The Pursuit of Running Goals and Lifelong Happiness

Have you ever met someone who’s been running for 20 years or more? Whenever I do, they’re bubbling with life.

Happy Runner

Recently I spoke at the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University. Joining me were ultra legends like Marshall Ulrich, Lisa Smith-Batchen, and Travis Macy.

At dinner one night, we traded stories of adventure, racing, and the inevitable mishaps that happen when you circumnavigate Death Valley or run across the United States (these runners are unreal!).

But what stood out to me – as a “normal” runner who’s never even finished an ultramarathon – was their zest for life. Their happiness, comaraderie, and constant laughter were contagious.

And it made me realize that no matter how old you are, how slow or fast you are, there’s a running adventure for you. 

More important than a single adventure was the constant pursuit of new goals.

Take Lisa Smith-Batchen: she’s attempting to beat the men’s record for a transcontinental run at age 55 (she has to run more than 68 miles per day across the entire United States).

The pursuit of goals is the real reward. That’s what makes runners happy. It’s like Dr. David Horton said at NESS:

The journey is more important than the destination.

That journey – the pursuit aspect of running – is what excites me.

And recently I finished Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit, where he follows the quests of world travelers, entrepreneurs, and athletes.

Chris talks about the types of people that crave quests and adventure:

They spoke with intensity. They were focused on their goals, even if they didn’t immediately make sense to others.

Courage comes through achievement but also through the attempt.

And every passionate runner I meet speaks with intensity. They’re goal-focused, even though many times they fall short of that goal.

But it almost doesn’t matter. The attempt – the pursuit of that goal – is what really matters.

And today I want to encourage you to find your own quest.

My Own Pursuit of Happiness

Jason Running

Your pursuit of happiness may not involve running. But as a lifelong runner (truly, as someone who’s borderline obsessed with running), the sport gives me immense satisfaction and personal enjoyment.

It’s not something I do – it’s a lifestyle. And for nearly two decades, I’ve been pursuing goal after goal:

I’ve raced everything from 200m to the marathon, including multisport events like triathlon and duathlon.

When “normal” races lost their appeal I tried my hand at the steeplechase and surprised myself with a top 10 finish in New England.

After college I continued racing, going after longer races. I even won a Warrior Dash obstacle race.

My first marathon allowed me to run through all five boroughs of New York City. Soon I ran Boston, experiencing the world’s most prestigious marathon and the epic finish on Boylston Street.

Next, I attempted an ultramarathon. Even though I didn’t finish, the training and race experience (in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains) will always be cherished.

I’m happiest exploring a beautiful trail in the Colorado Mountains (here are some of my favorites), with nothing but the sound of a nearby creek to distract me from the thrill of navigating technical single-track.

But my pursuit of various running goals gave me a lot more than just running results:

  • The friends I made in high school through cross country and track are still in my life. In fact, one of them was the best man in my wedding.
  • Running was a huge factor in the college I decided to attend – and Connecticut College was a perfect fit for me.
  • Through running, I met my wife Meaghan, who competed on the women’s team at Conn.

What adventure will running bring me next?

I’m not sure, but I know that running is a never-ending source of happiness. Not only because running itself brings me so much joy, but because the planning and preparation for a new race is constantly exciting.

Looking over everything I’ve done, I can’t help but wonder… What would my life look like if I decided running was too hard and I quit?

Goals Are Scary. But So What?

Pursuit of running goals

Whenever I’ve attempted a new running goal – whether that’s an ultra, obstacle race, or the steeplechase – it’s been scary at first.

Hurdling your first 3-foot tall barrier at 5:00 mile pace (knowing one mistake could destroy your knee) was intimidating. But it got easier.

Climbing a gradient of 10% for 20 minutes at 9,000 feet altitude used to scare me – but now it’s doable.

No matter what seemingly impossible thing I’ve done, I realized soon afterward that most of the fear was perceived, not real.

Chris mentions that risk is perceived and things often turn out better than usual. What once was scary, is now attainable.

When it comes to running, these lessons can’t be more true. New runners are often intimidated by big goals:

  • Running your first marathon seems superhuman
  • Getting that big personal best, whether a sub-25 5k or a half marathon under 1:45, seems years away
  • Qualifying for Boston is impossible, a goal reserved for “real” runners

But your happiness isn’t tied to the goal, it’s tied to the pursuit of that goal.

