A Glimmer of Hope: A Return to Pleasurable Running

The joy to be found in a return to pleasurable running after a prolonged tough stretch.

By on May 10, 2023 | Comments

Over the long term, running’s surely a positive proposition for most anyone reading this website. Why else would be continue running for months, years, or decades?

Almost as certainly, you’ll have a couple days each month where you lack motivation. Maybe you’ll have a couple scattered weeks through the year where you just don’t have your running mojo. If you run for long enough, it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll encounter months or seasons during which running’s an ongoing struggle, especially if you’re trying to train with any purpose. This last scenario can be pretty demoralizing, especially if running is a routine source of pleasure, solace, or decompression.

However, almost inevitably, those longer periods on the running struggle bus end. And, oh, what a special treat, like a long-awaited reunion with a good friend, the return of pleasurable, unimpeded running is!

What follows is such an account. One of my personal running struggles in recent months as well as what feels like a recent return to lovely running.

Silverton Colorado - Spring 2023 - Kendall Mountain

All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

It’s been an extraordinary long winter here in Silverton, Colorado, and, if I’m honest, that’s had my running of the Hardrock 100 in July majorly in doubt. As usual, I had a good training push in December and into early January, but the snow kept falling, stressful uncertainty reined in my personal life, and both my Achilles tendons were uncomfortable all winter.

That combination took any and all momentum out of anything that looked like training. March and April were continued unrelenting winter. Every day, I continued running the same few winter routes around town, but it was a struggle. I hope that struggle is over!

The past two weeks have seen warmth and sun return to Silverton. While there’s boundless snow on the mountainsides, a few miles of additional valley-bottom dirt roads have opened up with a few more miles on the way. In the coming weeks another 10 or 20 miles of bottomland dirt roads will open up, adding some much-needed variety to my running routes.

Vertical will continue to be scarce for a while, but the first 1,000 vertical feet of singletrack on south-facing Anvil Mountain that watches over me at my desk should be passable any day, if it’s not already. Hopefully, continued melting will allow county road crews to start plowing roads up toward passes in the coming weeks. A view to the west from atop Ophir Pass is a sure sign that spring has arrived to the San Juan Mountains.

Silverton Colorado - Spring 2023 - Sultan Turk Bear

The warmth, dry roads, sun, and additional running terrain have put me back in shorts and tee shirts as well as some spring back in my step. I’ll admit that running is a lot more enjoyable, well, when the running is enjoyable! And even when I’m running into a stiff spring breeze, it’s a nuisance rather than the soul crusher that the same wind is when it’s cold, cloudy, and snow’s blowing in your face even when it’s not snowing. Even if I strongly prefer cool weather over hot weather, it’s nice to break the first couple sweats of the spring.

Along with enjoying my runs more, or, perhaps, because I’m enjoying my runs more, those runs are becoming better. Without any mental struggle, my “long” runs have lengthened to eight, 10, and 12 miles. My daily runs are no longer capped at five miles. Sometimes they’re now six, seven, or eight miles. In both my long runs and daily runs, I repeatedly find myself going a bit further than I’d intended when I stepped off the front porch … an occurrence that was fleetingly rare for the five-plus months of winter.

A mile into my run on a recent Monday, I found myself running a bit faster than usual and turned that into an impromptu hard effort. Two days later, I did my first semi-intentional workout in ages, running hard up a half-mile incline three times. It was daunting but fun!

This week, I’ve also noticed that just a smidge of intentionally faster running seems to make the rest of my running appreciably faster. It’s as if there’s some sort of internal reset or recalibration that slightly turns up the speed on easy pace.

Silverton Colorado - Spring 2023 - CR2

On the Achilles front, they’re doing a little better thanks to less running on soft snow, a bit of rehabilitation, and general lower kinetic chain strengthening as I build fitness. That “little better” means they’re more of a discomfort than in pain. It’s a subtle but important distinction. I’ve also realized that I shouldn’t bail on a run in the first mile due to that discomfort. If I roll with it for 10 or 15 minutes, that discomfort goes away or I get used to it. Either way, the rest of the run sucks a lot less than that first stretch, which is invariably a slight grinding uphill.

On top of the more enjoyable weather, expanded running terrain, and the momentum of good running, a week of melting makes it feel like there’s a much better chance of Hardrock happening. I’ll spare you an in-depth analysis of the five SNOTEL sites I have bookmarked on my internet browser, but the Hardrock course was in a relative donut hole in snowfall compared to the off-the-charts levels recorded in many areas of Colorado’s Western Slope mountains.

It’s still a crap ton of snow and a snowy week up high later in May could reverse the progress, but the current melt trajectory would seemingly allow for a snowy slog of the Hardrock course in mid-July. This is a marked shift in the direction of Hardrock happening in contrast to the negative trend through March and April, which weighed on my enthusiasm for pushing on with training in crappy weather.

Although the thought of completing Hardrock this year seems unfathomable at the moment, that’s always the case for me until shortly before the race, even in my ideal build-up. I’ve still got to build general fitness, stretch out my long runs, and develop my hiking and descending strength from scratch. All this is daunting and things will have to go right for the next two months … but unlike a month ago, there’s a glimmer of hope. There’s a chance.

And I’m willing and excited to see what I can make of that chance as spring continues on.

Call for Comments

  • When and why have you encountered prolonged periods of challenging or less enjoyable running?
  • If so, can you describe what it was like if and when joyful running returned to your life?

Silverton Colorado - Spring 2023 - Kendall Mountain - CR110

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.