Run More Awesome / Technical Writing / Training

The Power of Play


What if we added some obstacles from the playground to our runs?

I woke up this morning to a new blog post by my cousin Josh about The Power of Play. Josh teaches writing college courses for the U.S. Navy and has the privilege of traveling the world with our nation’s finest men and women. His post today — actually it’s closer to a full-length essay — is a commentary on play and why it is so important for both kids and adults.

Josh’s essay got me thinking about running. For most of us, running is our play. And running meets many of the seven defining characteristics of play:

  1. It’s voluntary.
  2. It has “inherent attraction.” That is, “it’s fun.”
  3. It “gives us freedom from time.
  4. We experience “diminished consciousness of self.”
  5. It’s about improvisation.
  6. It sparks “a continued desire” in us. That is, we don’t want to quit.
  7. It is “apparently purposeless.”

Let me address a few of these:

  1. It’s voluntary. Surely no one is holding a gun to our heads and forcing us to run, though there may be situations (military boot camp and gym class come to mind) when we are required to run. We may even feel like we have to run to lose weight, train for a marathon four months from now, etc. But largely, we choose to run on our own.
  2. It has an inherent attraction. It’s fun. When I hear runners talk about why they run, I rarely hear the reason, “Because it’s fun.” On the flip side, if you ask a child why they run, they’ll tell you it’s fun. And let me tell you, chasing your kid on the playground is fun. If we are not having fun on our runs, then we may need to rethink our training. Or run through more sprinklers. Or register for a Color Run. Or a Mud Run.
  3. It gives us freedom from time. I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel like I am free of time when I run. I often feel like I am squeezing in my run here, sacrificing something else there. And don’t get me started on my obsessive-compulsive need to wear a watch to record performance on every. single. run. Simply taking off our watches, unstrapping the heart rate monitors, and turning off our iPods could do wonders for our psyches and relieve the pressure to perform.
  4. We experience diminished consciousness of self. Two words: Runner’s high. ‘Nuff said.
  5. It’s about improvisation. One word: Fartlek. This Swedish word for “speed play” literally includes a prerequisite for play, so yes, run more fartleks. But we can do better than that. Go for a run without a route in mind. Throw in some skipping. Run like Phoebe. Don’t be afraid to get lost.
  6. It sparks a continued desire in us. We don’t want to quit. I think this applies both to individual runs and our running career. That is, on any given fun run, if we’re truly having fun, we don’t want that run to end. And when we have fun on our individual runs, we want to go out for another run and another and another. We want to run our entire lives. When we overtrain, we lose this desire. We burn out. Better to run in moderation and keep it fun than to lose the desire to run all together.
  7. It is apparently purposeless. We know better, of course. Running benefits our cardiovascular systems, improves brain function, and strengthens our immune system. But just as a kid does not need to hear that his play improves his critical thinking skills, we don’t need to know the health benefits of running to make running fun. And yeah, to non-runners, our running is apparently purposeless.

I’m not the first person to connect play and running. In fact, I’m sure that Runner’s World is required to publish an article about playing at least every year, so my ideas are not new. Still, I believe it’s important for us to evaluate whether we are having fun on our runs. Whether running still makes us happy. If the answer is no too many days in row, we need to change something. Take off our watches. Run with someone new. Explore a new route. Anything to mix it up. As for me, I’ll be chasing my kid around the playground with newfound enthusiasm this week.

What about you? What do you do to make running fun?