Finding the Joy in Running

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In this podcast episode we discuss how to find joy in your running and training so you can stay motivated year after year. Plus we check in with a listener who just finished the Jerusalem Half Marathon -a great destination race!

Finding the Joy in Running

In 2017 I ran my first marathon and blindly followed a running friend through a rather unusual training plan. The race was tough and I searched for a better training plan for marathon #2. MTA came along and saved the day (of course!). I LOVED the training plan and although race #2 wasn’t brilliant, it was fabulous by comparison to #1. This year marathon 3 is coming up but I’m just not loving training. Work and family responsibilities are much heavier this time around and I feel tired and frustrated. I am not rolling or stretching nearly enough but when it comes time to do so and I have to choose between sitting staring vacantly out of the window or getting to work……I want to find the joy of running again – any suggestions? -Lyndi

This is such a great question because this feeling is so common, especially after going through a long cold winter. While training for your first couple of marathons it’s so new and exciting (and scary) that it often means you have more enthusiasm for training. You often feel like you’re holding on for dear life to take on such a big challenge. But, by the time the 3rd marathon comes around, it can just start to feel like hard work and it’s easy to focus on how much time is being taken up or how much energy is required.

Systems Not Goals

I’ve certainly gone through ups and downs with my training. There have been many, many days, weeks and months when I just wasn’t feeling it. Knowing that these ups and downs are normal has helped me to focus not on one specific goal but on the kind of person that I want to be. My overall goal is to be a strong and healthy runner for life and this helps me to commit to the process of training.

Then when a day/week/month comes along when it’s not exciting I remember that good habits have a compounding effect (and the same is true for bad habits). It’s not groundbreaking or sexy but the truth is that we get what we repeat. Little habits over time make a big difference (an excellent book on this topic is Atomic Habits by James Clear).

If you feel like you’ve let bad habits creep in or have lost the joy of running it might be more beneficial to focus on systems, not goals.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” -James Clear

Putting effective systems in place leads to goal achievement because you don’t have decision fatigue every day trying to decide if you’re going to run or foam roll or strength train. When you’re able to fall in love with the process this brings greater commitment which leads to success.

Examples of Systems Versus Goals . . .

1) Training to be healthy and strong for life vs. only training for a specific race.
If you’re only training for a race it may lead you to not see the importance of certain runs or maintenance activities (or even sleep). You may make the decision to try and run through injury even though you know it won’t help you in the long term. On the other hand, training to be healthy and strong for life means that there is no end date. The good habits that you develop are compounding to make you strong and healthy now and in the future. Your identity as a runner is secure no matter the challenges you face along the way.

2) Cleaning up your house vs. having systems in place for keeping it clutter free.
Doing a blitz clean and seeing the results feels very satisfying but if you don’t change the reasons why the mess happens then it won’t be long before it returns to its untidy condition. Putting a system for order in place will give you the long term satisfaction of maintaining a clean house.

3) Changing eating patterns to reach a goal weight vs. eating to have energy and strength.
Most of us have gone on a diet to achieve a specific weight or physique. However many times the methods we used weren’t healthy or sustainable in the long term. Maybe we got close to our goal or even reached that magic weight. But the minute we started slacking off and returning to our old patterns of eating the pounds returned in full force. In contrast, when you eat to fuel your body and to have energy and strength it can change your perspective. You’re no longer satisfied with temporary results and feel skeptical with claims that you can lose 10 pounds in a week. You’re more likely to make a meal plan, shop wisely, meal prep, pack a snack, and not keep tempting foods in the house. These behavior changes can lead to sustainable change and an increased sense of mastery.

What helps bring the joy back to running differs a bit for each person. When people start getting burnt out with running it’s often a sign that they don’t have enough margin in their life. It’s easy over time to get so busy and overcommitted that running just seems like another chore to accomplish. Focusing on getting more sleep, eating healthy, starting a meditation practice, saying no more, and taking the pressure off yourself can often help you regain joy in life and running.

Wisdom From Academy Members . .

Change it up!

“Perhaps switch it up. Go for a run on a new trail. Join a local running group for in person motivation. Try running at a different time of day. Sometimes it is hard to get out of a rut. Trying something outside your comfort zone can help jump start your motor again.” Aaron

“I’ve always believed you should be feeling “Hell yes!” or terrified – if you’re not excited, why do it? Try to figure out what’s your why? 🙂 My suggestions: Change something. Maybe use a different plan? If you’re running 3 times how about doing one with 4 runs instead? How about working with a coach? Or picking a race in a location you’re excited about? Maybe do a trail run? Or an ultra? Or maybe dropping to a half? For me working with a coach has really lit a fire in me and I started doing 4 runs instead of 3 and surprisingly enjoyed that more.” Farida

“The heavy miles of marathon training can feel daunting for most of us. If you’re feeling burdened by it all I’d suggest not doing a full this Spring and focus on shorter races instead.” Peter

“I was in a rut too and have switched to focusing on trail half marathons which has been perfect for me. It’s less hours of training but challenging still plus the weather is starting to become beautiful once again (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere that is). If you could find ways to incorporate work or family into some of your exercise routines that might be helpful. (Biking with the family, run commuting are a couple ideas.) Good luck!” Andrea

“Sign up for some 5K and 10K along the way.” Gretchen

Enlist Some Help!

