On Finding Joy in the Miles

Happy Thursday, everyone! Today I want to think out loud today and talk some more about finding joy in the miles you run. 

I have an odd relationship with goals, in the sense that it’s not a typical relationship but I consider it a healthy one. I love to set bold and realistic goals for myself, but then once I set them, I have learned over the past few years that I like to enjoy the process, work hard and accomplish them when I do. Such a process is so much more rewarding than stressing, being ruled by fear of failure, or doubting my abilities. Such a process of achieving joy allows me to find so much more joy in my miles.

Laura Norris Lake Sammamish Half Blog Image

I wrote about how I’ve learned to let go of goals recently in a guest post over Runladylike. It’s not that I don’t have goals (I most certainly do) and it’s not that I do not put in the hard work to achieve them. Rather, I have come to believe that achievement of goals is never forced, never controlled by a rigorous timeline that permits little time for life to happen or for joy in the journey. 

Christine over at Love Life Surf shared a wonderful sentiment recently: “find joy in this journey because frankly if there’s no joy, why journey?”

I firmly believe that running is an activity that can transform lives, fight illness, and improve mental and physical health. But in terms of months of rigorous training, hours spent in long runs, and mental and physical toll of marathons, this notion bears true. Why do it if you don’t find joy in it? Why run 70 mile weeks when you’d be much happier running 20 mile weeks?  

Because here’s a little secret: unless you’re an elite, your times really don’t matter. At the end of the day, nobody but you cares if you ran a marathon this year or finished that 5K in under 25 minutes. No one is judging if your prefer shorter races over the marathon, race only a couple times per year, or aren’t a “fast” runner (which let’s be honest, unless you’re an elite there will always be someone faster than you). These are self-imposed pressures and judgments. 

 Don’t do it for the Instagram. Don’t do it because you feel like you should to validate yourself as a runner. Do it for you. 

When running ceases to be about your own health, happiness, and self-fulfillment, then it becomes significantly harder to find joy in the miles. When you are so solely focused on the end goal, where’s the joy in the journey? 

Running is a narrative that we write for ourselves. The fact of the matter is? I want my running narrative to be about grit, the great outdoors, joy in the miles, and balance with life, family, and other activities like hiking. Not a single-minded obsessive pursuit of a time on the clock, a time which thousands of other runners have run and does not make me any more or less of a runner if I achieve it. At the end of the day, finish times don’t matter unless you are an elite, especially if they cause a disordering of priorities and make life far less enjoyable and significantly more complicated than it needs to be. 

Since I sprained my foot and will likely miss a total of 3-4 pivotal training weeks of building endurance and increasing my long run, it’s likely I won’t run a marathon come the end of July. Whatever. I’m on no one else’s timeline other than my own to run a marathon, and whether I run 26.2 miles this year doesn’t matter. What matters is finding joy in the miles, whether they are an easy run on my favorite trail or the grueling final miles of a race. 

[Tweet “Do you find joy in your miles? #running #fitfluential #sweatpink #mileschangeyou via @thisrunrecipes”]

How do you find joy in your miles?
Do you sometimes feel as if you “should” race a certain distance or finish in a certain time?

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36 Responses

  1. This is something I have definitely come to learn over the years, and have to remind myself of regularly. Although I am goal-oriented, I never want running to feel like a chore and I never want to feel like forcing myself into training for something. Sometimes I feel torn between feeling like I “should” push myself, and knowing that at the end of the day its more important to just relax and enjoy the process. It’s all about finding a happy medium somewhere in the middle.

    1. I completely agree with the happy medium. I think it’s too easy sometimes to fall into the trap of thinking we should run a marathon each year or qualify for Boston – when really it’s about what we currently will enjoy in training.

  2. I like your attitude! which you know :). I am not a goal setter but can understand why people do set goals for themselves which is great so long as you are realistic and roll with the punches as sometimes things can happen or change that are out of your control and that’s ok! I am curious to see if perhaps you still can run the marathon but love that you know it’s okay if you don’t — there’s always another one! And, you can totally find another half to run in it’s place I bet.

    1. Thank you! I always love your attitude as well and you inspire me to have a good attitude! 🙂 I’m not that worried about much with missing out on the race other than losing money – it’s non-refundable so I really hope they let me run the half! There’s plenty of other great halfs around here though if not.

  3. Comparison, whether internal or external, is the thief of joy. I try to remind all of my runners, all of my clients, and myself to find happiness in the mile that I am in. There might be struggle, there might be exhilaration, but if I don’t run the mile that I am in, I won’t get to the next one.

  4. I love this post. I was being a little too hard on myself, and pushing myself for months to run constantly, like I’d be a failure if I gave myself a day off, or if I only ran 2 miles instead of 3 (my average is 3 miles a day, with a long run on the weekends). Over the past two weeks, I got sick with a sinus infection and wasn’t able to run for 5 days. I had a 5k race with my friend that Saturday after being sick all week, and I was worried I’d do terrible. But I didn’t! Because missing a few days doesn’t make me any less of a runner, and I have to learn to give myself a break (without the guilt). If I wake up and I’m not feeling it, it’s okay to give myself a day off, or do some other form of exercise. I have to continuously tell myself that, but it’s getting easier. 🙂
    I have goals, I’d eventually love to run my first half marathon this fall. I have run a 10k and it was so fun. I just don’t want to overdo it. If I push too hard, I end up getting injured and feeling worse, so I’m learning to listen to my body and cut myself some slack!

