Savoring Improvement Experiences

Savoring the joy in improvement experiences in running and elsewhere.

By on December 13, 2023 | Comments

Improvement, especially the noticeable improvement of a personal attribute or skill, is so wonderfully satisfying. Whether that’s adding weight in one’s lifting routine, cutting a few seconds from a running P.R., or casting a bit better as a fisherman, it sure does feel good, doesn’t it?!

Mount Dewar - 2023 V5000 The Wild

Finding joy in running atop Mount Dewar and many more kilometers of the V5000 course at The WILD 2023. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

This isn’t an earth-shattering observation or one that I’ve never written about, but it is a fun one to uncover each and every time. Maybe you have it when a series of struggle-filled runs yield to an easier run. Maybe it’s that day when you think to yourself for the umpteenth time, I’m a runner, again!

Maybe it’s when it’s finally easy going or you even feel strong at the end of a long run … no matter how long that may be. Maybe it’s like a bolt of lightning that might come from hopping in a short race and running faster than you thought you had any business doing, or the slow burn of success as mile after mile pass by without failure toward the end of an ultramarathon.

Indeed, I’ve had each and every one of these thoughts over the past two months, as I’ve worked my way back from deprioritizing running for three months following running the Hardrock 100 and, then, while taking my Alaskabbatical. These highlights help to offset the inevitable less encouraging moments along the path to renewed fitness. Whether from chronic injury or lack of fitness, there were plenty of stop-and-walk moments along this journey.

2023 Hopewell Valley Turkey Trot

When you find 5k worth of 6:15 per mile pace in your legs after many years absence. Photo: iRunFar/Gretchen Kish

While I’ve savored these improvement experiences for decades, as an aging runner, it’s unlikely that I’ll find improvement at the top end of my range. Put another way, P.R.s are likely a thing of the past, unless they come in the form of something that I’ve never attempted. Perhaps that doesn’t make return-to-fitness gains doubly exciting, but maybe it concentrates some of the joys that come from fitness gains. As time passes, those return-to-fitness gains and top-end fitness start to fall much closer on the total possible fitness spectrum.

Conversely, I do realize that maybe I’m in a return-to-fitness sweet spot these days. I have the advantages of more than 30 years of running as well as the knowledge and experience that comes with that. Aside from that, there’s a fair bit of “old man” strength cultivated through the years.

On the flip side, I’m quite conscious that at some time in the possibly quite near future, it will become increasingly difficult to return from prolonged training breaks. It will take longer for muscles to grow and connective tissues to strengthen, while my overall ability to recover will slow, meaning I’ll have to add training volume and intensity more slowly.

Thankfully, such issues aren’t yet readily apparent and so, again, I’m savoring the improvement experiences of returning to fitness.

Call for Comments

  • What moments of improvement stand out in your mind as your return to fitness?
  • Has your relationship with them changed over time and across aspects of your life?
2023 Ultrout - Golden Horn

Making it through 50 miles of high-altitude fun after four weeks of training. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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.