If you know me, you know that I love to run (if you don't know me...I love to run) and have done track and cross country since middle school. You also know that I beat myself up about it all the time. I have cried, I have pushed myself to some pretty painful injuries, and I have ignored those injuries for dangerously long periods of time because, as a decidedly mid-pack runner, it was driving me crazy that I couldn't be the best. Although I still am far from an easygoing, stress-free runner, I have gotten a lot better thanks to other people's advice and lessons I've had to learn on my own. This series of posts is going to consist of everything I wish I would have known when I first started running as well as some things that have helped me loosen up along the way.
First, it's extremely important to remember why you started running in the first place. Actually, I take that back. It's important to remember why you KEPT running. Maybe you went for your first run to lose weight, or maybe you had to run a mile for gym. You probably returned home sweaty, achy, exhausted and deliriously happy. At least that's the way it was for me. I was a super stressed-out kid, and I was absolutely miserable, but running got me away from all of that. For some people, I know the attraction is not quite so instantaneous. You might wonder why anyone could ever do that for fun. I think in some form or another, what makes every runner head out the door again is that euphoric feeling of a run, where you feel all peaceful and calm and satisfied. That moment is a little different for everyone: it could be the first time you run, or it could be in the middle of your fifth race. If you are just starting to run regularly and haven't felt this yet, don't give up. It will come eventually, and it is totally worth it. That feeling is what makes running so addictive; it's like a drug. You feel really great when you do it and it eventually consumes all your time and money (just kidding...kind of).
Anyway, my point is that you shouldn't lose sight of why you first loved running. I always get caught up in the competition of a season, and at some point I start to run not because I want to, but because I feel I have to. To get back to that primal joy of running, I always make myself take a break at the end of every season. But that break doesn't follow any training plan. My rule is that I don't let myself go for a run until that little voice in the back of my head telling me I have to run so I don't get out of shape is totally gone. I lace up my shoes again when I want to go on a run because it's FUN. Think of how happy you were running around as a little kid. You weren't doing it to strengthen your heart or bones or fit into some old pants; you were doing it because you were playing and running was part of the fun. That's all running is, really: playing outside for grown-ups. So shut up about your split times and go play.