Rediscovering Joy

“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” – Once a Runner

I hit a low point in my training the last couple weeks. I'm out of it now, feeling good and running well, but those low points suck and I wanted to share a few things that helped me get out of it. As is pretty obvious, I'm kind of passionate about running. I devote a lot of time to this hobby...reading blogs, magazines, and books about running, watching video clips, listening to podcasts, planning, and running itself, all without a chance of financial gain. The least I demand out of this hobby is joy.

My friend Eric posted the quote above on Facebook and it really stuck with me this week (as a side note, if you run and haven't read Once a Runner, you really should). Not every run is full of joy, and there's nothing wrong with admitting that sometimes running sucks and is far from enjoyable. I do enjoy the process, however, the process of growth, getting stronger, faster, and going further. I enjoy running at a tempo pace, semi-comfortably, a pace I couldn't hold a few months ago for more than about a mile. I also realize that, just like in a long race, there will be highs and lows. The lows are temporary, and that if you wait around long enough, you'll get a high (I guess I did learn something from that year I spent at Humboldt State). 

I don't know if it was over-training or boredom or pushing too hard or real life getting in the way, or a combination of all of these, but I had no real motivation to run, and it lasted for a couple of weeks. These are the things that helped me get my mojo back, and only a couple of them involve a penis pump.

1) Take a break.

As runners, we are conditioned to deal with the pain, and to push through it. Luckily, I have an awesome coach who listens to me and designs a training schedule for the week based on my performance and feedback from the prior week. This is invaluable for me because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of my training. Normally, I would try to push through these low points and continue with the cycle of fatigue, thinking that it would only serve to make me stronger, when what I really needed to do, and what my coach recognized and advised me to do, was to take a couple days off and when I was ready, to just get out and run, without a watch, without a goal, just run, which leads to the second tip.

2) Go naked.

Run without a watch, GPS, music, and goal. I went to my favorite local trail with my dog (who ensures that I take it easy), and just ran. I stopped every couple of miles to just look around, listen to the sounds and let my dog explore off-leash. I wasn't worried about hitting paces; I was just doing something that I do nearly every day, and enjoying every minute of it.

3) Focus on the now.

I have been stressed about the marathon, and trying to hit a goal time. As the date approaches, I have been beating myself up for not hitting certain paces in training, losing confidence, and creating more stress for the race. I started to feel extremely negative about the marathon, and to look beyond it, focusing on next year's plans that include a lot of trail running. It's funny because I did the same thing when preparing for the Canadian Death Race, sometimes cursing all the trail running and hiking I was doing to prepare for the race. I would focus on the upcoming marathon training and how much better it would feel to run shorter and faster. This is a defense mechanism and a way to give myself an excuse in case I have a bad race. I am now focused on running a strong marathon, trusting in the good, consistent training I have done, and knowing that on a good day, I will run strong, but also knowing that I will enjoy the race and the experience of running with friends under the lights of the Vegas strip. And regardless of the outcome, I will enjoy the after-party.

4) Run with friends.

There is a group of about 5 of us who meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays. Someone will usually send an email out the night before, late, to see who else is going to show up, but there is almost always someone there waiting, sometimes with a headlamp in the dark, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with sleep still pulling towards the warm comfort of home, and sometimes pissed off and just wanting to get this run over with before starting another long day.

This group has been rock solid, through good training periods and bad, and as my motivation slipped, and as I started to question why I was training for a stupid marathon...on the road, I knew that I had to get out and run with these guys, with our steady pace, easy conversation, and the comfort of a well-known trail.

We all are out there for one reason, to run, but that encompasses different things for all of us. That morning, for me, "to run" meant throw the self-doubt and negative talk to the wind and the cold, to spit on it. And as the sun came up and the air warmed, nothing special happened, no breathtaking sunrises or hills covered in blankets of wet fog, just one foot in front of the other with friends talking about work, running, kids, problems, future races, past races, and small victories.

I can't join this group every morning, but I know that one or two of us will always be able to make it, and when I need it the most, I know that they will be out there running a steady pace, running for our own reasons, our own "to runs."

5. Rediscover your joy.

Really, this is what it's all about. This whole post could have been simplified to those three words, but it took me the whole process of thinking it out and writing it to bring me here. A few days ago I went for a long tempo run on the coast. It was a beautiful post-rain clear and cool morning. The ocean was like glass, the waves were small, and there was a pod of dolphins about 30 feet out just playing. They were kind of moving with me, pretty much in the same spot and for the duration of the 12 miler, I kept looking over my shoulder and there they were, jumping and gliding in and out of the water, not worrying about a destination, a time, a place, just enjoying the simple beauty of the ocean.

I love watching these short Killian's Quest movies. His joy and his love of running and the mountains flows through everything he does. His joy is so real, young and infectious, that I can't help but be motivated every time I watch him. I especially liked the most recent one below because it not only shows the connection with the beauty of the trail, it shows the joy that flows through everyone that has discovered this connection, with each other, with the trails and with running.

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