This piece first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Competitor Magazine.
The year is winding down and thus another racing season is coming to a close. It's a time to reflect on the past year, the goals we accomplished and, some years, the goals that didn't pan out as planned.
This has been one of those years for me. Between fracturing my sternum in a car accident, traveling on a hectic book tour schedule, doing nonprofit work in Kenya and getting married, it became difficult to fit a major race into my schedule. In 18 years of racing ultramarathons, I hadn't gone a season without racing at least one. As the saying goes, "things happen for a reason," and what seemed like a bust of a race season became a wonderful window of opportunities.
Back to the basics
Without having a race to focus on, I wound up focusing on the basics -- enjoying the simple act of running. I'd run without expectations of workouts or the need to achieve a benchmark in training. While these can be strong motivators, they can cause us to lose sight of the number one goal: the joy of moving our body. When we focus on this joy we notice the small things such as the sights and the sounds. As my buddy Micah True would say, "Running isn't about winning. Running is about having fun."
My advice: Occasionally leave the watch at home, forgo any agenda and pay attention to the little things.
Free of the confines of a rigid training schedule I found myself running more with friends and family. When I ran into friends on the trail, I joined them because I wasn't worried about hitting specific paces. All of these opportunities have allowed me to be more of a social runner and connect with people while doing the sport I love.
My advice: Make time to run with a friend or family member even if they are slower or faster than you. Go on a group run or run in a new location. And don't be afraid to change up your workout if you run into a friend.
Instead of donning a race bib, I volunteered at more events, working the aid station tables, helping at the finish line, pacing and crewing friends in 100-milers. Volunteering at races allowed me to see the sport from a different vantage point. That fresh perspective has helped me understand what is most important in running and, ultimately, in life.
My advice: Get out and volunteer at events, pace or crew someone in a race, and experience the sport from a new perspective.
Just because I didn't have a major ultra-marathon to prepare for didn't mean I lost interest in running long runs in the mountains.
I actually found myself doing just as many big days on the trail. With less focus on training, I picked routes based on the view or the location, rather than a training effect. With this free-form approach, my running became more adventurous and led to new experiences. A long run in the mountains became more of a journey than a training run.
My advice: Occasionally choose runs for reasons outside of what they do for your legs and lungs, and rather for your heart and soul.
Maybe things are not as they seem. Maybe those unmet goals and plans have a silver lining. Next time a season takes an unexpected turn, find those windows of opportunity. It's not all about the race; it's about the run.
Based in Boulder, Colo., Scott Jurek is a seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile trail run.