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Running becomes a chore because all repetitive acts risk becoming a chore eventually. That’s something people don’t talk about too much in the dialogue related to dream jobs and perfect relationships and other idealized fairy tales. There are probably roller coaster testers out there that find themselves yawning during the big drop. I bet Snow White and Prince Charming got really annoyed with each other after the credits rolled. Those feelings brought on by repetition are normal, but they can be really hard.
We may have big ideals in our heads about gratitude and love and and play, but our neurons are often playing the pleasure-seeking game. And expose a neuron to the same pleasure enough times, and it can get desensitized. That’s why the job and the relationship both require a constant recommitment to recognize, appreciate and validate what makes them so freaking awesome. That’s also why the roller-coaster tester may grow into a roller-coaster designer, or why Snow White and Prince Charming may go on a trip or share a fancy dinner.
Running works the same way. Yeah, you’ll have big adventures and races and workouts. But most days with running are not spicy. Like all things, even things you love deeply, repeated activities risk becoming mundane by definition. You do your four miles on a bike path through an industrial park. Jog around the city trail. Punch the clock and eat your vegetables. It’s something that happens gradually, then all at once. Running is another box to check. UGH.
So let’s inject some spice into those mundane runs! Here are five things that I have heard about from athletes I coach, skipping the obvious ones like fun workouts and trails. As always, these suggestions might not work for you depending on your mental-health context and approach to life, and that’s OK too. The strategies are all designed to be playful, to take running away from spreadsheets and back to playgrounds. Let’s get silly.
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Option One: Airplane arms
Some of my most memorable running experiences involve going down a slight grade, putting my arms out, possibly swaying from side to side a bit. Often, a song is playing (most recently, “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” by Travis Tritt because I’m going for those clicks from the heartland).
It’s so fascinating how just moving the body differently can elicit new emotions. Maybe it’s chills. Maybe laughter. Maybe embarrassment. But using airplane arms is an easy way to make sure you don’t take those little, glorious moments for granted.
Two: Mid-run dance
My guess is that airplane arms and dancing work because they forcibly take a serious activity and move it into the realm of the ridiculous. I have seen a runner do an arm-dance or air guitar/drums a few times on the trails, and I feel like the woman at the diner in When Harry Met Sally. “I’ll have what she’s having.” Silly is contagious and uplifting, but we rarely let ourselves be that person. So whether you are listening to music or not, dance like no one’s watching. And even if they are watching, I bet you just made their day a bit more interesting.
The other day, I was listening to “Reflections” by Misterwives and did a little dance to the chorus, pumping my arms up and down wildly. As you can probably guess, I am a horrid dancer, a mix between Napoleon Dynamite and one of those inflatable arm thingies outside a car dealership. That little dance sent a wave of joy into my run, turning a mundane few miles into a run full of reflection and love (mixed with some red-cheeked embarrassment). So whether you are listening to music or not, dance like no one’s watching. And even if they are watching, I bet you just made their day a bit more interesting.
Three: Yell “woo-hoo!” or other exclamation
All of these methods are trying to use different sensory experiences than you might ever get in normal life. What is so cool about running? I’d argue that it’s all about getting to experience life and all of those emotions in a context that is so different than whatever constitutes your normal.
So scream like you’re at the edge of the quarry in Garden State, yell woo-hoo like it’s the beforetimes and you’re riding a bull at a dingy bar, catcall yourself because you look damn good and it’s about time you said it.
Four: Say uplifting things to everyone you see
Life inside of our own brains can be dark and stormy. Running turns most people inward, and it can be hard to see the light outside. So open up the blinds, say hi to the neighbors and let some light in.
If you are comfortable with it, tell other people on the trail that they are awesome, or they are a boss, or heck yes rocking that hill, or whatever you can think of. Get creative, have fun with it (while also making sure people around you are comfortable). You may lift yourself up along the way.
Five: Smile and laugh
And here’s the big one to do on every run if you can. Seriously, just smile once every mile. Smiling can actually improve running economy, and world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge is often seen beaming while running faster than anyone in history.
Add in some laughs if you ever have an excuse, like thinking about what you must look like smiling at nothing. Smiling and laughing are voluntary behaviors most of the time. If we wait for them to be involuntary, it’s easy to become a turd in the punch bowl of life. Be the person in class smiling and nodding at the professor, be the audience member at the comedy club laughing at each joke, be the runner smiling at a bird or a view or a trail.
You might not find joy out there. But it definitely won’t be another mundane run.
David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life.