Even if you fail, you’ll learn what doesn’t work and how you respond to new training strategies. You’ll grow and mature as a runner and discover more about yourself.

The destination is the journey. And there’s nothing wrong with that – indeed, it’s where you have most of the fun!

What Are You Pursuing?

No matter who you are, what collection of personal bests you own, or how many years of training are under your belt, there’s a new running goal for you.

And I know I’m not alone in thinking that this pursuit makes running worthwhile. So many of you shared why you love running that the responses make me emotional!

Erin‘s response hit home for me:

Running is a unicorn pursuit for me. It allows me to chase after my goals, whatever they are, and helps me become a better version of myself which, in turn, allows me to become a better mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend.

If running has helped you become a better version of yourself, give me a big thumbs up!

I want to encourage you to discover more about yourself through running. Ask yourself:

  • What aspect of running truly excites me?
  • How can I nurture that and explore it more deeply?
  • What’s my next pursuit knowing what I really love?

There’s no right answer. We will all have different answers based on our collective experiences and personal tastes.

I know that I’ll never run a 100-mile ultramarathon – it simply doesn’t interest me.

But I may attempt a shorter ultra in the next year or so. Or maybe tackle more obstacle races. Or get into medium-distance trail races.

The beauty of running is that the options are nearly unlimited.

You can chase whatever goal interests the primitive part of your brain that thinks “crazy” stuff like ultras, marathons, OCR’s, or trail races are exciting.

If you’re looking for inspiration before committing to your running quest, you’ll love The Happiness of Pursuit.

Now it’s your turn: what are you pursuing and why? Share your goals in the comments below:

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  1. Andre Niemand says:

    Hi Jason. I am running many, many years. I am 65 and still going strong. I did 5 comrades ultra marathons. Believe me it was the best of the best memories I have. You must try it at least once. Regards, like your articles.

  2. Howard Elakman says:

    I hit 86 last August 17. I have completed 36 marathons and untold number of half marathons. The last Boston I did was the 100th. I am a certified running coach (RRCA & USATF). I do not charge for my coaching. I just get my kicks from getting more people interested in running. I have managed to travel to many places in the USA & Europe to run various places. I do not care for races that mix up other exercises with running. I live in south Florida and enjoy running along A1A where I can see the ocean and and take advantage of all year great weather. Although I do more walking than running now I still get in 25 to 40 miles every week. At the gym i run in the water. The 50 yard lane that goes fro 3 ft. at each en to 4.6 ft. in the middle is great for practicing the forward lean which is a technique that I encourage my students to practice. RUNNERS LIVE LONGER is a saying that I believe is true.

    • Jeanne Benson says:

      You are an inspiration! I took up running at the age of 61 after my doctor told me I needed something to get past the grief of my husband’s death. Lots of people at my senior center think I am nuts to have chosen running. They keep telling me that I am too old for this. I have now participated in several 5K’s (even placed 1st in my age group this spring in a race) & did the Rock-n-Roll’s 10K last year. Training now to do their 10K this December. I am now 63.5 years young & loving every minute that I get to run. Hope to still be running in my 80’s!

  3. Jim Delfino says:

    No matter how “ready” I feel, how in need of a break, what I dread most about my marathon two weeks out is the end of the pursuit. It’s been a long hot summer with lots of miles but the training plan has served me well. This is my comeback following an 11 month layoff and two missed marathons due to injury. That I’ve returned with gusto and have gotten back to my normal has me satisfied. No matter my time, no matter the success of my quest for another BQ, that I’ve been able to pursue this goal has been enough!

  4. I’ve run many half-marathons, but I want to complete a marathon!

  5. Trying to train for first marathon.

  6. Amit srivastava says:

    I am hoping to qualify for boston marathon in the next two years. . The first step to that being running a 4 hr marathon in January 2016…. why?… i just like achieving near impossible goals in life… slowly grinding them Down piece by piece

  7. Shawn the Plumber says:

    I want to run 2 marathons in one weekend next spring.

  8. Great post Jason, the pursuit of goals, no matter how humble is everything. Regardless of distance, there are always goals. In the past, I used to do more distance running, and I had set myself the goal of running increasing distances up to the marathon (which I completed in 2008).

