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Run for Fun: A Running Plan for the Rest of Us

Posted by on Jun 30, 2011 | 21 Comments

My post on my Western States training regimen received some interesting responses. Quick summary- I managed to finish the 100.2 mile race with a training regimen based entirely on the occasional long run mixed with some hill repeats. All my workouts were done for a specific reason- they were fun.

In some cases, those workouts may have been done with friends. Other times they were done in new and interesting locations. In every case, they satisfied an important criteria- they were fun.

I didn’t do a single workout I didn’t enjoy. If I wasn’t feeling it on a run, I stopped. I didn’t force myself to complete a workout “just to get the miles in.”

I took this same approach on race day. I went in to the race with one primary goal- have fun and enjoy the experience. I did manage to do so well by the time I picked up my pacer, we had an opportunity to shoot for the sub-24 hour silver buckle. That competitive race against the clock was a blast in itself. Thanks to the excellent skills of my pacers and crew, I managed to finish with 20 minutes to spare.

Anyway, the responses fell into two categories- those that loved the idea and vowed to incorporate the philosophy in their routine, and those that believed the “have fun” philosophy detracted from those that choose to follow strict plans that aren’t enjoyable.

This dichotomy seems to exist among two distinct groups- those that have a chance of winning and those that don’t. For those at the front of the pack,the “run for fun” idea may not be that great of a plan. Maybe you do need that “work no matter how much it sucks” attitude to out-train the competition.

Of course, maybe the people that win could do even better if they chilled a bit and took a more laid-back approach. Who knows? I’d always recommend people experiment to find what works best for them.

What about those of us that have no hope of winning? At Western, I know I would never be able to beat Kilian. Even if I didn’t have several jobs, a wife, and three kids, or I did have the mental fortitude and training grounds to train for the specifics of this race, I wouldn’t beat him. There were about 300 people running Western States that were in the same category. Our race wasn’t against another person, we ran the race for ourselves.

Some were completing their first 100 miler. Others were after a PR. Many wanted to get that silver buckle. A handful of us were just there to experience a bad-ass event. In short- we didn’t toe that line to take home that cougar trophy.

This blog isn’t written for the front runners. I’m flattered when seriously fast runners read my stuff, but you fast dudes aren’t in the same class. I belong with a group that would DNF a race for the opportunity to drink beer with good friends. I belong to a group that does this for recreation. I belong to a group that wants to have fun.

My central ideas behind my “run for fun” training philosophy is simple- it makes running more enjoyable for those 300 that have no hope of winning AND by taking a more relaxed approach, performance may actually increase.

Kate Kift’s Run Smiley Collective is a perfect example (and part of my inspiration) of the idea that running should be intrinsically enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong- there’s a lot of people that get intrinsic joy out of tracking mileage and conforming to a rigid schedule. If that’s you, that’s cool. To each their own.

I’m interested in the masses that feel they HAVE to conform to a rigid schedule, but hate it. I’m contending that there IS an alternative that can make all running enjoyable. Life is too short to be miserable, especially if it involves running.

How to Run for Fun

How do I describe a plan that, by definition, isn’t a plan? Good question. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, but try this:

Step One: Throw out all your previous training plans and ideas of “types” of runs. If you own my book, ignore those pages. If you’re adventurous, rip them out. If you own the digital version… any techies want to help me out with that one? Anyway, get rid of your previous notions of long runs, Fartleks, Yasso 800’s, etc.

Step Two: Package up your Garmin (or whatever GPS you use to track mileage) and ship them to a OCD friend. Don’t want to give it away? Put it on your pet’s collar and track their movements. The idea- stop logging your runs. Instead of looking at numbers to determine if you’re getting better, judge your improvement by how much you enjoy the physical act of movement when running.

Step Three: Learn to listen to your body. Your own body will tell you when to run and when not to run.

Step Three a: Understand that quitting is okay. If you start a run and feel like garbage after warming up, throw in the towel. Don’t be a hero. Do something else unrelated to running instead.

