Enjoy it above all
This is another cautionary post, inspired yet again by one of Tynan’s recent entries (sorry for hating on you so much man).
The desire for progress is one of my deepest core motivators. Generally, I try to improve in everything I do, and running is no different.
I started running in high school as part of cross country. That was easy. Every day, the coach told me where I had to be, and what I had to do when I got there. There was no choice. It was mindless, and it worked. I went from never having run in my life to actually beating real, live humans in races. My chronic sleep deprivation during the school year limited my progression, but the improvement was still remarkable.
But the joyous day finally came when school let out forever, and I found myself having to face the prospect of running on my own. Suddenly, everything was different. No one was going to tell me when to run and how to run anymore. No one was going to force me to run - I’d have to procure the motivation to run entirely on my own.
At first, this was all well and good, as I’d been in the habit of running for so long that it wasn’t difficult at all to keep it up. The fact that I invariably started to - and still do - feel fat and sluggish after a few days without a good run also helped.
And so I paid no attention to structuring my running in a way that would maximize my motivation to keep up the habit, and instead focused on trying to continue a trend of improvement and progress. This culminated in the same kind of ‘sprint to the finish line’ philosophy espoused by Tynan, where I felt every run hadn’t reached its full potential if I wasn’t utterly and completely exhausted at the end of the run, and was consequently a bit wasted.
Hence, I took to invariably pushing myself at the end of every run on the final stretch, forcing myself to steadily increase my pace until I broke into a full-out sprint, just as I would in a race. This definitely had the intended effect, and I ended every run completely winded and gasping for breath. It wasn’t very enjoyable much at all, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing I ran as much as I could.
This went on for a few months before I started to realize something strange was happening. It seemed like I was running progressively less and less over time. I did a bit of introspection and came to the startling realization that I was starting to dread running - I dreaded even starting a run because I knew it would inevitably end in utter exhaustion and pain, and so I consistently put off ever starting a run.
So this is the story of how my trying to maximize the gains from my runs by running to painful exhaustion ultimately backfired, and my consequently significantly reduced running made me lose far more ground than my little end-run sprints ever gained.
I have no idea if this holds true for everyone, but I learned something very valuable for myself. Maximizing my enjoyment of an activity, and consequently my motivation to engage in the activity, is first and foremost crucial to my success and progress in said activity. I’ve since eliminated final stretch sprints on every run, and am now happily running three times a week without fail, thanks in part to my structured habits and in part to the sheer enjoyment I now derive from each run.