    Today, I do a lot less distance running, focusing more on sprints, but that hasn’t chased my pursuit of goals. On my list now are: Break 25 minutes (5 min/km) in a 5k run on November 1, break 60 seconds in the 400m by the end of the summer season (end of March) and break 13 seconds in the 100m by March.

    Come cross country season next April, I will be doing a lot of middle distance runs and the occasional longer one. One goal I can already identify from this year is breaking 14 minutes for 3km (best so far is 14:17).

    And one more distance goal is related to a 24 hour charity walk that I do each May. My goal for this year was to walk over 100km. I managed just on 95km, which was still 14km further than last year. Next year, that 100km goal is in my sights again. The walk is non competitive, but I love chasing goals. 🙂

  9. Jo-an Cox says:

    For 10 years, I volunteered at the Houston Marathon, in the cold of January. Each year, I’d wonder, why can’t I do that? I’d love to complete a marathon…

    The why nots were plentiful. Single mom, hi-tech hi-pressure job, no bandwidth for anything more than the casual 3 miles 3 times a week.

    Then life happens. Cancer. Whoa, that stops you in your tracks. As I recovered from treatments, I walked. And walked. And when a friend was diagnosed also with nasty-crap cancer, I wondered why aren’t I running?

    So I run. And now, after retiring, at age 59, I have my sights set on a marathon. My half is in January, and though it’s still weeks away, I have no doubt I will nail it. Just as I did with my first 5k, and 10k.

    So I run for cancer, and old farts like me, who love the process, the steps, of running. I have been blessed in so many ways, I must leave it all on the table in trying.


  10. My goal this year is to run a half marathon. I originally was training for it this summer and injured my foot. I am finally back in training.
    I started running a few years ago. My dad inspired me to run. He died and running helped me get through it. I was never a runner until recently. I have ran 5k’s and a 10k. This year I wanted to run a half marathon before I turned 45. Well now it’s by the end of the year.
    Running has helped me push through grief, anger, and made me a better person. I let everything go when I am running. It’s “me” time. I’ve continued to push myself to keep going.
    I am just glad I’ve found an outlet that is healthy and makes me a better person.

  11. Eric Berhow says:

    I’m fairly new to running, roughly 2 years in. I just finished my first half marathon a week ago. I’m 36 now and hope to have a marathon under my belt by 38. The idea of doing a duathlon and a triathlon is really exciting too. Not sure on those yet. 🙂

  12. With running I always want to see how far I’m willing to push my limits and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I exceed my expectations. It always gets my day started or ended on a positive.

  13. Jeanne Benson says:

    I love to run outdoors in nature instead of on streets or tracks. So I have decided to start doing more trail runs & possibly participate in some trail races. Now, having said that, I did do a trail run this past weekend in a state park. Absolutely beautiful place. But, I did do a face-plant when the toe of my left foot encountered an immovable rock! Got pretty banged up; knees are black & blue & the right arm below the elbow was gouged & skinned up pretty good by some other rocks! So I’m thinking, “At 63, should I be pursuing this goal?” Yep, I may fall down a lot but I’ll only fail if I don’t get up. Like Jo-An Cox, I am a 2 time cancer survivor. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger! Come on rocks, I’m ready to take you on again!!

  14. I’ve been an inconsistent runner for the past 8 years, completing 3 marathons but now since becoming a mom running has changed for me. I no longer want to just finish races I want to improve. So my goal is to get my half marathon pr to under 2:00 and keep dropping minutes to see if I could win a race…

  15. I’ve been running for about 5 years now,but I still feel like a newbie. I PR’d a few years ago w/a 2:01:32 half marathon at the ripe old age of 55. I’ve been trying to break 2 hours ever since. My last few races have been substantially slower, and it’s been really frustrating. I’ve lost a lot of my confidence. So I’ve gone back to square one, with base training and a speed workout every week. Basically, I’m trying to get my running mojo back and learning to enjoy running just for the fun of it. I’m running more slowly than ever, trying to keep the heart rate in the aerobic training zone, and actually like it! Even though I’m very competitive by nature, I’m trying to just trust the training and accept what results I get. The next race is in November, and hoping to get below 2:08 as my “bronze goal”, below 2:05 as my “silver goal” and a new PR as my “golden goal.” The “platinum goal” is to know that I’ve run my best race, and to be happy with the result, no matter what the numberis.


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