Running without pace: The zen art of letting go of expectation

I made myself a promise at the beginning of the fall marathon training season: I would not focus on pace. That meant I would set no race goals. I would wear no watch. I would enjoy myself. Nearly half way through four months of training I can say I kept most of that goal intact. The one part I fudged on was the watch, a bit.

Instead of a Garmin, I wear my iPhone 5 with my RunKeeper app on. Honestly though, I don’t consider this much of a cheat, since I can’t really see it to gauge how I am doing during a run. And I forgot how pleasant it is, especially on solo runs, to listen to music, or the occasional podcast.

zen garden

Zen Garden (courtesy Edward Dalmulder)

What I am discovering (thanks to some measurements taken from the iPhone) is that my pace and fitness really hasn’t changed sans running goal. I’m just finding training to be a bit more pleasurable without the pressure of trying to achieve something. I focus more on what I am doing, instead of what I should be doing. It sounds kind of like a Zen thing, but for me it makes perfect sense.

The one area that might actually be better is this; I am running more. I am not skipping any of the littler runs. I am also swimming on down days. It’s sort of amazing really. I”m not dragging ass, dreading, or avoiding certain runs. How much of what we do is about perspective? How much is about personality?

I know for myself the answer to those two questions is a lot. When I set goals, instead of listening to my body, or letting things flow, I’m the type to fret about failure, or about as not being as-good-as the guy or girl running in front of me. Take away that pressure, and well, I’m just doing something because I want to do it for the sake of doing it.

Take a recent Wednesday night as an example. The group was running a hill route through a Cincinnati neighborhood called Mount Lookout at race pace. It was hot and muggy at the start. I started at the back of the 9 minute pace group, where I feel physically comfortable. I had a friend with me. He has definite race goals for the Marine Corp Marathon. He took off. I didn’t chase. His level of fitness and increased speed is spectacular. I’m not where he is, nor am I trying to be. Instead I found my place in this little cluster of strangers and it ended up feeling awesome.

Mount Lookout Square

Mount Lookout Square (courtesy Matt Hunter Ross, Flickr Creative commons_

The coach in the group was positive. For the last mile, instead of running the prescribed 9-minute mile pace, my body felt good so I pushed, and ended up running a 8:14 second pace. That’s a pace after an hour or so of serious heat and hills. And what I found was the group surged together. It was nice. I ran with, not against anything.

I need more of that. More making it okay for myself to remove the stupid pressure I put myself under to do at some imagined level. I’m sort of excited to see where all of this not caring about pace this season, and listening more to my body and enjoying the run will take me.

I’m also curious to hear what motivates other runners? Do you need a goal? Or do you do it just because you love it?



6 thoughts on “Running without pace: The zen art of letting go of expectation

  1. I do set goals for myself, but mainly, at the end of the day, it’s all about the enjoyment of the run. If I don’t hit a goal, there is always another race another run to hit that goal. I try not to be hard on myself. What’s the point? I’m not headed to the Olympics or anything.

  2. I don’t set goals at all, really. I have certain times that I want to hit certain points by, but if I’m slow one day, I’m slow. I just realized the other day that I have also completely stopped weighing myself. I can tell if I’m a little heavy by the way my body feels on a run.

    • Yes, I kind of became pace obsessed over the last year or so. I’ve found not measuring everything by a GPS watch brought me back to enjoying a run. Today I found a great little river trail to run on. It was hot. I didn’t wear my watch. I stopped and sipped from the water bottle a few times and enjoyed the view. As far as weight, well, I gave that up a while ago. I’m about 14 pounds heavier than my first marathon. I can’t seem to cut out those steaks and other bad foods. 🙂

  3. It’s so easy to become obsessed with goal/pace/time/distance. Although I do like to track my runs, I’m not too hung up on it. I like to see that I’m making progress- but feeling good and enjoying my run is far more important.

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