Thoughts on returning to running: Joy + Rest

A few months or so ago, I got this crazy urge to go on a run after work. It was a beautiful day, and I saw so many runners out in the sunshine. When I got home, I grabbed my shoes and my pup, and we headed out. 

It felt amazing and reminded me why I love running, even after 13ish years. Getting outside in nature and moving with joy is why I run and always why I return to it.

I used to run a lot in college and my early 20s. After my first marathon and some definite overtraining, I felt burnt out and needed a break. So, I took time off of all movement for a while, then had a period of really gentle movement (lots of walking + gentle, restorative yoga). That's what my body needed at that time.

In the last 5 years, I've continued to run but not consistently. I'd head out for a run pretty intuitively - when I felt like running and for however long my body wanted to. It's been joyful and a form of self-care rather than exercise.

In the past, I was obsessed with the numbers around running like pace and mileage and kept pushing myself to run faster and further. Now, my runs are generally slower, shorter, and have lots of breaks to let my dog sniff pretty much everything or search for squirrels. If I feel like taking a break to walk, I let myself. If I feel like running for a long time, I go for it.

Lately, I have been running more consistently because it feels really good. There are also so many amazing trails around me that I've been exploring through runs/hikes. Surrounding myself with giant redwoods, muddy trails, and grassy stretches during a run nourishes my heart just as much as my body. When my life feels stressful or overwhelming, nature is always my go-to.

Through this process, I've noticed how incredible the body is when I listen to it. When I truly tune into my body, I let my breath and body lead the way. Instead of comparing myself to how fast or far others can run, I allow myself to run by feel. Some days, it feels really good to run slow while other days, I feel inspired to speed it up. 

Running for me is all about joy. While out for a run, my dog always looks back at me with a happy face and her ears and tongue flapping around. She exudes joy. When I let her off-leash, she will happily take off sprinting laps around, then comes back so happy. 

Sure, there are runs that feel harder, and I don't return with a runner's high every time. Yet, each run is a chance to tune into my body, as well as my mind. It's like a moving meditation for me that allows me to be present of each breath, each step, and find space in my mind to just be. 

Running is part of joyful intuitive movement for me right now. At times, I do catch myself brainstorming how many miles I could run or races I could train for, but I just come back to why I run now. I know I'll naturally go through cycles of my favorite ways to move my body - running, yoga, snowboarding - or cycles of more rest and gentle movement throughout the year and my life. 

If you're struggling with movement, explore intuitive movement.

If you feel burnt out or like you're forcing yourself to exercise, take a break. It's okay to rest - or do more gentle movement like walking or gentle/restorative yoga - for a week or months or however long you need. Rest is so important for your body and mind!*

When you feel ready, explore a variety of different movement types and notice what brings you joy, body connection, and feels nourishing to your mind, body, and heart.

Notice how movement makes you feel on all levels and challenge your rules around it. There's no need to have rules around what "counts" or not - your movement does not have to be for "x" amount of minutes, a certain intensity level, or everyday. It will always vary based on your life, stress, and schedule too.

Some weeks, my work and life is pretty busy, and I may only get in 10-15 minutes of yoga a day or not much movement at all. Other weeks, I can get in a few runs and classes. It's all okay. If I'm stressed or not sleeping well, I'm going to prioritize sleep and restorative movement.

Moving your body can feel amazing and support your health, but always remember it's only one part of your life (rather than your whole life). Find the joy in it, then allow yourself to fill the rest of your day with joy, connection, and much much more. 

*If you are recovering from an eating disorder (or other medical concerns), use your treatment team (therapist, dietitian, physician) to provide recommendations around activity.

Lauren Fowler