Running for relaxation

I’m not a great believer in multitasking, rarely, if ever, can anyone push 100% of their focus, drive and effort into more than one major task or discipline. In business you see it all the time, leaders constantly asked to bring home the bacon on multiple initiatives.

Those that do the impossible and happen to succeed in more than one area need to look out, a third or fourth big ticket item may soon be added to your to-do list. Combine this with your responsibilities to family and other commitments and you soon have a big pile of pressure and stress to deal with.

As runners we need to be aware of the impact of these demands on our approach to training. Many leaders working super hard in high pressured jobs use running as their outlet. Regular running provides stress relief and relaxation, a brief but welcome respite from day-to-day working life. But the key is to keep your running training and work/life in balance. If you’re going through a particularly tough or busy time at work then running needs to be this pressure release, not another form of stress on your mind and body.

What I’m suggesting is that you avoid very hard and intense bouts of training when you’re being beat up in the office. The last thing you need is the additional stress of running 6 × 1,000m intervals at 5km race pace after a crushing afternoon trying to explain to the CEO just how you’re going to hit those quarterly revenue targets now that Europe is going down the gurgler.

Adopting the approach I’m advocating takes discipline and knowledge, discipline to avoid the temptation to keep flogging yourself in training in favour of training for fun and relaxation, and knowledge that you will lose little, if any fitness by allowing your body this small degree of kindness.

The master of this training approach is Dr Mark Cucuzzella – a general practitioner from the US that I correspond with regularly regarding matters of running coaching and technique. Mark is a super busy guy, a practicing doctor, academic, race director, blogger, coach and lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force Reserves, amongst other things. He is also a multiple marathoner who uses his running training as relaxation to unwind from the rest of his busy life. A small sample of his philosophy is worth repeating below as it pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter.

“I use my running (and deliberately shun the word “training”) as the daily reset button. The harder and busier the day is the more I need to do an easy run. This relaxation counters the sometimes toxic levels of stress that comes with being overextended. If running were another stress it would not be sustainable, therefore all of my running is relaxed. Often people read schedules developed by elite athletes and they have weekly strenuous sessions. Now if you are an elite athlete and the rest of your day is the relaxing part then you can add frequent stressful workouts. For 99.9% of all runners this is not the case. We all have busy and stressful lives and the running must fit into the ‘yin’ of the ‘yin and yang’ circle.”

This balanced approach hasn’t done Mark’s performance levels any harm; in fact I could make a good argument for it increasing performance on the basis of allowing more consistent running training over a longer period of time. You might have to be more patient to achieve your running goals, but I’d take that any day over being injured and not able to enjoy my running.

Without thinking about it too much I’ve adopted this approach in my own running over the past 18 months. Building a new business has its challenges and pressures and there have been many days where a planned harder run has been replaced with an easy jog and something fun like a few laps of barefoot running around a grass oval.

Racing has also needed adjustment in performance expectations and while I’ve had to accept solid rather than stunning results, I have enjoyed the most consistent, injury free period of running in my life. In the long-term this is not going to do my running any harm whatsoever.

So take the time to smell the roses, or the grass clippings. If running is something you love, give yourself permission to enjoy it from time to time, especially if you need to relax and unwind from the rest of your working life.

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