Sometimes the trail calls louder than the track

Last week Harold at A Veteran Runnah posted about how he was faced with a choice between hitting the track for speed or taking to the trails for a more leisurely run. After some debate, he went with the trails. He concluded that perhaps his focus on running was shifting from all about competition to something more along the lines of enjoyment. Harold is in his in his 50s, has been running a long time, and is sensing that this is where his running is taking him right now.

I could relate to his post to some degree. This summer I’ve felt myself going through something of a shift with my running as well. Yes, I still have goals, am competitive with myself, and put in the work to improve my speed. But I can also tell that I’m maybe not quite as driven for speed as I was just a couple of years ago.

I noticed this a couple of weeks ago when I ran the Twilighter 8k. I wanted to do well, but knew going into it I wasn’t up to normal speed right now. And I was ok with that–in fact I can’t think of another race where I felt more relaxed at the start than I did that one. I still raced, and I still tried, but when I finished and was around two minutes off my normal speed, I wasn’t crushed. In fact, I really enjoyed the race, crappy time and all. It’s where I am right now and I accept that.

Lest you think I’m going all soft on racing, let me assure you I’m not throwing in the towel any time soon. Nor am I settling for mediocrity. It’s just that, right now I’m pretty content even if I’m not running my absolute best. In some ways,  I’ve had more fun with my running this year than ever. I’ve run a barefoot 5k, run a race at night, trained for triathlon, and taken to the trails more than ever before. Switching things up has been fun.

I don’t know if it’s the number of years I’ve been running, being laid up for such a long time last year, or just my age in general that’s behind this bit of mellowing. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m happy with my running right now.  I encourage each of you to find that happy place with running, wherever that is for you. To get cliche, the journey has been pretty damn good to me this year.

Where do you stand with your running right now? 

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  1. says

    I don’t think running has ever really been about competition for me. Most of the time when I enter a race it’s because I feel like I should race. I mean, I’m putting in an insane amount of miles not to be racing.

    But then when I’m actually in the race, I start competing a lot!
    Kari @ Running Ricig recently posted..she used logicMy Profile

  2. says

    After reading and finally finishing “Born to Run” I have been thinking a lot about how they just run….because they love to. I love the competeitive part of running but I also love it…the feeling of being out there and running. Great post!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted..August Blogger ChallengeMy Profile

  3. says

    I like the thought of calling it mellowing.
    I have to say I think I’m in the same boat. I love training, but I’m not one to get in speed workouts and a big variety. I do it because I love it. If it makes me slower than I would be with proper training, I’m ok with it!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..IM swim and triple brickMy Profile

  4. Holly says

    You sum it up perfectly – it really is just being happy with your running at that time. That doesn’t mean not trying. Some days I really feel like doing speedwork, some days (like this morning) I felt like working on form in my zero drops for a short run instead of the 6 miler I had planned, and yes, sometimes the trail calls. Dr. Cuccazella has some good advice on the trail runner nation podcast about having fun while running.

  5. says

    Yes – I am trying to strike a balance here as well. I love having goals and seeing improvment, but there is something to be said for just embracing the pure joy of running without the numbers, paces, and end results. I find that I actually like doing a bit of both. Lots of trails, but then also some gut wrenching speed sessions.
    Shut Up and Run recently posted..Going for Gold: Allyson Felix’s “Journey”My Profile

  6. says

    Great post. My focus has definitely shifted many times over the years as I become less of a newbie. It used to all be about speed. Then I started to learn to love the slower long runs but still did lots of speed work. After injuries, it just became about being able to run again period. Now, with this heat, it’s just about maintaining. Speed is on the back burner.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Conquering My Fear of CyclingMy Profile

  7. says

    I like this post and can relate very well. I’ve been running for enjoyment for a long time now and relaxing about finish times has been great to my running. My big goals are just to finish some long and testing ultras in what ever time it takes me. I enjoy having goals like this and I’m motivated like never before.
    Johann recently posted..Columbia Highveld Challenge Race ReportMy Profile

  8. says

    An injury has given me a 5 month ban on speed work which is putting me more into the “run to enjoy” space. It’s been a lot of mellow, dilly dally, putzy only run fast when I want to runs the last few months…and I’m not hating it! In fact, my race times aren’t my fastest, but they aren’t too far off either. Funny how that works 😉
    Sheila recently posted..Get Ready For The BumpsMy Profile

  9. says

    Amanda – Thank you for the mention.

    This is something that I have thought a lot about since I returned to running last year, after my injury. Surprisingly, I have raced more this year than I have in many, many year. I attribute this to a much more relaxed attitude towards competition than I had in the past, which created way too much anxiety about the race itself, which led to no racing.