    1. Thank you, Brandie – I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m sorry to hear you have a sinus infection – those hurt and are so unpleasant to deal with! Missing a few days doesn’t make you any less of a runner, you are so right. In fact a day or two of scheduled rest at least once a week does a runner a lot of good in recovering muscles and mentally rebooting! Good luck on your first half marathon – if you’re interested in any coaching please let me know, I’d love to work with you on achieving that goal!

  5. I have and do still get caught up in feeling the “shoulds”. It’s hard not to compare when I follow a lot of other runners but I try and stop myself and realize, this is my journey, no one elses. Thanks again for a great reminder.

    1. I do think that all runners struggle with the shoulds – should run this pace, or this many miles, or a marathon per yer – but you are so right that it’s your journey!

  6. Your comment about times not mattering for non-elites and no one else caring about our finish times is so on point. I used to be that runner who was always chasing the next PR or sub-whatever finish time. And then one day I realized a little secret: there is no magic that happens when you start hitting faster paces. You are still the same person, running is still the same, the only difference is that you are doing it slightly faster. That’s IT.

    One day I took stock of all the runners I knew and I noticed something: the faster runners aren’t happier people than the rest of us; they’re not privy to some magical running secrets that the rest of us don’t know. The happier people are the ones who are just simply enjoying the run. There is nothing inherently better about being faster. It’s just faster. Working hard to improve your fitness, trying your best on race day and feeling like a boss at the finish line because you won the battle with your mind: THOSE are the real accomplishments. We would all be better off to let go of our obsession with finish times (although I do understand it).

    1. You are so right – running faster (or slower) doesn’t change who we are. I do believe that running in and of itself can improve the quality of one’s life, but that’s the act of running. Miles change you the same whether you’re running a 5 or 15 minute mile, whether you’re running one or 26.2. I feel like a bit of a b sometimes for saying it, but really – no one cares about another’s times, in that no one should think better or less of you for running faster or slower. And if they do – that’s they’re problem!

  7. So well-written! Of all the years I’ve been a runner, this is the first time that I have set a goal for myself and specifically trained for it. I LOVE IT. Although, I can see how someone could get burnt out if this is how they always run, month after month, year after year.

    I know in my heart that if I don’t get that sub-3 that I will still love running for its intrinsic value but make no mistake, I will give everything I’ve got to accomplish my goal. I just won’t beat myself up if I don’t.

    1. Thank you! You have absolutely the best perspective on a sub-3 and I really believe that your attitude along with your physical running talent and hard, hard work will get you it soon. I’m the same way with goals – I love the goals I set for myself (which is probably why I have a mixed relationship with BQ, because that’s a time set by someone else) – but missing them won’t ruin running.
      I think distance is huge also! If someone told you or I to train for a fast 5K we’d probably want to smack them. It’s about they type of training you enjoy!

  8. I love this and I’m so excited you’re going to be my coach! Running has always been about personal escape and fulfillment for me, so if I ever feel “eh” about a run, I actively smile and think how lucky I am to be out there doing what I’m doing 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m so excited to have you as one of my athletes! I have that same attitude – running for me is about personal fulfillment and just enjoying the joy of moving, so even bad runs are worth it because I’m still out there! It’s a great feeling to have! 🙂

  9. I definitely struggle with this from time to time. I’m definitely a goal setter and have always succeeded at everything I’ve gone after in life and have usually come out on top so I do struggle with comparison when it comes to running. This is definitely something that I am trying to be more conscious of now that I am able to run again. I worked really hard to get back to a place where I was able to run again because of my love of it and the benefits it brought to my life so I’m trying to be more cognizant of trying hard but enjoying the miles also.

    1. Training hard and enjoying the miles is a hard balance to strike, but I really do believe it’s an achievable balance and a place where you will thrive. I think it’s a bit hard for goal-getter types to step back and just enjoy it, but in the long run (ha) it’s worth it! I hope you’re enjoying your running this week!

  10. Laura….are you in my head??? 😉 This is something that I tend to struggle with waaaaay too often. I enjoy running….nearly all of the time. But I do set goals…and when/if I do not achieve them, I feel as if I have let someone down. The only person I have let down is myself. And why? I am not sure because I have still achieved some great things with my running. Last year I had set a “goal” to run 725 miles for the year. I “missed” that arbitrary number by about 10 miles. I remember going over this with my boyfriend and he said “oh…your arbitrary number goal? Are you less of a runner (or person) because you did not hit 725?” And he was right…he is right.

    Now, in regards to my training, when I set a goal I am trying to be sure the goal has nothing to do with something that will/will not define me as a person. My goals now are goals to truly work on making ME a better person….a happier person (such as….BELIEVING IN MYSELF…..that is my goal).

    Not sure if I have any point to my rambling. Thank you for a great post this morning. Happy Thursday (REST DAY!!) to you!!

