How not training for a race helped me enjoy running

Running motivation: “Knowing that I’ll never train for another race has helped me to enjoy running again”

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You may feel that you’re failing if you don’t have a #medalmonday to upload after a weekend of running at Parkrun or a local 10k race, but here’s why one runner has vowed to never train for another event again.

I first caught the running bug around the age of 14. A friend who was really into her fitness had invited me to come on a jog around our neighbourhood. I laced up some old trainers and threw on a pair of cotton shorts to meet her outside my house. Although I had played a few sports prior to this first run, I quickly ran out of breath trying to keep up with her. But the panting didn’t deter me from going again, and again, and again. Nearly 20 years later, I’m still running.

Running (or rather jogging) has been a consistent part of my life all that time. Every week, I’ll typically go out for about 15 to 30 minutes for a slow jog, usually listening to a podcast to keep me company while I make my way around the roads. As a teenager and young adult, running was my escape from schoolwork and relationship drama. I felt free, independent and strong when I was out.  

As I’ve aged, running has come to mean even more to me. I now have three young children, a mortgage, a job and various stressors I didn’t have before, and my runs are completely necessary to cope with it all. They are my sanity.  

The quest to run longer and faster

Over the course of my running journey, I’ve had periods when the need to run further and faster has overtaken the mental need for a jog. It usually happens when a friend of mine signs up for a half marathon or marathon. I convince myself a race would be an easy thing for me to achieve. If they can do it, so can I.

I download Strava, eat an extra big breakfast, and set out to run further and faster. For a while, I enjoy it. I like beating my times and distances. I love discovering hidden trails I couldn’t have reached before, and I get a real feeling of pride when telling my running friends about my achievements. But soon enough, the inevitable happens and I injure myself. Knees, Achilles tendon, feet, hips… it feels like no amount of stretching, strength training, or physio ever prevents something going wrong.

Running injuries are necessarily followed by a long period of rest, which as a mother to three is massively disrupting to our family routine. During the months of rehabilitation, I swear to myself I will never run long distances again. It simply isn’t worth the cost.

But once I’ve recovered, another friend will say she has signed up to a race, and just like that, I’ve committed to train once again.  

Running comparison as the ultimate joy thief

About a year ago, I decided to do some deep, inward digging to find out what it was that made me want to run further and faster. Slow, consistent jogs gave me everything I needed from running, so why the constant push for more? Simply getting outside in the fresh air provides an immediate boost to my mood. I have half an hour to ignore the needs of work and kids. I stay fit. Why ruin all that goodness by increasing my distance, which always led to injury?

When friends were running longer than me, I felt less of runner. I convinced myself that if I had been running for all these years, surely, I could keep up. I had to prove to them and prove to myself that I was a ‘real’ athlete. I was ashamed of my seeming lack of achievement, jealous of the success of close friends, and constantly injured. It was a dangerous way of exercising and ruined the experience for me.

“Comparing ourselves to others is a complete waste of time and energy,” says Emma-Jayne Taylor, a PT who specialises in working with mind, body and soul. “It’s a bit like trying to take on the same hairstyle as the model in a magazine you just read. It won’t work because face shapes and hair are all different, like bodies. Whatever you feel the need for, do it and don’t compare that to others.” 

How to be OK with running little and often

Once I had figured out what was going on inside, I settled to never train for a race again. Slow, short, consistent jogs had made me happy and kept me safe for a long time, so that was what I would continue to do in future years.

“You should feel content with where you are at in your own fitness journey whether that’s a long, slow 5k run or a fast and quick 10k,” says Taylor. “Focus on your ability and achievements for your goals, not others. Because ultimately it is your fitness and it should feel good.”

Since making the decision to be content with my running routine, I have never felt happier with exercise. It’s no longer a competition to be scored, timed and compared, but a sacred time I take for myself to recharge, reduce stress and get outside.  

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Images: author’s own

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