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Improve Your Running or Be Happy With Your Running?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 | 11 Comments

As runners, most of us fit in one of two categories:

#1: We strive to improve our abilities, or

#2: We accept our abilities and focus on the enjoyment of running.

The vast majority of runners will be some combination of these two extremes, but will be a little closer to one side or the other.

Both approaches have distinct advantages and disadvantages. If we strive to improve our abilities, we’ll actually improve our running skills. We’ll be able to run longer, faster, or both. We’ll likely identify weaknesses in our running abilities and take steps to improve. There are down sides, too. We may never feel quite satisfied. We could have always went a little faster or loner, or there will always be someone that does a little better. If we’re not chasing authentic goals (goals WE set as opposed to goals that are set for others), we may end up with a hollow sense of accomplishment. Lastly, we may look down on other runners that don’t share the desire to constantly improve.

The “running for enjoyment” personality has advantages, too. We’re likely going to play to our strengths. If we’re a road runner, we’ll stick to roads. We’re also more likely to be happy with our current situation. We don’t need to accomplish anything to feel good about ourselves. Lastly, we’ll be more likely to accept others for the runners they are without judging their abilities or performances. There are down sides to this mindset, too. We may feel like we’re not really accomplishing anything. We may feel our approach is just an excuse to be a lazy ass. We may shun others because they try to be competitive or improve regularly. Finally we may not be good advocates for the sport. We’re always happy with the status quo.

As you could probably guess, extremes of either are not good. Striking a happy balance somewhere would probably be the ideal.

What about you? Where do you fit in this dichotomy? How do you feel about the pros and cons of being that ‘type’ of runner?


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  1. Jason
    November 23, 2012

    Good topic. I wanted to add that IMHO those in the first category are more likely to get injured, because their egos get in the way. I run for fun and fitness.

  2. Aaron
    November 22, 2012

    How about running for utility?

    I’ve thought a lot about what kind of running will give me the most satisfaction now and in the years to come. When I look at what I want most for just the months ahead I’m drawn primarily to the idea of establishing a habit of running, walking, or cycling the 15 miles that I typically drive every day to get to and from work and shop for food. Whatever I may get from training to run the next 50 mile or 100k pales in comparison to accomplishing this fundamental change in my current lifestyle.

    Occasionally doing these trips on foot has filled a visceral need that I have to reject a life that’s too lacking in exertion. Perhaps the satisfaction is mostly rooted in nostalgia for the days when I went everywhere on foot or bicycle in a younger, poorer, but more physically fulfilling time of my life. That I now feel a cloud of disappointment blanketing every morning commute by automobile–that at least makes me think that this kind of foot travel holds a unique place in my psyche, whatever the cause, compared to my running under any other circumstance.

    • Ben W
      November 22, 2012

      I first started bicycle commuting to work a year ago. This fall, I added running to work twice a week. It’s been really great. My commute is a lot shorter than yours, at only 3 miles, but every day going to work is awesome. And then at the end of the work day….more awesome. It has made a huge difference in the way I feel all day.

  3. Rob Y
    November 20, 2012

    I’m ALWAYS having fun when I run whether I’m training for or pursuing a big race goal or if I’m just out in the woods with friends exploring and not caring about time, pace or distance. The minute it ceases becoming fun I’ll walk away from the sport. As in life, I think it’s important to strike a good balance between attempting to reach your full potential as a runner and to enjoy the journey along the way. I think a great way that I’ve found to strike this type of balance is to only set (at most) seasonal goals so that you have enough down time between peak activities to rest, recover and cross-train. This method has kept me going in the sport for over 21 years now. The only time I seriously wanted to leave the sport was when I found myself racing way too frequently; too many events in too short a time span = burn out or high risk of injury! Moderation and concise focused goals are the key to longevity in this sport.

  4. John Y.
    November 19, 2012


  5. AnneV
    November 19, 2012

    I move around between the two ends of the spectrum. I’ve noticed that I’m more prone to injury when I’m feeling competitive and trying to improve my performance – however, the satisfaction of running a good time in a race can make it worthwhile!

  6. Ben W
    November 19, 2012

    I’m with Bare Lee. When it’s fun, I try to improve.

  7. Bare Lee
    November 19, 2012

    I run for fitness. Running has to be enjoyable so that I keep doing it and stay in shape. Part of my enjoyment right now is improving, both in terms of pace and distance. But the minute striving to improve begins to detract from running enjoyment, I’ll back off. And improvement is based only on my own personal standards and sense of what my potential may be. I don’t care how fast or far anyone else can run. If I ever race, it will be against PRs.

  8. Juha Myllylä
    November 19, 2012

    I’m somewhere in between. Although I strive getting better a bit, I don’t take it too seriously, when I go for run, I just run how it feels good. Sometimes I get inspired to run faster sometimes longer. I just keep adding mileage, because it feels good.

  9. Justin Kruse
    November 19, 2012

    I’m definitely, 100% in bucket #1. I’m always striving to get better, I want to compete and be the best.

    And you’re right, I often find my first though of other runners is, “Oh, I’ll pass you, easily” or “C’mon, you can do better than this” and “Why are you giving up and walking?” Because I don’t understand why one wouldn’t want to be stronger and faster.

    However, my next thought is usually to berate myself for these thoughts because I know the important thing is to be out there enjoying being active and living a healthy lifestyle.

  10. Chuck Hazzard
    November 19, 2012

    I am definitely number 2. I run for the joy and adventure it brings. Sometimes I surprise myself with a fast finish in races, but I am in no way interested in training for such a goal.