Running = Play?

The other night I had the opportunity to attend a speaking engagement featuring Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, an elite runner and doctor who has won several marathons. I decided to go at the last minute and I am so glad that I did!  He was very knowledgeable, relatable, and engaging.  His presentation focused on nutrition, building a body that is strong enough for running, and running form.

His discussion about building a body that is strong enough for running really made me evaluate myself and my relationship with the sport.  Rather than focusing on weight lifting, tempo runs, and pushing your pace, he talked about running for play and running slowly.  Running for play?  What a novel idea.

Dr. Mark started off by asking us (a group of about 50 people between the ages of 18 and 65) for the definition of play.  Everyone was silent.  Sensing our confusion, Dr. Mark helped us out and explained that play is a joyous action that does not have an outcome.  Kids go outside, frolic around, PLAY with no specific goal in mind and, at the end of the day, are content because they have simply felt joy and played.  Dr. Mark said that that is what running should be; every run should be playful.

For several years, Dr. Mark experienced a perpetual state of injury…he would hurt one thing, get better, and end up hurt again within a few weeks.  Finally, he decided that something had to change if he wanted to reach his goals and become an elite runner.  Ever since he made the decision to make running playful, he has been INJURY FREE. In order to make running playful, you must slow down.  When you finish a run, Dr. Mark said that you should feel like you could turn around and do the exact same run all over again. 

The idea of making running playful and running slowly really hit home for me.  I started to think about how I feel about running and how I feel after I finish each run.  I realized that when I first started running, I loved every stride and every run.  It brought me so much joy to lace up my shoes, pound the pavement for awhile, and head back inside with an overhwhelming runner’s high and feeling of accomplishment.

As I let my competitive side and perfectionist tendencies seep into my running, I think that the joy began to slip away.  I started worrying about the numbers…telling myself that I had to go faster, harder, and longer.  Soon enough, it wasn’t a “good” run unless I went a certain distance in a certain amount of time.

Playful?  NO.  A burdensome job?  YES. 

For the past few months, my relationship with running has improved and I have started to take more rest days, listen to my body, and lower my standards of a “good” run.  Not surprisingly, my body has responded graciously.  My iron levels are up, my strength has increased, and I feel better and happier.  At the same time, however, I still set standards for each run and push myself unnecessarily.  I have convinced myself that I am still having fun and in some ways, I am still having fun.  It’s fun to see improvements in my pace and mileage.  It is not fun, however, to miss out on fun things with friends because of running and to get injured because of running.   Dr. Mark’s words of wisdom were the kick in the pants that I needed to REALLY improve my relationship with running.

Yesterday, I ran for playI gave myself permission to slow down and just enjoy the strength of my legs.  I couldn’t believe the happiness that I felt at the end of my run.  I wasn’t panting, my muscles didn’t hurt, and I truly felt like I could do it all over again.  It was so much FUN.  As sad as it may be, I really think that I needed an elite runner, someone that I respected, to tell me that it was O.K. to slow down and that even good runners have to run slowly sometimes.  I am so glad that I went to Dr. Mark’s presentation and I am really going to commit to bringing play back to my running.  Looking ahead, I’m going to make more of my runs slow runs.  I’ll always have a true love for speed and pushing myself, so I won’t let go of it entirely, but I will make sure that I only push myself because I want to and because it is fun.  It’s time to be a kid again and be injury free.  Who’s with me?

You can read more about Dr. Mark at

Let’s Grow Together questions:

1.  Do you work out and/or run for play?

2.  Do you have any tips for making exercise fun rather than a chore?

3.  How often do you put away your garmin, stop watch, or fit boss?

4.  What are you doing to play this weekend?


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