of my workouts, and I still have rough moments. I’m running higher mileage than ever, and I still put a lot of pressure on myself to hit paces and keep improving.
But I’m having fun. I enjoy my runs, and I’m able to sink into a workout completely. That hasn’t always been my running life.
What has changed?
What I’m about to write isn’t revolutionary or probably even original. But I had to discover it for myself. Joyful running happens when you stop focusing on the end result and obsessing about a finish line that is months away. Instead, dive into what you can do today.
It’s easy to type and say, but it’s much tougher to execute daily.
For five years, my main focus was getting fast enough to qualify for and get into the Boston Marathon. It was a goal that scared me, motivated me, and crushed me. Each failure (there are too many to recount) just multiplied the pressure I put on myself to succeed. I went through stretches where I felt like I would never get there.
When I didn’t get into Boston for a second time in September of 2015, I wanted to give up. Running wasn’t fun to me; I was forcing every mile.
How did I get from that point to where I am now?
I wish I made a roadmap along my way. Instead, I can focus on what’s working well for me right now and keep improving those areas.
My morning routine has changed greatly. I struggled with waking up and going for a morning run for years. So far, 2017 has been completely different. I started with just trying to wake up at 7 a.m. or earlier with no expectations (thank you Rachel for that advice). Some days I wouldn’t get out of my bed for one or two hours after waking up. But I woke up and didn’t go back to sleep. Now, in my third month, I am starting to get morning tasks finished. And I’ve started getting up excited to go for a morning run along the coast.
I’m also trying to look like I’m enjoying my run. I’ve written about smiling while running before (smiling on the run), but I’m working on doing it daily. With so many people running and biking along the California coast, I have so many options to smile and wave at people. It makes each run a bit more lighthearted, even when I’m pushing hard on a workout.
I also celebrate the small victories. I’m constantly playing small games in my head (much easier since I don’t listen to music). Most of my games are pace driven. When I know I have a big hill ahead, I try to attack it. I want my average pace on that mile to stay as close to where it was at the start of the hill as possible.
I don’t use overall average pace on my main Garmin 735 screen. Instead, I use the current lap average pace to help me stay in the moment.
When I’m flailing in a workout and not hitting my goal pace, I don’t try to come up with a superman effort to get back on track. Instead, I shoot to cut the deficit in half. If I’m 30 seconds behind per mile, I try to make the next mile just 15 seconds off goal pace. Then I do it again to cut it to 7 or so. I follow that pattern and see how low I can go.
When I’m flying through a workout and feel like I can keep pressing, I start trying to negative split. When I hit the halfway point, I check my overall average pace. Then I try to make each mile left faster than my overall average.
On recovery days, my tendency is to do too much too fast. So, knowing my weakness, I play slowdown pace games. If I can’t run at my goal pace, I cut the run short (missing miles if far more of a punishment to my OCD running brain than a slower pace).
Maybe my biggest change? I’m not afraid of failing right now.
For a long time I went into each race and hard workout terrified of failing. If you define failure as not achieving your goal, then I have failed a lot. Marathon after marathon finish fell short of what I wanted. Workout after workout didn’t line up with where I wanted to be. What I didn’t realize in those moments was that my mind was focused on the wrong thing.
Instead of obsessing about the future and stressing because I wasn’t fast enough yet, I should have focused on what I could do daily. Another case of easy to type, hard to do.
Right now, when I go out for a run, I run in the mile I’m in. I try to find peace in each mile. I still have all of my goals in the back of my head, and I am going to chase them as hard as I can. But I know I can’t achieve or destroy my goals in one workout.
Why worry about a race that is weeks away? My next PR will come from stacking consistent days. Thinking too far ahead and freaking out about how to get there won’t help at all. So I still have the big picture ahead of me, but it’s hazy and out of focus. Today is all that really matters.
Running is challenging. It can break you down. Running well is about becoming comfortable in pushing past your comfort zone.
It’s also worth the effort. Every day. Each joyful day.