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No Pressure: Finding My Run "Zen"

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Have you ever finished a run, looked at your watch, and thought, Wow, that is so awesome!


Lately, I’ve been having a lot of those runs. Why? I think it’s because I’ve eased off obsessing over completing a specific training plan exactly. I’m going to call these “freedom runs,” where I don’t set goals—except an ideal mileage—and don’t pressure myself for a specific pace. I just run and enjoy the moments. Eventually, the miles happen and I stop my watch and rest in the joy of a run well done.

Accessing Zen

There isn’t a magical way to access these types of runs, at least not from what I can tell. I’ve spent months, and many, many runs screaming at myself internally to just get to the next step, the next bush, the next mile. Mentally, I’ve put myself through a lot of tough moments to finish my miles. What happens in the process is I end up hating running. I think of it as something I’m failing at. I get mad at myself. Depressed. I want to do anything but run, in fact.


How I’ve gotten around that these days is by learning how to access a “zen place.” This is a part of a run where I throw off the chains, accept what is happening, enjoy the people around me, and reflect on the present. These instances are becoming easier to access the more I run, but the underlying point is that I don’t pressure myself to do anything that my body doesn’t want to do. If I want to run hard for a few miles, I will. If I want to run easy, I’ll slow down (yes, sometimes with a little prompting from my run friends!). I know what happens if I push too hard, and keeping things lighter is better for my mental state—not to mention injury prevention.


After going through injury the latter part of 2019, I’ve spent the first few weeks of 2020 building mileage, doing 20 to 30 miles a week once more, and taking time to be more grateful for each run experience.


It hasn’t been all roses. Sometimes I have runs where anxiety is stifling and I have to take literal breathers on the side of the road to collect my thoughts and tell myself I’m OK. Other times, I go into a run accepting things and seeking adventure, and I usually come out feeling empowered. It varies according to time of day and company, but more often than not, I’ve discovered that positive thoughts, a great supportive group of run friends, and putting less pressure on myself equal empowering results.


The Year Ahead

I have ambitions for my run journey this year, and I plan to follow training plans, but I will try not to obsess over executing them to the letter. I don’t want to get burnt out again or lose my love for running. I will show up, do the best I can, keep those positive thoughts flowing as much as possible, and see what happens. If I reach my goals, of course I’ll be over the moon. If I don’t, I’ll try to learn from the process.

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