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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