Just Running

AJWs TaproomAfter 20 years of running ultras, I have come to really appreciate the rhythmic nature of the seasons of my training year. While each year is slightly different based on recovery times, event locations, and work/family issues, in general I have spent the last 20 years going through much of the same rhythm. That is, the first six months of the year are spent building up, breaking down, and peaking to a goal race while the second six months of the year have been spent recovering, re-building, and just running.

And, it’s this last part that has been particularly gratifying this year. You see, being the focused type that I am, much of my running from January to June follows a prescribed plan. There are speed workouts and hill repeats, long runs and tempo runs, all designed to get me to the point that I want to be come race day. Sure, there are opportunities for spontaneity within the structured program but, for the most part, the training drives my running, informs how I feel, and provides focus and structure to my life. I absolutely love the challenge of facing up to a tough training cycle, don’t get me wrong. But, I also revel in the time when I don’t have to.

As I reflect and recover in the second half of my training year, my runs take on a decidedly different tenor. I head out the door with no preconceived route in mind. At times, I don’t even bring my Garmin! My running often takes me to unexpected places and impels me to run with groups and friends I might not otherwise seek out in the heart of my build-up cycle. On many occasions I’ll cut a run short or perhaps even decide to bail on a run altogether and read a book or take a nap or drink a beer instead. It’s like I have had my dinner and my dessert and I pretty much have the rest of the night to do whatever I want.

And, it is in this time of year that many of my runs bring unexpected results I didn’t even seek. It seems to me that when I run unencumbered, when I am out on the trail with just my head and my heart, some interesting answers begin to emerge, aspects of my life take shape, and my temperament is honed more fully. In the absence of any real tangible goal it seems that the simple act of running creates its own sets of goals and allows me to freely choose a path or a direction completely on its own terms.

Obviously, to those of us who get out there every day, running provides inherent benefits that are physical, emotional, and psychological. But what I realize, in the midst of this time of year when I am just running, is that its greatest gift of all might just be it. Sometimes just the process of doing the thing that you love, without constraints or limits, succeeds in actually making it the thing you love even more. And, I have to believe, if we truly listen to what’s important and pay attention to the power of that love, the rest just takes care of itself.

Bottoms up!

 Berkshire Brewing Company Lost Sailor IPAAJW’s Beer of the Week

As the sessionable IPA movement continues to gain momentum, a great IPA from Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield, Massachusetts impresses me with its staying power. Berkshire’s Lost Sailor IPA, now distributed in cans, is a British style IPA (as in, it’s malty tasting up front and hoppy on the backside) that weighs in at 5.5% and 40 IBUs. A West Coast IPA this is not but if you’re looking for a smooth drinking all-day beer with a deep traditional flavor, grab yourself a couple of these!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What does your down-time running look like? Do you sometimes substitute a nap or a beer for your run, like AJW?
  • How do you know how much down time to take after a goal race? When and how does your body and mind tell you it’s time to train again?

There are 6 comments

  1. nelsonprater

    Reading your weekly column – what a great way to start a Friday morning! You put down in words exactly what I've been feeling lately. I thought there was something wrong with me – why do I look forward most to my solo, watch-free runs? I'm hearing the calling a lot now to just run free all the time. If someone shows up and joins me, even better – if not, I'm OK with that too. Thanks for the great thoughts. I'll be first in line to buy your book – there's a need in the running world for a book of your running philosophies.

    1. ajoneswilkins

      @nelsonprater Thanks for the kind words! I have been thinking a bit more about the book lately as I have enjoyed a bit of downtime. I will likely need a bit more time to ruminate before it's ready for primetime but it will happen and I hope it's enjoyable for some. Time to head out for a run!