Step Three b: Take advantage of good runs. Some days you’ll feel great! Take advantage of it and run farther and faster. This is what will ultimately lead to great performances, so hammer it when it feels right.

Step Four: Learn to smile and be nice to people. If it’s a training run, say hi to people. If it’s a race, thank the volunteers. Shake their hand. Pat them on the back.

Step Five: Stop occasionally. Look around. Take in the scenery. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds. Take off your shoes (hopefully many of you were already barefoot) and feel the ground.

Step Six: Don’t have a time, pace, or distance goal in training. In races, your goal should always be to have fun. Good performances will be a natural result of this entire process.

That’s it. Six relatively easy steps. For those that are so inclined, give it a shot. If the idea repulses you, again, that’s cool. But if you ever feel burn-out or over-training creeping in, running is too important to give up. Remember the Run for Fun plan. 😉



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  1. Brian
    July 6, 2011

    This is what I was thinking as I read the latest issue of Runners World in which there was a line saying that it is a waste to go out on a run without a purpose. That stuck in my mind because I had just come back from a run that, I worried, had no purpose. Then I remembered that I went out to have fun, to come back and jump in the St. Lawrence, and because my body was craving it. I didn’t do a tempo run, fartleks, or anything else. I went down the road, came back, and fell into the river and I had a blast doing it. That’s why I run.

  2. Jesse
    July 2, 2011

    I’m kinda with Shel. I’m not elite by ANY means, but I’ve won roughly half of the ultras I’ve entered. I’ll admit that I’ll occasionally go out for a run when I don’t particularly want to. Know why? I know myself. I’m inherently lazy, but I love running. If I can get myself out there, I seldom regret it. If I do, I have a plan B. Its called hiking. Hiking is walking in a place where it’s ok to drop a deuce. Focus on the slow, strength building aspect of plodding along and you’ve still got a nice day of exercise. A relationship with running isn’t unlike a relationship with a person. You gotta love it/him/her, even when it/he/she is a bitch!

  3. None
    July 1, 2011

    What about those who do have hope of winning AND run for fun AND stick to training schedules? They are out there 🙂

    There are as many training schedules as there are runners. Not all training schedules impose self-flagellation, and there are many that prescribe stopping a run that is not going well.

    Sometimes the posts here skew toward “this way is the right way.” Fun is subjective. Running 100 miles does not sound fun to me, although I can see why the accomplishment is worthwhile. I just accept that it is fun for you, and then enjoy myself reading about your experience. How I run for fun includes a couple of things on your list, specifically avoids a couple things on your list, and adds a few things that aren’t on your list (including do not worry about what other runners are doing).

    Basically, your list cannot define how to run for fun, it can only say how YOU run for fun. What is wrong with that?

    An aside: I am very skeptical of the point that many elites just run however far they feel like. Perhaps when in maintenance…

  4. Beiner
    July 1, 2011

    I’ve never thought about it before but I’m really happy when I’m running on a trail. Whether on a local dusty West Texas trail or up some steep 8000’+ Colorado hiking trail (aka Lungbuster for this flatlander). I’m also really happy running in the neighborhood with my kids in the stroller while they’re smiling and waving at people.

    For the past two years I have religiously trained for Palo Duro Trail Run then ran a 13.1 two weeks following the PDTR. I’m typically laboring through the PDTR. I’m not enjoying the scenery or the fact that I’m running with a bunch of elite runners hoping to qualify for the WS100. I’m know I’m not going to win but try to anyway.

    For the half two weeks later I’m relaxed. I’ve run maybe two short runs since the PDTR. Last year I noticed the deer that we flushed out 100 yards ahead of us. I’m pretty sure I was the only guy who noticed. I even tried to point him out to others. They didn’t care. I sprinted down hills. I feel great. Heck, I even biked to the start and biked back home after the race (Only about 3 miles one way).

    I wonder what will happen if I take that approach with all my running ventures? For the record, I’ll keep my Garmin. I’m extremely curious about what’s between points A and B.

    Thanks for the thought provocation!