    There is a balance between the competitive runner and the more laid back runner, it just a matter of finding it. Hopefully, after so many years, I am figuring it out.

    As we mature, I think we gain a different perspective and maybe that is what we are both seeing in our running :-).

    Here is to your next race – “may the wind be at your back, with a slight downhill, the whole way”

    and to your next trail run “may the hills be wicked steep and the single track be rocky and root filled, but the views gorgeous”.

    I think that those two expressions – give the two perspectives.
    Harold recently posted..16 Miles Done 7/30/12My Profile

  10. says

    In the end, it’s really all about having fun. It’s so easy to lose sight of that. Sometimes injuries and other setbacks to training can be blessings in disguise as they provide an opportunity to sit back and appreciate what running really is in the scope of our greater lives. One thing I love about running during pregnancy is that it’s almost all just for fun. There’s no pressure. I just run. I run with new people who I might not otherwise run with because I have to hit a certain pace. I run in new places, again where I might not run because I have to hit a certain pace. I can leave the watch at home guilt-free. I can run for the joy of it and the health benefits and all the other things I might take for granted when I’m focusing on training for a PR. So it sounds like, although we have different circumstances, we’re having similar years. Cheers to finding more joy and accepting ourselves for where we are!
    Salty recently posted..A Runner’s Guide to Finding Your FlowMy Profile

  11. says

    Love this Amanda! Running really should be about having fun and not stressing out about race times (although I am one to talk). I think that switching things up is good on our bodies. Running can take a toll on us, but if we add biking, swimming, trail running, running for fun, etc. it lessens our chance for getting an injury. I never would have fallen in love with cross training or biking as much if I wouldn’t have gotten injured. I love biking so much that I want to buy an actual road bike. Once we get a new gym membership this fall I am going to start swimming again and hopefully do a tri in the spring or summer. Something I never would have even thought of pre compartment syndrome!
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..July Foodie Pen PalsMy Profile

  12. says

    Yes, I go from super competitive to very laid back throughout the year (and for years at a time). I agree with you- just do whatever makes you happy. Sometimes I’m in love with 30 minute easy runs every day. Sometimes I need to feel that “lung burn” a few times a week and high mileage to fully enjoy it.
    I think you can run your entire life and still get new things out of it every year and that’s one of my favorite parts about this sport!
    Jen B. recently posted..Words From Little MouthsMy Profile

  13. says

    I hear ya sister. While I have been jonesing to toe a starting line since surgery, I’m notsomuch feeling the need to race my pants off. I think it’s a combination of the waxing/waning, and also more of that big picture perspective. I find that as long as I’m a “happy” runner/athlete, I’m not as crushed if I’m not the best/fastest at it.
    I love this post – thank you!
    Meaghan recently posted..Yankee Homecoming, with a twist..My Profile

  14. says

    I’m at a point in my life where i just want to be able to run forever, without injuries. I’ve done the speed stuff now it time to just enjoy life and enjoy running with other people no matter how slow or fast they are. Great Post Amanda.

  15. says

    Great post and so insightful! I think we all experience different stages of our running and will go through different phases. I notice that when I step back and look at me and Brian – sometimes we are both pushing and trying to PR, sometimes we are focused on other things more and just enjoy maintaining fitness and race for fun….and sometimes, like now, we are each at different points – he’s making a hard push for a BQ and running is taking a little bit of a backseat for the time being.
    Beth @ RUNNING around my kitchen recently posted..Trading one beach for anotherMy Profile

  16. says

    Since I’m new to running I am finding myself getting really hungry for speed! But I depend on my beloved trail runs for peace and balance. I could see myself being happy on the trails for the rest of my life, whereas I see the racing/speed stuff as temporary, or at least something that will ebb and flow. We’ll see!
    GreenGirlRunning recently posted..Double Days & A Destination RunMy Profile

  17. says

    Having multiple injuries keeping me from consistent training the past few years, I’m still in a grateful-to-run place. I’m also still a little scared to bump up my mileage for fear of injury. I’ve been free of major injury for about a year now, but that fear still creeps in, so I don’t think I’m pushing myself hard enough, but I’m okay with that as long as I get to keep running!