This can include everything from finding a running partner, signing up for a race with a friend, joining a running group, and hiring a coach. We’ve heard from so many people who have been able to have breakthroughs in their running by enlisting a strong support system. One of the reasons we created the Academy was to be another source of encouragement, motivation, and practical help to runners of all abilities.

“This is also where a good coach can come in handy. They can help modify your training so that you’re not always so mentally burnt out; they can suggest best practices for cross training instead of a run-only schedule; they can come up with creative workouts that don’t focus only on mileage or speed; they can also help keep you accountable, which for many is a great motivational tool when the lure of Netflix calls on a weekend! If a coach is too much of a commitment, finding running buddies can give you a similar effect especially when it comes to accountability. When I schedule a morning speed workout at 6:00am on a Tuesday morning before the sun comes up, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll make it. However if a friend asks me to join them, I can almost guarantee I won’t miss it!” Coach Steve

Buy yourself some new running gear!

Running shoe therapy 😁

This may be as simple as some new socks, a new pair of shoes, running sunglasses (like Goodr), Bluetooth earbuds, a new watch you’ve been eying, scheduling a massage, getting some running books (Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor is particularly inspiring) and new music.

Inject some fun!

Deliberately think of ways that you can add enjoyment to your running. This may include doing a costume run, a beer mile, an obstacle course race, participating in Parkrun (a free weekly timed 5k run now in 21 countries and growing), trail running, volunteering at a race, or signing up for a bucket list race. It may even mean taking the pressure off yourself to go after PR’s which take a lot of mental and physical energy. You could also give yourself the challenge of taking one or more interesting pictures during every run or thinking of three things that you’re grateful for during your run. Another positive idea would be challenging yourself to pick up a bag of trash during every run.

Focus on other exercises and activities for a while

It’s very helpful both physically and mentally to diversify your activities so that running isn’t the only sport you enjoy. This might mean taking swimming lessons if you’re not confident in the pool, dusting off your bike and doing some cycling, taking a new class at the gym, trying something like Orange Theory or a treadmill class, and working with a strength coach to dial in your weight training. It’s often been during a slump in my running that I’ve developed other interests.

After my first marathon I struggled with ITBS and started doing yoga regularly—something that is very important to me to this day. When I was going through a hormonal imbalance a couple years ago I worked with a strength coach at our local YMCA to take the focus off my lack of progress in running and to get stronger. Doing that has helped me to stay consistent and enjoy strength training to this day.

Sign up for a destination race!

In this episode you will hear one of our coaching clients named Brooke Taylor tell us about the Jerusalem Marathon. Brooke ran the half with her son at the end of a two week tour of the Holy Land. The Jerusalem Marathon is only 8 years old but brings together about 40,000 runners from many nations and has been called by Haaretz Newspaper “the most cosmopolitan event around.” You can read Brooke’s race recap here.

Every action you take is a vote for the kind of person you want to become. -James Clear

Also Mentioned in This Episode

John Muir Trust– contribute a tree to the MTA Forever Forest. We went with the idea of planting 262 trees as a nod to the marathon distance, with donations going toward our tree planting fund to create an ‘MTA Forever Forest’. “Come to the woods for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.” -John Muir

MetPro – Take a metabolic assessment and schedule a complimentary consultation with one of their experts by going to

Topo Athletic -a gimmick-free running shoe company delivering footwear solutions for healthier, more natural running patterns. A roomy toe box promotes functional foot movement and the cushioned midsoles come in a variety of thicknesses and heel elevations, so you can pick your unique level of protection and comfort. -Marathon Training Academy is sponsored by *Health IQ*, an insurance company that helps health conscious people get special rates on life insurance. Go to to support the show and learn more.

Bombas Socks -every pair comes with arch support, a seamless toe, and a cushioned foot-bed that’s comfy but not too thick. Use our link for 20% off!

Atomic Habits by James Clear -what we are reading.

2 Responses to Finding the Joy in Running

  1. Dr. David Alexander July 27, 2020 at 4:04 am #

    Uh………. Fantastic! This article is just what I needed, and just what I was looking for as I was trying to find a joy in running again!

    • Angie Spencer July 27, 2020 at 11:23 am #

      I’m glad it was helpful! Happy running 🙂

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