When I was in college at Rutgers University, I lived away on campus for all five years. Living on the main campus was great. It was conveniently located to major highways, stores, restaurants, a downtown strip, and there was always something happening either with the school or in the community. And I thought running at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ was great as well…at first.
For the first few years, I had no issues finding a running route. When you’re running about 3 miles a day in a fairly large city, you can find tons of new routes to keep you seeing new sights and that’s just what I did. I sometimes ran the streets like I was Pac-Man minus the ghosts, going up and down each street until I hit 1.5 miles or so and then turning around and doing the same thing back to complete my daily 3..or 5 (rarely did I run beyond 5 miles in a day back then). I could also run loops in and around several beautiful parks and there was always a way to get to any of the five campuses so that helped. And then when it got cold or rainy or snowy, I never lived more than a half mile away from the campus gym where I would only have to sit around and wait 15 minutes for a treadmill instead of braving the elements.
Things changed when I started running longer distances in late 2012. Training for a fall marathon while I was in school meant several things including that the 5 mile routes needed to be expanded and I needed to find routes with minimal cars and people. I quickly found that when training for longer distance races or even just running longer distance runs, choosing the route became a new and important part of the process for me. “Where do you want to go today?” was a question I would actually ask myself often when before long distance running, I started my run without pause because I knew I wouldn’t really be going out far anyway. But more mileage meant different routes. I didn’t like seeing the same old sights on a run so mixing it up was something I tried to do. Running at least 6 days a week, however, resulted in me eventually desiring new scenery. I knew I had to figure something out when listening to music while I ran was no longer taking my mind off of where my feet were taking me, but I was able to get through marathon training without none of this becoming a big deal.
After the marathon I was hooked on distance running. My weekly mileage increased and I felt like I had become a new runner (this happened again when I discovered ultra-running, but that’s for a later post). I wanted to worry less about the route I would go on each day. I didn’t want to start off my run worrying about where to go so I did a few things that I thought would help me mitigate the unwanted stress. Keep in mind that this was very much a long process and certainly did not happen in a month’s time. Becoming a more relaxed runner took me years to get the pieces just right, and I’m sure I’m still missing a few that I am not aware of yet.
I was very much into running with music. It’s a very unnatural thing to do especially when you’re running with an iPod in your hand and constantly putting the earbuds back into your ears, but if it’s what gets you out the door then keep it up! I experimented with running without music and it helped me a lot. Like, a lot a lot. It may sound cheesy, but I was able to find a certain inner-calm that sprinting in high school and running with music prevented me from discovering. I tuned out the music and was able to tune into my running. When I realized this, I wanted to explore other ways to feel better and more relaxed on a run.
The second thing I wanted to focus on was my breathing. When I read Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run is when I first became serious about proper breathing. I couldn’t really tell you how I used to breathe when I ran and I honestly don’t think I ever gave it a thought. Many runners probably don’t, but breathing is so important for maximizing the oxygen that’s getting to your muscles and thus allowing you to run faster and/or further. A relaxed breathing rate can also just keep your body more calm than a faster breathing rate. So I took the ultrarunning legend’s advice that the mouth is for food, not breathing, and started practicing breathing mostly through my nose. This took months to actually get used to, but it works! I can honestly say that for 80-90% of run I am only breathing through my nose. Without a doubt it helped make me a more efficient runner and thus a more relaxed runner.
There are so many more things that I could go on and on about for how I became more relaxed with my running and was thus able to improve as a distance runner, one of which I mentioned earlier in this post regarding treadmills and rain. Now instead of braving or avoiding the elements, I embrace them. If I still have to run and there’s some rain in the forecast, I’m just going to go out and see what happens. There have been many times when I got caught in a downpour (in NJ of course, not Portland) several miles away from home and at that point you just have to brave through it and hopefully realize that it’s very possible, and often quite fun, to run outside in the rain.
Do I prefer running with the views on the left? Of course. But I’ll get out there when it looks like the right too and still be grateful I’m running.
It may be weird to many people to use”relaxed” to describe”running”, but this mentality helped me find my niche in running and in turn helps me enjoy life so much more. I wouldn’t be the same person if what I love to do actually caused me even the slightest degree of stress or worry. Have you ever thought of being more relaxed when exercising? Maybe you already took some steps or already possess a relaxed approach to running. Share your thoughts and experiences! I’d love to hear from you!