People who enjoy an activity, be it sports or anything else, are the ones who tend to stick with it over the long term. Some people make their practice, if not their lives, a constant struggle. They seem to always be measuring themselves in contrast with some distant ideal, feeling bad about how far they are from it. Then they keep pushing harder and harder, in a tense and stressful way.
It is important to have a goal and work towards it, but this effort has to be balanced with a lighthearted attitude and a constant search for enjoyment. There are always opportunities to make it enjoyable.
One example of it was the first time I did a 16 mile session. Before that most of my training happened on the beach or on South Point Park, and that day I decided to take the streets and run from 1st St to 95th in Miami Beach, then I would do the same way back and that was going to be 16 miles. What I miscalculated is that South Point Park is a very flat, very smooth surface, and the beach is not too bad either. Running on the streets you have to keep switching directions, going up and down curbs, avoiding all kinds of obstacles. The stress on my feet and ancles was so much more intense that by the time I reached 95th St I was in more pain than ever, and returning home was a slow walk until I reached 55th St. At that point the pain was so intense I couldn’t walk really, it was more like a careful and slow limping… and I still had some 4 miles to go. At this point I decided to forget the pace and walk to the beach, and put my feet under the cool ocean water. The soothing effect was amazing. I changed the music in my iPhone to some of my favorite and most uplifting motivational talks, and just walked back by the water, varying my moves and enjoying the amazing view of South Beach under a near full moon. It was still not easy, but much better than insisting on a horribly painful routine on the street. The next day my feet and ancles were more sore than usual, but I was well recovered in just another 24 hours.
We can all work hard and still stay within enjoyment. That 16mile limit that was so hard for me that day is a short distance for me now that I am running 20 miles or more at a time. It was more important to preserve my state of mind than to preserve an arbitrary goal of time or distance for that particular day.