Joy. For many runners it’s not the first word that comes to mind when describing running. If it is for you, that’s great! However, I’m writing this for those of you who have felt their joy waning or who have maybe lost it all together. Training can be exciting but also demanding, challenging, time consuming, and sometimes downright exhausting (marathoners, I’m looking at you). The longer we run, train and compete, the easier it becomes to view running as something we “have” to do and the easier it is to lose sight of the joy of running.

Running can become something that we allow to cause stress rather than reduce stress. When I speak with my athletes, I often find that joy is one of the main reasons running stuck and became a lifelong journey. Sure, it was tough, but there was something about it that made them come alive and got them out the door to do it again the next day. Let’s be honest, if there wasn’t any joy there wouldn’t be a point to pursuing something so hard! I had a similar experience when I began my running journey.

I started running for the same reason most people do, I wanted to get in shape. I was in my mid-twenties and I hadn’t taken very good care of myself physically up to that point. So I bought my first pair of running shoes and found a trail in the woods. When I started I had no direction or goal. I ran whenever I wanted and for however long I felt like that day. Of course it was challenging at first; my lungs felt like they were on fire and muscles I didn’t even know I had ached long after I’d finished a run. But I also loved it, and the more I ran the easier it got and the more joy I found out on the trails. I felt a delightful sense of freedom to have this time to simply be. Eventually, I signed up for a race and realized I had the potential to be competitive. I raced at a community college for a year then transferred to a NCAA Division II school.

Having only ran for a couple years and only competitively for one year, I found myself thrust into high mileage and intense competition. I jumped in head first and made sure to do everything right. I ate clean, I never went out (even on weekends), I hit every split in workouts and ran every mile. I felt like I had to go 100% otherwise I wouldn’t do well at nationals. Over the course of the next two years I slowly lost my joy and instead felt like I “had” to run. I didn’t enjoy most of my training because I was so stressed about hitting every workout perfectly and I suffered from anxiety for days, even weeks, leading up to big races. Ultimately, I didn’t perform up to my potential. I was so fixated on the goal that I had forgotten the importance of the journey.

When I left college and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona I didn’t know if I loved running anymore. It took me almost an entire year to let go of my focus on the outcome of my training and to be present in my running. And when I did… joy! I was free to enjoy running again. The more I made this my focus, the less anxiety I had and the better I performed. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t run out the door every day surrounded by unicorns and rainbows. I have tough days too. But I intentionally look for joy in each and every run and when you look hard enough it can always be found.

If this resonates with you, the first thing I want you to know is that it’s completely normal. So don’t beat yourself up. This is especially important in this day and age when social media can make us feel like everyone is enjoying running (and life) more than we are. The great news is you that can find your way back! Start by taking some time to think about or even to write down the things about running you enjoy most. Then take action. I’ll mention a few ideas but there are many and whatever you choose should be specific to you.

  • Spend time running on trails out in nature.
  • Ditch the smart watch and run based on how you feel.
  • If you love running with others, reach out to a friend for a (socially distanced) run.
  • If you always run with people, try a solo run.
  • Take a break from social media. (I do this regularly!)

When I struggled to enjoy running and questioned my love for the sport I was fortunate to be supported and encouraged by friends in the running community. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to pass along what I’ve learned and to encourage others to find joy in the journey.

Georgia Porter is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Georgia, check out her coaching page.

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Photo: Finisher Pix