"Airplane arms or you're doing it wrong."
This saying popped into my head one day as I was flowing along on some beautiful Montana trails. It was July, and if you know anything about Montana, July is one of the best months of the year. It's warm and the flowers are coming out of their long winter slumber but there is still a crispness to the air. 90% of my morning runs in July in Montana are perfect running weather; you start off cool and finish feeling refreshed but not too warm.
When I was running that day in July, I remember thinking that the weather was perfect, I was feeling great on the run, and things really couldn't be much better. There was no place I would rather be than running on that trail, at that moment, doing airplane arms. If you haven’t tried doing airplane arms while you are running then I would highly recommend this experience to you.
To do airplane arms right, stretch your arms straight out from your sides and run for the joy of it, unencumbered, like a little kid on the playground. It might feel a little silly at first, but that’s the point! This one silly movement has the ability to transport you to a place of play and joy by turning what might have been just an ordinary run into something extraordinary. Most adults, myself included, tend to lose their sense of play and innate joy that often accompany many of our favorite activities as children. Running and exercise does provide us with many benefits that help to improve our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Oftentimes, people use running and exercise as a way to destress and as a time for self-care during the day. Even as a professional runner, running is both my job and a way for me to destress and take on the world with a clearer mind and healthier body. However, if my personal experience is anything like yours, then I would be willing to bet that it takes deliberate intentions to find joy in some runs. Running everyday can easily start to feel like a chore and just another mundane activity; just another box to check; just going through the motions of life. But I think I have found a way out of that cycle. I believe that the principles of airplane arms are the way out of just going through the motions of life and the way to start actually living life.
By setting intentions for our runs to be full of joy and play, we can deliberately practice doing things during our runs to achieve this. I have heard of people smiling while they are running which is effective in both increasing their joy and decreasing their feelings of perceived effort. Similar to smiling, I think that doing airplane arms is another great little mind trick to gently remind ourselves that although we might be serious and focused in our training it can also bring us joy and play if we make sure to look for it.
Now for the really philosophical part… I have come to believe that if I do not have the unfettered and compulsive urge to do airplane arms at least once every run, then I am doing it wrong. I take this to mean that if I do not experience a childlike sense of joy or play each day that I have the opportunity to go for a run then I am not running right. And this is a metaphor that I have started to apply to my life outside of running as well. We only have one lifetime on this earth so I want to make sure that mine is full of hard work but also experiences of joy and play no matter how old I get. I have learned that if I want to make sure that the compulsive airplane arms of joy feeling bubbles up in me each run, then I need to cultivate a practice of gratitude. Back on that perfect day in July, running through the mountains of Montana, I found myself being overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for my ability to run and experience that kind of beauty. This is the key. No matter how I feel, what the weather might be, or where I might be running, I can always find gratitude in a moment and that is the key to airplane arms.
So, next time you are out for a run I hope you can find a moment or two of gratitude and give airplane arms a go. After a few times with some, I hope that the airplane arms might also find you and happen out of sheer compulsion for your gratitude, joy, and play in the moment. And remember, whether in running or in life, airplane arms or you’re doing it wrong.
Looking to embody the airplane arms sentiment? Check out this cool merch I made with Gone For a Run: