Planet Wave: How to Make Good Runs Great
What makes a great run truly great? Clearly, that differs from runner to runner, but even so, a great run tends to be fleeting. They come and…go. A great run doesn’t happen every day and is as difficult to duplicate as a great dream. If it was easy to replicate on a daily basis, there would never be any exceptional, memorable runs—they’d all be the same.
Even so, I happen to be one of those lucky guys who has more than his fair share of great runs. For sure, some are better than others, but I have always had an inordinately high number of remarkably euphoric runs.
Over the years, I have been able to maximize the number of remarkable runs for two prime reasons: Luck and planning. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in ideal areas for running, but I also formulate a plan for every run which emphasizes enjoyment over anything else. To that end, I developed a certain set of criteria that are important to me—I’ll get to those in a bit—that I try to bring to every single morning run. If I’m not running on a flimsy treadmill in a hotel or on sidewalks in a busy city, I usually succeed with runs that are unquestionably, the highlight of my day.
At Mizuno, we call it Mezamashii which supposedly means brilliant run in Japanese. Although I’ve been to Japan many times, my Japanese still isn’t very good so I’ll accept that’s what Mezamashii actually means. Even so, not all my runs are brilliant (whose are?) but they’re pretty darn good.
I increase my chances by creating daily morning run out my back door into something that exceeds the ho-hum. This is just me and I’m not so presumptuous to believe that this is applicable to everybody. But it works for me and with a little bit of planning some of it might work for you.
This is what I try to incorporate into every run to make it great:
Morning. I’m a morning person—make that a very early morning person—who is up and running well before dawn. (I’m embarrassed to say just how early.) But the morning is the best part of my day. The air is cleaner, it’s cooler and quieter. I love the feeling of getting something accomplished—my run—before anybody else has even stirred. Plus, I’m at my creative and athletic peak at this time of day. This is the rhythm of my life and it is when I have to run.
Solitary. What can I say? I prefer to be alone in the morning. I’m not a hermit, but I run all by my lonesome before the sun rises. It’s the time of day when I like to think, rather than chitchat. My mind switches on the moment I head out the back door and I don’t want to short circuit this productive time by trying to be social with someone else.
My engine. OK, I work for a running company and we want to believe that our shoes make your runs great. Sorry, no. Obviously, we all need to wear good shoes—and here’s the pitch, Mizuno shoes are the best—but it’s not the shoes that make a great run, it’s you and me. Our engines are what drive us. My own engine is so finely tuned after aeons of running that it demands I stoke it every morning to keep it humming. It has become so habitual that I never have to think every morning about whether I should run or not. Imust.
Traffic-free. One of the keys to great running is relaxed, stress-free running. Call me crazy, but I can’t relaxed when I have to worry about cars headed directly at me. Or having to stop at cross walks and lights as traffic buzzes by. It’s bad enough in a car. Dealing with it on a run is counter productive. As I said earlier, I’m lucky. I live in a semi-rural area without a lot of traffic and since I go so early, I beat most of it. But even when I venture off my home turf, I do everything possible to take long-run routes that avoid traffic as much as possible.
Soft surface. All of my runs start and finish on roads, but on just about every morning I find at least an off-road mile or two. Parts of my run can skirt a park, connect to a dirt road, deer trail or green belt or even loop several soccer fields, but I always find a way to get off the hard stuff for a bit. Some mornings, I get in a few miles on a golf course with luxurious, soft fairways, long before anyone is out there. Getting in some miles on a softer surface always gives my legs a break, but it also gives my head a break.
Water. There’s something about the mere sight of a body of water which always placates me. I grew up around water and most of my early trail runs as a kid were around a beautiful reservoir. It’s a subconscious thing now, but on every run I feel a need to run by a river, creek or go along a lake trail. Even a pond on the golf course with the morning mist rising bathes me in a certain calm, tranquil mood. Noted philosopher Muhammad Ali supposedly said: “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do, they all contain truths.” I’ll buy that.
Hills. I live in the Texas Hill Country so hills are a natural part of every run. That’s a good thing. I love hills for the pump I get. Climbing over some especially nasty monster and coming down the other side gives me a very real sense of achievement. Forget the practical benefits, I need at least one climb on every run to reinforce the feeling that I’ve surmounted something.
Endorphins. Surely, you have heard of the runner’s high. It’s more than a myth. Not certain I would call it a “high” in the traditional sense, but an endorphin rush is a very real physiologic response which can be triggered…if you know how. I know how. Jogging around for 20-30 minutes doesn’t do it. Instead, you have to run fairly hard and steady for at least 45 minutes to reach a point when endorphins are released into your system. To get those feel-good chemicals flowing into my system, I need to go a little longer than that and almost always do. That’s why I almost always have a goofy, post run glow.
Long runs. Weekends are made for long running and this is when I suspend my caveat of weekday solo running. I long run with a training group which is comprised of Ph.Ds, M.Ds., P.Ts, P.Ds (cops), J.Ds and a bunch of other smart, fascinating folks. One year we even had a symphonic conductor training for a marathon with us. Mostly, the guys talk football and politics. The gals aren’t much different as they pass the miles, talking football and politics (after all, this is Texas) and how one-dimensional the guys are. After five days of solo running, I gobble up the energizing, lively chatter like a Great White Shark feasts on seal. A two-hour run flies by.
So there you have it. That’s my prescription for having a great run. Again, not every run is great, but by creating the climate which works best for me, I can—more often than not—produce a run which is usually pretty darn good.
That’s what keeps me coming back for more. And more.