    1. Thank you, Aimee! I think most runners feel this way – we love running because of goal setting, but then we also just need to love it for what it is – running. And yes, definitely believe in yourself! I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  11. It’s like you’re reading my mind. First your post on Jesica’s site and now this. This is the first time I’ve enjoyed tapering, because I have let go of any unrealistic goals for the marathon and now I’m simply enjoying getting outdoors and seeing spring on the run. It’s been so liberating. Thanks for sharing this and the guest post – they were perfectly timed for my state of mind.

    1. I think a lot of us end up mentally in the same place, especially at any stage of marathon training! That does sound so liberating – and that’s a very good sign that you’re enjoying the taper, because we all know how the taper crazies can go! Best of luck on your marathon, Carly!

  12. I love, love, love this post. One of the best things I’ve read in a while and so much truth. I’m so sorry about your ankle sprain. These things happen to teach us something … to make us stronger or more patient or something … we never know in the moment, but eventually, there will be a lesson that makes your narrative grow. Thinking about you and thanks again for guest posting last week. xoxo

    1. Thank you so much, Jes! That means so much to me coming from you 🙂 And thanks – I’m not too upset about it, I slipped while hiking and sprains are a risk of hiking and running – but a risk well worth those miles on the trails and the roads. It certainly is a lesson in patience and growth, but one of the reasons running is so great is because of the lessons it teaches. And thank YOU again for having me guest post, it was my joy! I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

  13. Your perspective is so refreshing. Like, goals are great, but it’s not as if we’ll only have one chance to get a 1:xx half marathon or something. Also loved your point that “Running is a narrative”. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! Goals are indeed great, but I really believe the motivation must come from an internal desire than an external motivator or a feeling of “should.” And it’s so true what you said – unless you’re running in the Olympics, there never is one shot – there are always other races.

  14. Very well said! I think we can all relate to this, and having goals that we may set for external reasons, rather than internal ones. It’s so important to stay true to ourselves. Right now, I’m comfortable in the 25-30 miles a week range, and while I want to be higher, it’s not a priority for me just yet and I’m enjoying the shorter runs I do have. Thanks for this reminder 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m a firm believe in internal motivation over external. Maybe that’s because I’m stubborn, but I’ve noticed in coaching runners that if they don’t want to do it for themselves, then running loses its joy. 25-30 miles is an awesome place to be – still plenty of running, but time and energy for other activities as well. Happy running! 🙂

  15. This is SO TRUE. When I was running I could tell I was getting burned out, but I had a serious case of FOMO and just kept signing up for all the races! I realize now after getting injured that I need to do what makes me happy. If running a half means that I’m miserable during training because I can’t hike, bike, and do yoga during the hard training weeks, maybe I shouldn’t run so many of them. Thanks for writing this!

    1. Thank you! Although I wouldn’t wish injury on anyone, I’m glad that your injury helped you realize how to run to make you happy! There’s definitely a balance to it – I’m quickly learning that summer or fall marathons aren’t for me because I want to hike a lot during the summer and fall months! It’s a hard choice to make sometimes, but I truly believe picking what makes you happy in running and in life is the best – even if it seems like others are running more half marathons or marathons than you. Happy running/hiking/biking/yogaing!

  16. I absolutely love your take on this, Laura! I’m not much of a goal setter because I find that it makes me focus too much on some future moment and I always end up zoning out of the present as a result. I do like to constantly improve and challenge myself, but in a way that allows me to be present. Numbers have never really done me much good, so I try to avoid those and just focus on constantly becoming a better version of myself in whatever realm of my life that I’m currently prioritizing.

    1. Thank you, Amanda! I love your point about living in the present vs chasing down some future moment – so true! Being present is invaluable and the key to enjoying any activity, running or other.

  17. First, I think you are totally right about enjoying your running, and not pushing to the point that it is not fun anymore.
    I do think, however, that sometimes for us middle of the pack-ers, times do matter. I am training for a race this summer that has a cut off midway through, and if I don’t meet that cut off, I don’t get to finish. Since I already know I am not a fast runner, and I really want to finish this race, it does have me stressing a little, My training plan has me doing back to back long runs (well, one long and one long-ish) on weekends, and this weekend, I didn’t run on Saturday because the weather was crap, and did my long run (24 miles) on Sunday, missing my long-ish back to back run (10 miles), but really enjoying the sunny weather, instead of 50 degrees and raining. I just have to have faith that missing that run won’t affect my race performance significantly…
    I guess I just wanted to say that sometimes times do matter, and that worrying about making cutoffs is stressful when you’ve invested money and vacation time, and training time to complete a race, even if you are DFL.

    1. Hi Lori! Thank you for your comment. I wrote this post because too many runners connect their self-worth with their times, when your self-worth comes from SO much more than just running. Even not finishing a race (lots of runners DNF for some reason or another) should not affect how you feel about yourself or running as a whole. I admire you for taking on such a challenging race!
      Missed runs happen to every runner. My philosophy as a running coach is that as long as you get in about 90% of your workouts (and have a sound training plan, of course), you will be in good shape for race day.

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