Do you ever fixate on the numbers flashing on your watch or the distance you've covered during your run? As an experienced runner, those numbers matter. They tell you whether you've run far enough and fast enough to make progress toward your goals. Reaching your fitness and performance goals and milestones can be incredibly rewarding, and also a source of pressure. 

Have you ever felt a twinge of disappointment when you don't meet your mileage or pace goals? When was the last time you went for a run simply for fun? Is there any space for running simply for fun when you always have another goal to pursue or race to train for?

At Run Wild Retreats, we invite women to rediscover the pure joy of running, where happiness outweighs the pursuit of metrics and performance. That's because the connection between running and happiness goes deeper that you might think. 

It's more about smiles than miles

Women who typically run solo are often surprised at what it's like to spend a week running with others, even though they just met! They often remark at just how easy it is to make connections after just one or two runs together at the start of a retreat. What they're experiencing is not just imagined, but rather, part of a physiological shift that sports psychologists say can boost your running performance without requiring more effort.

And this performance-enhancement is especially effective when you not only run alongside other people, but engage with and support them. “Anything that helps you feel more connected to other people will boost your mood and performance,” says Nicole Detling, sports psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Utah.

Studies have shown that when you have a conversation or share words of encouragement with another runner, you stimulate the release of feel-good hormones in your body, such as dopamine, which increases motivation and focus, and serotonin, which boosts your mood.

Liz Arnold, a seasoned retreat leader, shares a story about about happiness and running from the Canadian Rockies Trail Running + Wellness Retreats that takes place each July. The top of a hill climb led the group of runners to a glorious aqua-blue lake. Without hesitation, everyone took off their shoes to frolic in the refreshingly icy cold waters. “One woman who recently lost her father held my hand and laughed so purely," says retreat leader Liz. "It was the time she'd laughed in in months. We just stood there, feeling the cold water swirl around our ankles and toes."

"We all dunked completely underwater—soaking our hair, lips moist with the taste of melted glacier ice, splashing and kicking and recollecting days of childhood when we could be so carefree.”

Canadian Rockies trail running retreat

Happiness is the path, not the outcome

Many runners have felt that endorphin high that can come from a rewarding run; is that the "joy" that we're talking about? We believe that there's much more to running than a momentary high. For some of the women we meet around the world, running is a pathway from oppression and servitude to empowerment and independence. 

Take Nepalese runner Mira Rai, for example, who had a typical childhood in which her education was not a priority and she was expected to work in the home. When, at age 15, she was given the opportunity to join the Nepalese army, she accepted the opportunity, hoping it would lead her to more independence and autonomy. As a young girl, she had no other options available.

 But after the army, when she discovered her innate talent for trail ultrarunning and began competing in races around the world, she became known as "the girl who runs on happiness." 

She stood out not only for her racing success, but for the incredible joy that seemed to fuel every step she took. Mira embodies the notion that being a great runner doesn't make you happy, rather, happiness is the path to being a great runner. 

At the Nepal Trail Running + Wellness Retreat each October, in which Mira Rai runs with our retreat participants, she shares how she chose to run from joy rather than bitterness about her lost childhood. She talks about becoming a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and the creation of her non-profit, the Mira Rai Foundation.

Joy As the New Metric for Running Success

Some runners feel they need to always have another race on the calendar to keep them motivated or to feel that their running has purpose. Certainly having a goal to train for can be a great incentive to run consistently. And yet, other times it's not enough to overcome the feeling of stagnation that can arise when training becomes routine or starts to feel like a chore or obligation. 

And when you already have so many demands on your time an energy, prioritizing running just doesn't seem possible. For these runners, including enjoyment as a metric for running can help alleviate that struggle and reinvigorate your training. Sure you love running, but that doesn't mean it's easy to run consistently. 

When your running performance is tightly connected to your self-worth, it creates a great deal of pressure to perform to your own expectations and standards. Loosen the pressure of those expectations by making room for spontaneity and play throughout a run.

Maybe that means taking a new running route, exploring a new area, running with a new club or joining your local running store's runner meetup. Maybe it means stopping mid run to sit on a rock next to a peaceful lake and enjoy the silence and peace of the moment.

Maybe it means using the Swedish training technique known as "fartlek" which is an unstructured mix of faster and slower-paced running segments. You play around with various run paces, such as accelerating between two power poles or a gradual downhill, while slowing to a very easy, relaxed pace for several minutes before resuming your "normal" run pace. This kind of spontaneous variety can be not only mentally refreshing, but also boost your fitness without adding any more time or distance to your existing routine. 

Run Wild Retreats is offering a number of retreats around theme of "joy as the new running metric" including those linked below. 

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