  5. Nick
    June 30, 2011

    When I listen to Killian, it reaaly seems to me that all of his training is 95% about fun….not saying he doesn’t work hard, but as he often says, the love of being out there in the mountains is what pushes him forward and to me it’s a very sane approach to sport and it is a really good incentive to go beyond your limits. I think when he’s training, he must be the happiest person on earth…

    Thanks for this very encouraging post!

  6. Johnny McDermott
    June 30, 2011


    I loved this article because it captures the essence of why someone should put in so many hours training, despite not having a chance to win.

    I have a question for you though…..what type of footwear (if any) did you wear during the 100.2 mile race? I find that many differing opinions exist on wearing Vibram or Zem shoes for running barefoot.

  7. Janice Nicholls
    June 30, 2011

    I am so with you on running for fun. Since transitioning to barefoot, I have found so much joy in my running and triathlon training. I don’t track workouts or best times. I do races that interest me. This year I’m doing a bunch of trail races and an off-road triathlon. I’m loving the experience. I don’t worry about speed. If I want to go fast I do and if I’m feeling like just holding it steady, it do that. My body is feeling good, my knees don’t hurt, my hips are getting better. I have no interest in being coached — those training plans bore me. At 47, I recognize that I’m not going to win races. But who cares!? I’m fit, I am enjoying my life. It’s the best:)

  8. wiglaf
    June 30, 2011

    Your experience has brought you to a place where your know you can enjoy running. Some people have to find a way to condition themselves to do it. That may mean running even when they don’t feel like it. That emotion may change with the doing.

    Your end goal is certainly a goal worth seeking, though; run for fun. Some may have to run in misery for a bit before they reach that goal.

  9. Bryan
    June 30, 2011

    I’ve been reading BRU for a while after getting in to both crossfit endurance and minimalist running shoes as a last ditch effort to salvage an injury riddled running career. The minimalist shoes haven’t been saving me from injury as I’ve been preparing to run my first ultra in the Fall. Looking back on the times I’ve been injured and the times I’ve run injury free for months at a stretch (even in some pretty massive foot coffins), the only consistent difference is that, when I wasn’t getting injured, I wasn’t training for anything specific and just ran when I wanted to and for as long as I was inspired to. Literally, like clockwork, when I get a goal race in mind, I will pull up with an injury within a couple weeks of training. I think this new thought process for you, and other runners you’ve linked to, is quite valuable, inspirational and encouraging for me. And it may be, dare I say it, more important than what runners are or aren’t putting on their feet.

  10. kelly
    June 30, 2011

    the irony, a 6-step training plan for not running with a plan…kind of like running barefoot with shoes…on a related note, for those interested in Garmins, I’ve noticed that Amazon has slashed prices. The fancy 405 is only $217! I sorta miss the one I sold to Barefoot Josh, so maybe I’ll get another one, but this time with HR.

  11. Rob
    June 30, 2011

    I don’t think it’s that “we’re all coming around to this way of thinking”, on the contrary, those of us who’ve been running long before there were iPods and Garmin watches, etc… mostly approached our running like Jason describes. Nothing Earth shattering there. I think the folks that need to come around to this way of thinking are those relative new comers who’ve been inundated and convinced that they need all this expensive technology and gadgets and gear in order to run and enjoy their running. Complete BS as us “old timers” already know! This includes minimalist shoe approach, again nothing new except it’s become more of a recent trend and fad. A lot of us were racing everything from short road road/track races to long ultras in nothing racing flats long before there was a Vibram Five Finger… What’s old is new and what’s new is old… 🙂

  12. kittyk
    June 30, 2011

    It’s just great that we are all coming to this point. To think that running and enjoying it is the most important thing. Everything else is just the bells and whistles and in the scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.

    It’s almost as if the running world is on the point of experiencing an evolutionary change. It’s fantastic that this change can encompass everyone; shod, unshod, old, young, quick, slow, male, female. The one uniting factor is we are having fun. How great is that?

    Thanks for the “Run Smiley Collective” plug BTW. Considering it was a drunken experiment, it’s really come a long way.

    Really good post.

