Before we can talk about how to simplify our running, we should first figure out exactly what we are working with.

run: verb \ˈrən\

to go faster than a walk

Sounds easy enough.  So how do we define walking?

walk:  verb\ˈwolk\

to move along on foot : advance by steps

Running:  to move quickly on foot.  Damn that seems simple.

So why do we complicate it with drills, expensive technology, fancy apparel, and training plan after training plan?  To be more effective, efficient, and faster, of course.

But what if I told you that maybe taking a simpler approach would actually make you a stronger runner?

Too often we forget how simple running really is.  Moving faster than a walk.  Propelling yourself forward.  It is so primal, so intuitive.

Anton Krupicka, an ultramarathon hero of mine, says it really well in this video from New Balance.

Running ultimately distills life down to it’s basic elements, and that I think is really valuable experience.  Especially this day in age, where life can be pretty complicated.  When I’m out running, everything is simple, I’m totally living in the moment.  It makes sence.  It is a very pure experience.

How exactly do we get back down to those basic elements when we are so used to complicated running?

Just a few months ago I couldn’t leave for a run without GPS signal.  It was like I felt lost without my watch.  Then one day, as I stood out in the warm summer rain, impatiently waiting for the signal to pick up, I realized how ridiculous this was.  I wasn’t training for anything in particular.  I wasn’t going out for a super long run I wanted to track.  I realized that I had lost all simplicity and purity about my running, and somehow what used to be an escape from the day had turned into a complicated ritual I couldn’t let go of.

It was that day that I went back inside, left the Garmin behind, and went out for nothing more than a simple run.  Below I outline 3 easy rules I followed to lose all the hoopla and return to simple running, plus a challenge for you to join me.

1) Quit Running for Time:

The easiest way to measure improvement when it comes to running is with time and pace.  It is only natural that most runners focus heavily on their splits, checking average paces, and tracking how long it took them to complete their workout or race.

When trying to run simpler, the first step is to lose that focus all together.  If we are constantly worried about how fast we are moving, we will forget to focus on what matters like form, breath, and being present in the moment.  The first step to running simple is to adjust that way of thinking and run for the sake of running.

Go out for a run with no set distance or pace in mind.  Maybe you have a loose route to follow, but run to feel and when you feel like turning around, turn around.  Adjust your pace to how you feel in that moment.  Listen to your legs and lungs, and speed up or slow down because of what they are telling you, not because of what numbers are ticking away on the watch.

2) Lose the Extra Gadgets: 

For thousands of years humans have run without ipods and GPS watches.   Nowadays you see them on just about everyone.  You could credit that to progress, and in many ways you would be right.  But by losing all of that stuff, we are able to refocus on what we are actually trying to do.

Music can serve as a great distraction when you are running, which is great if you are cranking out super long miles or pushing yourself hard through a tempo run.  When you are running simple, you aren’t trying to distract yourself from the movement, but instead focusing on that very movement.

When you step back and think about it, it is kind of amazing how we have taken something so basic as running and filled it with $300 gadgets.  We tweet from every milepost, film our races, and have something pumping in our ears at all times.  Many times I’m guilty of these things, and you might be too, but by disconnecting with the outside world, we are able to reconnect to our running and our selves.

Leave the iPhone, GPS, and camera at home.  Leave the house with the intention of connecting to your repetitive movement instead of your friends.

3) Focus on Form and Breath: 

Instead of distracting ourselves with expensive gadgets, being present and focusing on the run will both give you the sense of living in that moment and provide that needed distraction of its own.

Count the steps you take between breaths and try to breathe in a pattern.  For example, I typically inhale for 4 strides and exhale for 4 strides.  This simple pattern helps to regulate my heart rate and speed, and provides a simple place for my mind to focus throughout the run.

When you free yourself from all the gadgets and music, you free yourself to focus on your running form.  Proper form is the single most important guard against injury, and something that most runners focus on the least.  Instead of fancy shoes, compression socks, and crazy post run rituals, we should be returning to the basics of running and look at how exactly we are doing it.

As the good folks at put it,

Some believe we don’t need to learn how to run because it comes naturally to our bodies. Unfortunately, nearly 70% of runners have to stop running each year due to injury, indicating we have something to learn after all.

By focusing back on the basics of running, you will automatically become a stronger runner.

The Run Simpler Challenge:

I have seen trends on Facebook and Twitter promoting “Watchless Wednesday” and other challenges like that.  That kind of approach can be great and can provide a nice mix in an otherwise typical running week.

But to really see the benefits of simple running, and to really begin to understand this type of running philosophy, you really need to dive in head first. That is what I did about 8 weeks ago, and so far there is no sign of going back.

The next time you are in between train cycles or just not training for anything at all, I encourage you to take what I’m calling the Run Simple Challenge.  For 2-4 weeks, commit to running simple.  Lose the gadgets and training schedule, and spend your run focusing on the moment, breath, form, and reconnecting to that pure movement.

It might feel awkward for the first week or so, but I guarantee that before long your running will feel more natural than ever.

Have you already taken this type of approach?  Do you think that it would feel good to you?

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “A Simple Approach to Running

  1. I love your “Run Simple” challenge. I’ve been running without a watch on all of my training runs for several months. I’ve been enjoying the birdsongs…the bright full moon…the cold air. And here’s something I did not expect:

    I’ve been getting FASTER each week when I race!

    Who expected that?

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