Airplane arms or you’re doing it wrong.
Original publication date: Dec. 2022
The last few months have been far from ideal for me when it comes to running and my career. In 2022, I have been forced to pull out of more races than I have made it to the start line for. Coming from 2021 where I raced more than 15 times this year has been quite the contrast. I have only raced 3 times this year (technically 4 if you count the random local trail race I did back in August) and that’s all I will race this calendar season. I am lucky in that so far in my running career I have not been injury prone and have managed to have very few unplanned breaks in training over the last 7 years. This year, however, has tested my mind and body in many new ways. I have spent the majority of this year injured, or at least in a great deal of pain. I probably could count on two hands the number of runs I have had in 2022 where I was not in pain. And although much of this time the pain was not so severe that it prevented me from running altogether, it was still there lurking in the shadows. While it may be true that some (small) part of these aches and pains are associated with the process of getting older I also think that much of the chronic pain that I was feeling was due to my inability to give my body the break that it so needed. Now that I have made the very tough decision to bow out of World Champs and finally take a break, I have had a lot of time to think about what I want out of this whole running thing and what it means to me.
I haven’t run a single step in nearly 2 weeks which feels like an eternity. I haven’t cross trained or biked either, except for a few bikram yoga sessions and walks around the neighborhood. While it has been difficult, this has been a true break and one that I am proud of for finally taking. It has made me realize that what I really miss about running and movement in general, is the release that it brings me, the places that it takes me, and the people that I have the opportunity to meet and learn from.
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you don’t have the sudden uncontrollable urge to do airplane arms while you are running then you are doing it wrong. Personally, this feeling is much easier to achieve while trail running but I have felt this way on the occasional road run too. It is my personal philosophy that running is something that I do, first and foremost, because it brings me a great deal of joy. While it is also my job, and I am forever grateful that my job can bring me joy, I have recognized for some time now that I need to prioritize my joy with running or else I won’t be very successful in the sport. When it comes to making decisions about my running career I have learned to heavily lean on the outcomes that will bring me the most joy. I recently heard some friends of mine talk about following something akin to a “fun compass”; a compass that points you towards your true north, that being your true joy.
There are a lot of perspectives you could take when trying to make decisions about your career or life. You might choose to prioritize the desires from your friends and family, you might have a boss or mentor whose opinion matters the most to you, or there might be some expectations that sway your decision. I do consider, and probably over-consider, all of those perspectives but what I keep coming back to is my “fun compass”. In the past when I have let go of all other expectations and chosen to do what sounded “fun”, or what I thought would bring me the most joy, I have 100% of the time felt that it was the right decision and one that brought me a lot of success. By following this fun compass and chasing true joy I have found that uncontrollable urges to do airplane arms are much easier to come by.
Have you ever been running and felt so carefree and joyous with the present moment that you had the uncontrollable urge to do airplane arms?
“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 is 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.