How one type-A runner learned to run for fun instead of for race medals.
Photo: Hoxton / Ryan Lees / Getty Images
There's a myth that being a runner—a "real" runner—means weeks bookmarked by long runs and a collection of race medals. That your second home is a start line, and your life should be dictated by the delicate dance between your training schedule and the number of clean sports bras you have left. Junk miles don't exist—just the effort to continuously be striving for something, ever improving.
While my life is still pretty much dictated by that same "clean sports bra" situation, I no longer believe you have to run a certain number of races to consider yourself a runner, or that you even need to have a goal in mind. I'm officially aboard the "just run for fun" train, and it's changed my relationship with running for the better. (Related: Why It's Perfectly Acceptable to Walk During Your Runs)
Let me back up.
My History with Running
I've been a distance runner for more than 10 years (whew, that sounds like a long time) and a perfectionist for longer. I started running when I was in college, mainly on a treadmill, however many miles I felt like on a given day. Honestly, I was just glad to be there; I'd never been particularly athletic growing up, but suddenly there I was, moving and burning calories and shedding stress. It was a game-changer for me and I quickly fell in love with the sport.
I surrounded myself with all things running, from magazines to blogs to runner friends. And everywhere I looked, it was the same advice: Set a goal, follow a training plan, run a race. Wash, rinse, repeat. So, like any good type-A runner, I dove into an endless cycle of training plans and PR dreams. I felt like I was part of a special club, where instead of wearing matching jackets, we all got up before the sun to run and really loved carbs. (Related: I Used to Despise Running—Now a Marathon Is My Favorite Distance)
At first, it was fun. I liked following a training plan and knowing exactly what to do each day when it came to my workout. I'm a goal-oriented person, so it just made sense.
When Things Started to Shift
Eventually, though, that excitement began to fade. (You saw this coming, right?) I wanted to love racing, not to mention training, but my personality made me take it perhaps more seriously than it needed to be for someone who was definitely not about to win any marathons. After my first few half marathons, running started to feel like work. And soon I found myself becoming more resentful than grateful, finding it tougher to commit to a training plan. I couldn't tell if I had lost my love for the sport or if I'd just somehow misplaced my motivation.
Predictably, the downtime between my races started to widen. I found myself struggling to stay interested in running, never mind training. But I felt like I was supposed to want to race—to be working toward something concrete—to still consider myself a runner at all. (Related: Why I'm Jealous of New Runners)
The Real Turning Point
Fast-forward to this past June. I'd signed up for the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego half marathon and tried to ignore the fact that I was feeling less than enthusiastic about it. I had a particularly terrible final long run—my last 11-miler before race day—where I was unreasonably close to calling an Uber to pick me up at my turnaround point. I'd never considered quitting or ending a long run early; I was the person who kept running after my running buddies had finished just to make sure I hit my exact mile goal for the day.
I probably should have realized then and there that my heart wasn't in it anymore, but instead, I went down to San Diego for race weekend as planned. I mean, I had already signed up! So I attended the expo and picked up my race bib and tried to psych myself up for race day. But while carb-loading at dinner the night before, I found myself admitting there was no ounce of me that was glad to be there, to head out to another starting line. I wasn't looking forward to being the proud owner of a new medal or the post-race brunch, or even a potential PR. No excitement. Just dread.
That's when it hit me. No time like the present to change your mind, right? I threw away my bib and for the first time, made a decision to not show up. Running and I, we broke up.
When I returned home to Los Angeles, I tossed my running shoes in the back of my closet. I'd gone from being a worshiper of the sport to feeling like I had a complete aversion to even the idea of it. I had no interest in lacing up and tackling any type of distance; a 5K might as well have become an ultra. (Cue Ross shouting, "We were on a break!")
Finding My Stride Again
For months, I was the runner who never ran. It wasn't until after I'd joined a new gym in a post-Thanksgiving haze that I decided to re-test the waters. On a whim, I hopped on a treadmill in late November—no plan or intention in mind, just a desire to break a sweat and maybe work off some stress. Four miles flew by and afterward, as I tried to wipe the goofy smile off my face, I realized I still felt that familiar connection to running, to being a runner. It was the pressure from behaving the way I thought I was supposed to in order to be a "real" runner, whatever that means, that had zapped the fun out of the sport for me.
Now the fun has returned. Ironically, I find myself craving my runs more than I have in years, likely because it feels like a choice, not a requirement. No schedule, no plan and no expectations—similar to the way I ran back when I was a newbie. I have no race on the calendar at the moment and really, no goal in mind other than enjoying being on a run. (Related: Why I Love Running, Even When My Speed Is Slow)
Running plan-free has been liberating, and it has helped me recapture the joy that running once brought to my life. I'm now reminded why I became a runner in the first place—to sweat and move and feel alive. And frankly, that's what it's all about.