Fun running

Today marks the fourth annual AHS fun run I’ve participated in. I’ve been running routinely for just over 3 years, and in that time have completed about 160 laps of the University of Waterloo’s Ring Road (which is about 2.6 km).

I keep track of all my run times, and it is fascinating watching myself improve. So far, every year during the fun run I beat my previous best time by a comfortable margin, and I don’t match my fun run time until the following summer. These are my best times for each fun run I’ve done:

Beforehand During
2010 13:53 13:06
2011 12:54 12:29
2012 12:10 11:40
2013 11:24 10:23

I’m a bit amazed I was able to beat my best time by a full minute today; this of course raises the question of why I am able to improve so much during the fun run. Now, there are some physical differences from a typical ring run of mine which might make a difference:

  • The start location is different
  • The lap direction is opposite (for the last 3 years)
  • Instead of the sidewalk, the route is on the road (which is slightly longer, but also flatter)
  • There is a ~10 minute warmup beforehand
  • The run takes place in the morning, rather than the afternoon or evening

I wish I knew how much each of these factors contributed to the difference, but I suspect the main difference is actually psychological: namely, when I’m running with other people I have more motivation to push myself to run harder. Indeed, currently my legs feel noticeably more tired than usual, and I had a similar story last year.

Since running superficially seems like a purely physical activity, the thought that my psychological state has such a large impact on my performance comes as a surprise to me. It also raises the question: what is the optimal psychological state for running, and what can one do to help promote it?