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Intuitive Running

A female runner is running on a path in the mountains amidst a yellow-green meadow.

I don’t want to run like this any­more. It’s not doing me any good. More than that: it’s jeop­ar­diz­ing my health. I’m jeop­ar­diz­ing my health. And my joy of run­ning is at risk too. I owe this real­iza­tion to a gad­get, not my own insight. But let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve got some­thing like a morn­ing rou­tine. It’s not the same every day, espe­cial­ly the order isn’t set, but it usu­al­ly includes the same things. Mak­ing cof­fee, med­i­tat­ing, fill­ing out my Whoop jour­nal from the pre­vi­ous day. Then I check the Whoop app to see how I’m feel­ing. I know what you’re think­ing. I should know that intu­itive­ly, by tun­ing in. But even though I con­sid­er myself intu­itive in many ways, I’m also real­ly good at ignor­ing my body’s sig­nals. That’s where Whoop helps me. And again and again, on days when I least expect it, this lit­tle gad­get on my wrist tells me I’m not well-rest­ed. Quite the oppo­site, actu­al­ly. And that I should take it easy.

Now, it can hap­pen that on one of these days, I have a run sched­uled in my train­ing plan. Maybe a long run. Maybe a tough one. And then, I have this inner bat­tle between my angel and dev­il. The angel on my left shoul­der sweet­ly tells me to take it slow, while the dev­il on my right insists it’s all nonsense.

Look­ing at it ratio­nal­ly, I weigh the train­ing plan, meant to guide me to my goal safe­ly, against a gad­get like Whoop, telling me about my actu­al per­for­mance. How well I’ve slept. Core details like rest­ing heart rate or heart­beat vari­abil­i­ty. And in the end, the ques­tion is: stick to the plan and push through? Or lis­ten to my body and take it easy?

Getting Annoyed With my Ambition

Late­ly, I’ve been skip­ping train­ing ses­sions more often. Not just because vaca­tion some­times means more impor­tant things than run­ning, but also because Whoop showed that my recov­ery was off. This got me think­ing. After set­backs like Achilles ten­don injuries, COVID, and breaks from run­ning, I set a goal again. I’m look­ing at the Frank­furt Marathon in three months. Aim­ing for a per­son­al best. Going the extra mile. Beat­ing myself.

But the longer I’m here on vaca­tion, enjoy­ing beau­ti­ful trails, deli­cious food, trips with my wife, sauna, fresh air, peace and soli­tude, the sil­li­er this plan seems. I even find myself get­ting annoyed with my ambition.

Maybe it’s time to rethink this whole run­ning thing. Run­ning has been more of a pain than plea­sure late­ly, but I keep going. I have a goal. Frank­furt. Per­son­al best time. That sums up the vicious cycle.

So, what if I flip the script? Instead of always aim­ing for the goal and shap­ing every­thing around it, how about focus­ing on the here and now? On what’s work­ing right now? On what my body needs today or what feels good, and what would be fun for me today? And then just take it day by day, week by week, and see where this new approach leads me? Maybe it’d even mean say­ing good­bye to tra­di­tion­al road races, at least if you put the empha­sis on the «races». Per­haps it’s time to pay more atten­tion to the trails again. Cause what real­ly gets me pumped about trails and trail com­pe­ti­tions is that they shift things around, swap­ping tar­get times for real expe­ri­ences, tac­tics for courage and sta­mi­na, pace for the chill vibes of running.

Guilt-Free Choices And a Tool for Self-Reflection

A group of runners in running in the city streets during sunset.
It would be an approach to run­ning sim­i­lar to intu­itive eat­ing. Just as this con­cept empha­sizes lis­ten­ing to nat­ur­al hunger and sat­is­fac­tion sig­nals, intu­itive run­ning would pay atten­tion to indi­vid­ual needs, feel­ings, and phys­i­cal signs. It might involve tun­ing into the body to deter­mine pace, dis­tance, and inten­si­ty, find­ing joy in run­ning itself, reject­ing per­for­mance pres­sure and rigid train­ing plans for a more flex­i­ble, enjoy­able, and per­son­al con­nec­tion to running.

Like intu­itive eat­ing helps bal­ance emo­tion­al needs through means oth­er than food, intu­itive run­ning could serve as an expres­sion of emo­tions, a tool for self-reflec­tion, stress man­age­ment, strength­en­ing the mind-body con­nec­tion, not sole­ly focus­ing on speed, dis­tance, or per­for­mance. It could also help pre­vent injuries, reduce over­train­ing or ignor­ing warn­ing sig­nals. And just as intu­itive eat­ing enhances food enjoy­ment by encour­ag­ing guilt-free choic­es, intu­itive run­ning would high­light rela­tion­ships with sur­round­ings and oth­ers. What would remain to be seen is whether I would still be able to nail those per­son­al bests with this approach. Or, more sig­nif­i­cant­ly, whether that would even mat­ter to me down the line.

And here I am, on vaca­tion by a lake in Fin­land, gaz­ing at the water and hills with the set­ting sun cast­ing pic­turesque shad­ows, where I was plan­ning to run tomor­row. A long run. It’s in the train­ing plan. Only 12 weeks until Frank­furt. And as I write, the idea grows to add a com­po­nent to my morn­ing rou­tine. After the cof­fee, med­i­ta­tion, and Whoop jour­nal, I could align it with how rest­ed I feel, how my mus­cles feel, what’s on my mind. And then decide what’s right for me. What sport. What inten­si­ty. Whether it’s sports at all, or just relax­ation, stretch­ing, or yoga.

The more I think about it, the more I like this idea of intu­itive run­ning. Maybe it’s time to make it hap­pen. Start­ing tomor­row. After delet­ing my train­ing plan.

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