    Also since I’ve been throwing in some biking and swimming, it helps to always be excited on the days I get to run, since that truly is my first passion!
    Beth @ Miles and Trials recently posted..I Survived my first Olympic TriMy Profile

  18. says

    Maybe it’s something in the air because I’m reading a lot on my favorite blogs about simply relaxing during this summer’s training season for Fall marathons – me included. It seems we aren’t stressing ourselves out over training, simply enjoying the “running moment”. It’s great!
    Joanne recently posted..CNYEats A Taste of Utica Ricotta CakeMy Profile

  19. says

    I am so much more mellow this year than I’ve been in the past, and I do think being laid up with an injury last year had something to do with it. For one, it gave me perspective that yes, I can maintain fitness even if I’m not running. And it’s made me much more aware of my limits and building up more cautiously, so I’m not jumping at every opportunity to race. Running is meant to be enjoyed!
    Laura recently posted..Labor Day 5 or 10 Mile Virtual Run – Registration open!My Profile

  20. says

    I went through a cycle like this after Cle. Ihave been totally chilling on the pressure and just having fun. I hope it still produces some PR”s this fall, but not going to worry about it. I felt like I need a mental break. I love to run, but PR’s aren’t the most important to me.
    Kristy (@KrisRunTri) recently posted..Weekly Log & Other StuffMy Profile

  21. says

    Right now I am enjoying racing and feeling competitive. It is a lot of work but it is fun too. If it stops being fun, then I know it is time to mellow. :) I do want to be a runner for the rest of my life, so I know the time will come when I mellow out and racing and PRs won’t matter.
    Erin Henderson recently posted..Fluid!My Profile

  22. says

    Right now (for obvious reasons) running is purely about enjoying the sport. It will switch to using it to get back in shape post-baby and then I think it’ll be a good amount of time where I will have the urge to race. But I agree with you – there are always periods in the year when racing is not on the forefront of my mind – whether it be b/c it’s on the heels of a big race or I”m just not feeling the racing urge.
    Great post as always =)
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Friday Night Cry SessionMy Profile

  23. says

    I run for me.
    I had a bad go of it at the beginning of the year because I kept comparing myself to other runners. I took to heart their “I’m so slow” posts- when they are faster than I am. That hurt me mentally- running was no longer fun or about me. It was about a time I had to run in order to be proud to post.
    No more. I want to be able to continue running for a long time. If I get faster, so be it. If not, so be it. I am damn proud to have completed a marathon and 10 half marathons, and look forward to many more finish lines with a big smile on my face!
    Heather @ Bake, Run, Live recently posted..National Food Day: Cheesecake (Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars)My Profile

  24. says

    There’s nothing wrong with changing focus when that’s where life is leading you. You can’t stay totally focused on racing for decade after decade. Sometimes it’s got to be all about fun.
    Char recently posted..Sneaky BusinessMy Profile

  25. says

    I am the opposite right now as I am FINALLY starting to get a bit faster. The flip side to that is even on my easy (slow) runs I am just so loving running right now. It is literally saving my sanity….
    Laura recently posted..July RecapMy Profile

  26. says

    i’ve had ups and downs with racing and just being mellow. i think it’s good to take it easy and then when the drive comes back, you’re ready to kill it. and if it doesn’t come back…who cares. you’re still doing what you love.
    Denise recently posted..July RecapMy Profile

  27. says

    I am in a similar place. I’m in it now for enjoyment, not that I didn’t enjoy working toward a time goal. With that comes more destination races, more races with friends, and more variety, ie: mud run, relay, duathlon.
    Teamarcia recently posted..July Recap/August GoalsMy Profile

  28. says

    Great post. I’m not sure where I stand on running right now my strong tendency leans towards really pushing it, which I’ve never done. At the same time life is filled with so many other things I just really really struggle with finding a balance. One day I think I’m Deena Kastor and not 4 hours later I’m Mommy Dearest. Not finding peace is most disturbing so wherever you truley believe you find it then you have won. You rock.
    Fueled by Spite recently posted..WorkMy Profile

  29. says

    I’m not nearly as experienced as you and many of the other responders, but I am now a runner and ‘getting older’. Since running is newer for me and I’m coming into it as I start approaching my 40s (not there yet but almost!) … I don’t know if I will ever have that full “drive for speed” as others might starting off this sport much younger. I find that already my main goal as a runner is enjoyment and completion rather than speed goals. Sure I want to place well in my division and so far I’ve done pretty well, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be pushing for the really killer speeds either. I’d like to get comfortably in the 8 min/mile range but that is about the max I’m interested in pushing it. Frankly, I just spent a lot of time hiking in the Alps, something I hadn’t done for a while, and it reminded me of how much I also enjoy other forms of fitness. Running is still my main thing, my main love, but I want to age with it happy and comfortable, not constantly pushing for faster and faster numbers. Maybe this attitude does all come as we get older, like the runner you discussed in this post? :-)
    Christina recently posted..Friends with health and fitness excusesMy Profile