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The 7 Stages of Running

Non-runners will sometimes ask me why I run. I try to keep my answer short because there are far too many reasons. I have lost track of many of them anyway. There is another question though that I get asked much less often which has more to do with why I run than anything else and that is the question of how I stay motivated. These 7 Stages of Running attempt to answer both of these questions. Many runners will likely find their reasons for running in one or any combination of these 7 stages. 

1. The Stage of Need. 
This involves release of stress or wanting to get in better shape, to feel better or to have more energy. There is an inherent need to exercise in all of us, to want to get a sense of balance from sitting all day at work, to get some fresh air, etc. Kicking a ball or playing a sport fulfills this need.


2. The Stage of Habit.
This is the first crucial phase. Novice runners have difficulty pulling through this level. The body has to get used to the discomfort of endurance training. In onset you have to deal with all sorts of nagging injuries which requires finding the right balance between rest and continuing to run.
Unfortunately, the aches and pains may linger on for a while which causes many runners to want to quit. This stage may take 3 to 6 months of regular training to endure. You learn to identify between good pain and bad pain. Pain from the muscles, the lungs, the entire body is simply the discomfort related to exercise. Bad pain usually comes from within the joints, such as the knees, shin, or bottom of the feet. Following my winter break stage 2 reminds me of the adaptation period needed to lay the foundation for higher weekly mileage later on and for race preparation.

3. The Stage of Contentment.
With the body weighed down by the seemingly endlessness of accumulated miles there comes a moment when suddenly you experience a moment of bliss, if only briefly. Your aches disappear and you recovery quicker after each run. What used to seem like a very long and tiring run now appears light and smooth. Your stride becomes  effortless. Your weekly mileage doubles or triples. This is the phase when you realize that your hard work has paid off. You feel proud, joy, and happy to have reached an important milestone. You are ready to tackle any obstacle that comes your way.

4. The Stage of Wanting a Challenge. 
You determine to measure your speed and endurance by competing in a race against yourself or against others. Your goal may be to outrun your competitors. Or the purpose may be to push your own limits to see how far you can go on your own solo run and to set a new PR (personal record).
By testing yourself and setting new goals you stay motivated to continuously train more and workout harder.  You experience the thrill of expanding your limits of speed and distance. You set higher standards of achievement by competing in ever more challenging races. 

5. The Stage of Passion. 
This is the phase when your running habits are ingrained in your daily routine. You would rather not give up on your training because it is giving
you so much satisfaction. You know you are in this phase because you are continuously exploring new horizons and you simply cannot give up. There is always new ground to conquer while old fears are set aside. Wanting to continuously push your limits may give others the impression that you are addicted to running. The truth is why stop something that is so satisfying? 

6. The Stage of Acceptance. 
This is the moment when you are faced with the inevitable. No matter how hard you try your physical conditioning does not improve. You can no longer meet expectations. Your PR resides in the distant past. Forget about the next race and finishing on top. The limits of what you can physically (and mentally) accomplish has already been reached. Some try to push it and delay the decline in speed and stamina that comes with age or many years of training. Then comes the deterioration of health. Joints can no longer withstand the workouts which long ago seemed so easy to recover. 
Now is the time to rebalance expectations. Time to find a new cause or relationship with the sport? If it isn’t about trying to keep improving performance
or speed then what? This is the second crucial phase, to accept our own decline. Running no longer is as all encompassing as it once was. 

7. The Stage of Resignation. 
Resigning yourself to the inevitable will inevitably lead you to the phase of the nomad who roams about aimlessly. Your running is no longer about
accomplishment, meeting expectations, or following a training schedule. You run for the run itself. The decision is to leave the watch and heart rate monitor at home. Counting laps on a track, counting splits, or keeping a log of weekly mileage is no longer necessary. Setting goals and looking forward to the next event while trying to push your limit lies in the past. You go out to run as long as your legs can still support you. 


You can be open to the effect that running has had on you whether it is joy or sadness, fear or courage, stress or cheerfulness. Suddenly you feel free and no longer bound by duty or obligation, schedule, stopwatch or whatever. This is the second phase of euphoria. You experience bliss. I call this running heaven.


We experience these phases at different points in our running career. We can also vacillate between each one. There is no fixed point, no continuum. It is about finding balance within each phase while letting it run its course. The point here is that we may experience each of these phases at some point in our lives while also looking back at each phase as a building block for the next. Running heaven or bliss is usually just a moment, a peak experience, as it is called, which is fleeting and occurs rarely which compels one to chase down again and again. 


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