  13. seret
    June 30, 2011

    I am a tech geek that loves stats – I’m also a recreational runner who runs for fun. I’m pretty much always smiling when I run and waving at others.

    I enjoy the run and then when I get home load my GPS stats on the computer to check out my heart rate, route, pace, etc.

    I guess I like living in both worlds of tech and running enjoyment.

  14. Chadisbarefoot
    June 30, 2011

    Very appropriate for this subject matter and the first thing that popped in my head after reading the title of your blog post, Jason (:18):

    I think the guy who voiced the Sheriff of Nottingham in Disney’s Robin Hood (and Festus in Gunsmoke?) summed up pretty well the general, non-running population’s outlook on running. lol

  15. Angie Bee
    June 30, 2011

    I don’t own a garmin and never will. If I ever am curious I just google map how far I went. I do love to run and can’t remember the last time I ran when I didn’t want to. There are so many more days that I wish I was running but can’t find the time….I would run a couple times a day though if I could.
    Good post Jason!

  16. Tuck
    June 30, 2011

    Of course Goeff Roes also found that he got better results when he decided to abandon a strict training plan and just run for fun. While he didn’t have a great Western States, that was at the end of a long string of wins.

    His post “Running and Love” explaining his training change is a great read:

  17. Brad
    June 30, 2011

    BINGO! You nailed it. I will definitely pass this one on to some of my miserable runner friends.

  18. Rob
    June 30, 2011


    I’ve never met an ultrarunner who didn’t enjoy just going out and running, this includes a lot of my friends who are considered “elite”. Most ultra runners I know don’t conform to a rigid training schedule or are slaves to their Garmin watches. I think you may have a skewed view in this regard, with all due respect you are fairly new to this sport and the ideas you espouse are far from new. However I appreciate that you are carrying the torch and spreading the good word; just know that the reason a lot of us discovered ultra running was for the various reasons you rebel from: rigid schedules, non-fun in their running, etc… I do see however, a rise of the new generation of ultrarunners that you seem to be describing, they are coming up from the road race scene which has the reputation you describe. Just know that the old guard and a lot of the new guard alike train just like you describe, we get our smiley on all the time. You see, part of the fun is nailing our goals and for a lot of us that might require some pain and suffering but it’s the persevering through the hardships that make us strong; make it fun!

  19. shel
    June 30, 2011

    you know what’s interesting? i have interviewed a few elite athletes for UM and those front of the pack runners often DO run smiley it seems. when asked about their training regimes, cross training etc they have all said something along the lines of – ‘i don’t cross train. i just run everyday. i don’t know how far or how fast, i just run whatever i feel like.’ granted, they probably do my version of a long run everyday – but they honestly seem to enjoy it and not care about the stats.
    these were true elites. in my estimation it is the sub-elites, the almost-good-enoughs, that stress about pace and mileage and plans etc. those that are hard workers and mildly gifted who overcome the lack of natural ability with nose to the grindstone work. i admire people aren’t gifted who still keep at it, from the sub-elites to the back of the pack. we don’t have IT, but we do it anyway. it is when people proselytize about how one HAS to do something that my fur goes up. i know a lot of crazy ultrarunners who train in all manner of unorthodox ways. i know a guy who never trains. ever. he just races every damn weekend, sometimes 3-4 times in a weekend. he showed up 3 hours late for a 50k cause he had a 5k the same morning. (he didn’t care that his time would be skewed by 3 hours either!)
    this year i’ve been doing less mileage and sweating it all less. in exchange i am sleeping more, that has to count for something. this sh*t is supposed to be fun, it’s not my job, i don’t have to do it. if it’s not fun, and you can’t win, then what’s the dang point?

  20. Dave Robbo
    June 30, 2011

    Dear Jason,
    With this post you have nailed it! That is, the idea of bringing the fun back into the run.
    This is the ‘naked’ and fun-seeking approach we’ve been advocating.
    Help is on it’s way for the ‘masses that feel they HAVE to conform to a rigid schedule, but hate it’. This help comes in the form of a new attitude to activity, and a smile!
    Great post.