An introspective look into the mindset of an endurance runner,
How did I start?
I started to run seriously in my thirties. I went from zero to sixty kilometers and up to ninety kilometers a week in a matter of months… Which I honestly don’t recommend. I was eager to write down training plans, train a lot and enroll for as much races as possible, mostly half-marathons.
Later on as I discovered trail-running events and multi-stage mountain races, I forgot about performance and I started to enjoy more and more moving in nature and exploring places. Trail-running got me motivated to run daily. I lost track of my initial goal-focused training and I started to enjoy the practice just for the fun of it. With no other plan than running on a regular basis, I became more flexible, relaxed and eventually better at preventing injuries. I ended-up maintaining my fitness level with a lower weekly training mileage. I try to run smarter by limiting stress, unnecessary efforts and self-induced pressure. What most people would define as « being lazy », I perceive it as my « minimalist approach » to training.
My favorite distance fluctuates around twenty to thirty kilometers especially on trails. I have fun running on these « short » distances and I recover quickly. While on my base camp (the small island of La Palma in the Canaries), I fancy hurting my legs on some Vertical Kilometers, steep short trail races (minimum one thousand meters of elevation).
Running became much more for me than a physical activity. It is a positive mindset, which I practice and learn from daily.
The Simplicity of Running
All you need is to lace your shoes, go outside and Run. Then Rest to recover and Repeat.
There is nothing complicated about it, you become « a runner » by the virtue of your humble practice. No special gears required, no fancy and costly equipments either. You don’t need to run that much, thirty to forty five minutes every other day is enough to feel a change. Within three weeks, you can start to feel good. Don’t hesitate to mix running with walking, cycling or swimming. The more consistent you manage to be, the better it is going to work.
A Daily Dose of Humility
Constructive feedback is essential to any evolution. When I go for a run, I get my daily dose of humility! In five minutes I get a clear idea of my level of fitness, how I feel that day, it reminds me about my limitations, I get to learn from errors and setbacks.
Running is a healthy reminder that doing something implies to take some risks (accidents or injuries are part of any active life). More than talking or reading about it, you start learning just by doing it ! And you can quickly figure out what works, what doesn’t work and what keeps you going. If you are humble enough, you can even liberate your mind from unrealistic expectations.
Coming back from injury is not easy, it requires patience, motivation and commitment. As any struggle that doesn’t kill you, you can learn a lot from it.
A Morning Dose of Positive Energy
I have a special relation to morning runs. I sleep fast (sic) and tend to wake-up before the sunrise. As soon as I am awake, I enjoy nothing more than being outside moving. I get to start peacefully my day. I like being in a morning mood, when it is still ok to move slowly, listen to birds and greet strangers.
Keep a Creative Mindset
When I started to run, it was clearly to get physical fatigue and to find a sound sleep. I was running away from the worries of my professional life. Since then running has a direct impact on my well being. When I run, my brain likes to tackle problems looking for ideas and solutions. While moving along the sea, I easily focus my attention to the surroundings, the people I pass by and how my body feels that day. It helps me to get perspective on my ongoing projects. It works as a reminder that most issues don’t resist to creative solutions. I like to solve puzzles. Work is a game. So let’s play.
By running daily, I get to witness the power of small improvements over time. It gets easier to understand the importance of rest and recovery time. It becomes obvious that consistency beats intensity especially on long term. The power of habit is laughable especially when I go outside for my run, by reflex, without noticing that it is raining heavily that morning. Things that matters, like the importance of showing-up daily, the power of repetition and focusing on quality in execution, becomes way more tangible.
Best of all, it is always a humbling reminder of my limitations, my weaknesses… I keep learning small details that can make a difference over time. It’s fun to experiment, to keep learning and to focus more on the process while using the outcomes only as useful feedback.
Day after day, patiently I accumulate experience. Step by step, I liberate myself from outside expectations.
Build-up, slowly but surely
My motivation and self-confidence are slowly building up as I keep going. I muscle-up my stamina, my persistence and try actively to learn patience.
Often as you hit the road, you get confronted to some level of pain, feeling tired or dizzy. It’s a chance to overcome small obstacles as they pop-up and to practice resilience.
Run your Personal Best
One key aspect of running is giving your personal best. You don’t have to beat someone else. There will always be someone faster than you. So the only score board that truly matters, is yours. You can visualize that you are running against your own shadow to try achieving your best run. The challenge is giving the best version of yourself.
As you get older, it gets even more realistic to look for self-improvement rather than competitive performance. You don’t need stress and you can forget external pressures to focus on doing good in the given circumstances. The conditions may reveal to be challenging, so be prepared, that’s all.
Even if I wish to stay fit and lean, I sometimes need incentives to keep moving and stay physically active. Small races are enough to provide a motivating feedback and an accurate picture of my fitness level. If I am not at the level I was expecting, it simply means that I didn’t achieve my personal best « YET » so all I need is to get back to training, be smarter and keep going.
on Physical Activity
The World Health Organization warms us about the risks of our modern sedentary lifestyle. I do believe that we are meant to move daily for our well-being. So yes, I make a priority to avoid physical inactivity. THE WHO recommends regular moderate physical activity (over exercise) for cardiorespiratory fitness, functional health and muscular tonicity. Being active helps to prevent health risks and to facilitate weight control.
The good news is that it is not complicated… All you need is to move on a regular basis (preferably outside). Again consistency and regularity matter more than intensity, so it’s ok to « only » have a moderate physical activity especially if daily.
How much is enough? a good start is about two hours and thirty minutes weekly of moderate physical activity. For additional health benefits, you can get to five hours a week (the equivalent of walking or running about ten thousand steps or seven kilometers a day for five days a week).
Diversity is more fun
Since the goal is overall physical activity over exercising, don’t hesitate to diversify and mix activities that you enjoy like dancing, walking, swimming, cycling…
Even as a pure endurance runner, I got to realize that diversifying my training was a good way to prevent injuries and to stay motivated. While living in The Netherlands, my slow endurance sessions were replaced by commuting on my bike. In Thailand, I cycle after my run to cool down and deal with the heat and humidity. On the volcanic island of La Palma (*), I like to swim in the sea and to hike on the trails… One of the beauty of trail-running is that the surrounding nature and the challenging terrains are making longer sessions enjoyable. I don’t mind a four to six hours mini adventure in order to break the monotony of a repetitive training.
Sometimes it is just refreshing to adopt unorthodox training methods. I never was a big fan of long runs on roads… For my very first marathon in Berlin, I experimented shorter runs twice a day instead of a weekly long run. I was running five days a week, each time not more than seven kilometers but twice a day (a short morning run and an afternoon run). The shorter distances allowed me to be more flexible with paces (fartlek or kilometers at marathon pace).
Other good alternatives to Sunday’s boring long runs are « village races » (from fifteen up to thirty kilometers), they don’t require a huge training, you run in a good atmosphere and you get a useful feedback on your training.
Running Daily? Meaning every single day?
Daily has to be interpreted as « most of the days ». It defines an established running habit, almost automatic so that you don’t think twice before lacing your shoes and going outside. One day off can be beneficial to keep being motivated, so don’t hesitate to break your habit from time to time.
The Power of a Daily Practice
I am interested by the question: « how to stay fit and lean after your forties? ». Part of the answer relies in daily habits, as we are what we do daily.
I practice, I look for incremental improvements and I bet on consistency over intensity. I try to make my daily practice as convenient as possible. I quitted looking for performance and I am now trying to develop habits that can support and facilitate my recovery and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s enough but necessary.