  2. Sarah

    I really appreciate what you've articulated and feel there is a place for "just running" even in a focused training cycle. Some may call these "junk miles," but to me these easy, by-feel runs can be more enjoyable and unexpectedly rewarding than a pre-planned workout. This happened to me the other day when I felt discouraged because I didn't go out on my planned morning run because something else came up. I spent one of those mornings unshowered and grumpy because I was still wearing my running clothes but hadn't gone running. Mid-afternoon, lacking the time frame or energy to do the workout I planned for earlier, I told myself, "Just run. Some is better than none. Get out the door." I left the house with no clear idea of where I was going or what pace I would run. I turned up a hill in our neighborhood impulsively, took it easy the first mile, took another turn I don't usually take … and the whole time, my mind wandered and a weight felt as if it were lifting from my mind and shoulders. I just ran — and mile by mile, I felt better. Halfway through, it turned into a fartlek run for the fun of it. I finished with a set of strides. An hour later, I had completed what turned out to be a pretty decent workout, by feel rather than by design. It reminded me that I really love "just running" and that kind of mindset can occasionally refresh rather than detract from a training cycle.

  3. JohnHnat

    I think your concept applies at a lifetime time span as well. For years, I was a typical Type A runner — wore a watch/GPS on every run, logged everything dutifully in a spreadsheet, and trained with specific goals in mind. Then in 2011, I had major back surgery and some post-surgery complications … and suddenly all of my PRs were etched in concrete, never to be changed again. I was fortunate to be running at all.

    It took some time, and it wasn't a smooth adjustment … but I realized that it was a blessing in disguise. For the first time in a long time, I was running for enjoyment. Not for accomplishment, not for achievement … enjoyment. It's very much been like the second halves of your last several years. I stopped maintaining my running log. I haven't worn a watch/GPS on a run in a couple of years. I run when I want to run, not according to some schedule. If I feel great, I go longer. If I am tired, I cut runs short (or don't go out at all). When I run races, it's with more of an attitude of enjoying the experience, rather than trying to achieve a goal time (one that was inevitably "___ minutes faster than I could run"). I used to try to run most everything as fast as I could manage, as though running were some chore best completed as quickly as possible … now, I enjoy running slower (don't we typically want fun things to last as long as they can?).

    Would I have changed if I hadn't been forced to change? Probably not, to be frank. But I'm glad it worked out that way.

    Anyway, I think my experience has been a lot like yours. I feel "like I have had my dinner and my dessert and I pretty much have the rest of the night to do whatever I want" … just on a different time frame.

    Thanks as always for a great column!

  4. AdamCondit

    Very well said AJW … the "just running" phase is long over-due for me but oh so sweet when I finally discipline myself to not be so disciplined.

    Since WS (which we shared some early hiking / running and you bombed past me on the way to Eldorado Creek) I've been more stuck in the "Taco Bell, occasionally bike to work or with friends, and barely running" phase before "just running" again.

  5. FinnBloom

    Thank you for a great column, AJW. I have been sidelined for six weeks and my power-pouting over missed races and missing long runs has become my newest form of cross-training. I read your "Just Running" column with the longing and heartache of a snowdweller in February reading about the sunny, warm beaches of Mexico.

    I DREAM of "just running". What I have come to appreciate in all this downtime…is the downtime. Once again the universe has provided an opportunity to keep things in perspective! Appreciate might be a strong word…Accept might be more accurate. All I can do is the much-needed rehab in order to get my arse back on the trails but until then I am moving at a pace that is not measured by a clock. I am walking. I am walking slowly. I am not a WS runner…I am not a podium runner…I am a devout middle of the packer who loves (and misses) the dirt.

    I am thankful for having the time to be able to read about other runners and their experiences and all the race reviews and Bryon's irunfar coverage and my friends' strava updates. I am thankful for the new things I am learning about the human body and how to rebuild it.

    Life at a new pace has provided me the chance to reconnect with friends, family and nature. You really see alot when you're walking a trail! But i am most thankful for being alive. I am thankful that, although uncomfortable, I can move under my own power and that one day, hopefully next year, I too, will be "just running"! Keep up the great running and soulful writing, AJW!

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