When working out, every individual has a protocol they tend to follow. For some, they’ll contemplate how to layer for their workout, followed by some light stretching in preparation for movement to come, finishing up with a cool down and a quick meal. Others will toss on whatever clothes are nearest to their running shoes, throw in a pair of headphones, and attempt to get the workout over with as soon as possible .
I have a common regiment I tend to follow before running. First, I will change into my running gear while visualizing what I want to accomplish during that run. From there, I’ll move on to some light plyometric exercises and stretches, finally advancing into my warm-up. Once I have finished my workout, I’ll cool down with a few miles, run some 100m strides, work in some deep stretching and core exercises, then end with a reflection of what I achieved and could have done better during my workout.
Having a ritual is essential to any workout plan because it creates expectations for yourself. When disrupted, the workout can feel a bit lost. Sometimes these disruptions happen when you’re on a tight schedule, or by forgetting to do a few stretches (you’ll know the latter, because later in the day you will sure be feeling those muscles).
Yet, if the ritual is not followed exactly as it always is, it’s not the end of the world. If you approach each workout in the same, specific way, it is going to become monotonous in time. Most regimented activities in life are predictable. Throwing some spontaneity into the mix can help to keep things feeling fresh.
It can become difficult to find where to place that spontaneity, especially when you become so accustomed to doing an activity in a particular way, where actions soon become muscle memory (wake up, clamber to the kitchen, start up the electric kettle, begin preparing oatmeal while the kettle heats up, etc.). If the habit works, why change it?
Minute alterations within the day can make quick, noticeable changes for the better. Feeling as if you’re too concentrated on your pace while running? Remove your watch for that run. Allow yourself to listen to your body’s responses rather than the clock. Getting sick of running the same roads or trails? Get off the trail. Search for some rougher terrain, particularly a steep hill that you’ll need to scramble up.
One of these joyful opportunities presented itself to me recently. After stumbling out of a cafe the other night, I found that the conditions outside were serene. Wet leaves coated the streets, the air was crisp to the throat, and street lamps were illuminating the damp pavement and brick-tiled sidewalks. Rather than walk the half mile back to my car, I decided to jog. With jeans wrapped tight to my legs, raincoat rustling around my waist, and a stack of books tucked beneath my armpit, I started off with one brisk stride after another. Once arriving at my car, I tossed my books inside, turned on my heel, and ran another two miles around the city. A smile beamed across my face, radiating beneath the streetlights, as I slid around parked cars and caught my reflection in the puddles that I bound over.
Did I expect to go for a run that evening? No. Would I have, on a regular day, gone for a jog in jeans, along with a stack of library books tucked under my arms? No (yes, if a pack of dogs began chasing me. An absolute yes if a group of 1950s greasers began chasing me down the street while screaming, “Get back here you melvin!”). But that was the excitement of it. The joy came from the pure spontaneity of the present. The conditions were right and I felt that it would have been a waste to have not have taken advantage of the night. Moments like these that remind me why I run – for the artless elation of free, effortless motion.