Running is Play

As adults we forget things. Things that are important. We grow up and tend to see everything as work. We work hard at our careers. We work at relationships. We work hard in our training. All of this in the hopes of being better employees, partners or runners. But, too often we forget to play.

I’m guilty. I love my running. And after returning from such a long lay-off it was simply a joy to feel the movement of running. Even the effort (very hard effort being so out of shape) was enjoyment because the movement was freedom.

Fast forward 3 months. My running had stagnated. It had become physically and mentally difficult to handle the day in and day out grind of getting out there. I wasn’t seeing much progress; and I was using a lot of mental effort just to persist. I finally yelled “uncle” and took 9 days off. I didn’t even think about going out and running.

Then I jogged 4 easy miles several days the following week. I was OK but not feeling it. Then I went down to Tucson with my best friend Lahcen and we stayed with my brother Jim. We ran together twice. Running up one of my old favorites was Sabino Canyon – a 7.5 mile out and back run. The canyon was cold. The incline – once upon a time cruised up – was all I could handle. I chugged up that road huffing and puffing while Lahcen and Jim patiently kept me company. We chatted and reminisced. We gazed at the beauty of the canyon.

Just before the last climb the bridge was under about 4 inches of water. Cold snow run-off. They playfully ran through the water and I maneuvered my way over some rocks without a splash. The last three-quarters of a mile is the steepest – a total killer. But I was determined to just keep moving… and so I did without stopping. My lungs and hamstrings were screaming. It was a wonderful feeling.

We stretched and chatted at the top for a few minutes before starting the return trip. As we started down it all felt so free. We continued to laugh and chat. We came upon the submerged bridge, they picked it up – thinking they would “run on water”. I was so much smarter. I fell back and aimed for my rocks. Four easy steps and away I go… 1 – 2 – 3 – then my foot slides off the slick rock and I’m airborne. As I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes I immediately take stock. All body parts in tact. I look up, two witnesses – aghast – inquire as to my well-being. More important is that Lahcen and Jim did not witness this 30 yards up the road. I bounced up in pursuit still assessing body part movement. It’s all good. I felt like a kid again.

Despite wet feet, bruised hip and forearm the run back was wonderful. My senses were alive. This is what running is about. The company. The environment. The chill air. My body and mind were alive – wet, aching, fatigued, laughing.

The next day we went for a 4 miler. Despite soreness and fatigue from the canyon run, we played with the pace. Surges here and there all unplanned, and of undetermined length or specific pace. Each taking turns leading and trailing. It was just as Jim and I  had done so many times over 25 years ago when we both lived down in Tucson. We flew along the Rillito river walk. I’m 55 years old and a kid playing again.

The following day back in Phoenix I ran my fastest 5 mile run since returning to running 4 months ago. I raced walkers, joggers and runners alike along the path. I played games in my mind in catching each of them. And so it was – three days of hard running and playing.

The lesson though is something we all need to heed. Take a break; run in different locations and with people you enjoy. Run to bring back memories and create new ones. This is not a philosophical thing (i.e. “The Joy of Running”). This is applying sound physiological and psychological foundations to your running. We need breaks for both mental and physical reasons. When you do this, you progress. Running becomes your joy and not a chore. Sometimes you have to stop working at working out and start playing again.

Here’s to play time – at any age!

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Running is Play

  1. Sue says:

    Excellent post and for me the timing is perfect! I will keep this article in mind and be playful on my next run. This is a good reminder of why we run. Thank you, Sue.

  2. Susan Hebert says:

    YES!! You are so right–putting the play back in makes it as sweet as ever, despite the limitations brought by age, years of use, and injury . . .

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