Permission to not achieve

During the last 5 months I was always preparing for a race. I wasn’t fast enough to run competitively (yet?) so I raced against myself, but training was serious and numbers-driven. Room for playing around was limited, as I wanted to hit a certain number of kms weekly and do specific speed workouts to up my VO2max in preparation for the coming race.

This kind of deliberate training turned out challenging at times, and there was pressure on most runs. Numbers had to be hit, certain thresholds had to be reached. Meanwhile, especially at the events, you encounter inspiration for new challenges (trails! a 100k! point-to-points! headlight night runs!). But a tight planning with calculated workouts and recoveries doesn’t allow for exploring those freshly acquired dreams. After finishing the backyard ultra in October I wasn’t scared to attempt my first 100k anymore, and even felt a longing for it. But a 100k didn’t fit in the recovery scheme required to run a strong 6-hour race the following month. And only 4 weeks after that I’d try to finish a marathon within 2h55… That 100k-dream would have to wait.

You always miss the thing you don’t have. In this case it was room for just following curiosity without any pressure to perform. I sometimes found myself thinking ‘I would love to spend some time exploring XYZ’. For the first time I experienced a conflict between goals and dreams. I was enthusiastic about these goals and I’d set them myself, but the resulting scheme didn’t allow for spontaneous big dreams. What entices you today may not spark the same fire later in the process. Sometimes you plan months into the future. But during those same months you grow and change as a human being. Your dreams can change and so can your limits, leading to different needs and interests. You can even outgrow your own dreams. Without enough freedom to move, your new needs cannot be answered and you can deprive yourself of what would serve you most. The last months have taught me that as a human you need room to act on new unforeseen dreams and needs.

Training with discipline to chase goals works well for me. Same goes for a pressure to perform. Not planning a next event that I’d have to seriously train for felt unnatural to me. But that would mean falling for the same trap and rejecting the lesson… There had to be some free time, not just as a release valve, but to train guided by curiosity and adventure instead of pressure to improve. And by now I hope you’ve picked up that this freedom to move is required in every area in life, whether it’s about filling your working days to the brim or cramming every weekend with activities, or fill in the blank.

But why this long essay to convince myself to take some time off to have fun? Isn’t this just a simple decision to make? Why the struggle? I think many people in our society feel a constant pressure to always achieve, to be productive every waking hour. Not just at our jobs or during training, but even in our hobbies (how many books have you read this year? have your cooking skills improved lately? has your game ranking grown compared to your friends?). Maybe this pressure is fed by social media, where we constantly compare our lives and success to others.

It’s clear I certainly feel pressure. And if I’d take some time off, feelings of doubt or guilt would probably resurface: can I afford this luxury of free time? But in a life of constant productivity, the balance is off. Or actually I don’t believe in the concept of balance, but rather in a pendulum that sometimes swings too far and needs a push back in the opposite direction. But can you decide to give it that push, just like that? Who gave you permission? And if no one yet, at what committee can you request to be granted that permission?

Immediately this quote by mentor Rob Bell came to mind: we are the committee. You only need permission from yourself. And so, just before that last race, I filed my request at the committee. And as the committee, I then officially granted myself permission to run, train or do whatever I would feel like, without having to achieve anything whatsoever. For a full month. Even if those doubts would resurface. Of course this is a ridiculous thing to do. But if that’s what’s needed to break the pattern, I don’t care. So half tongue in cheek, half dead-serious, I printed an official Permission Slip and placed it on the wall, reminding me that January was meant to just follow my heart and enjoy.

A deeply ingrained thought pattern. A strange and ridiculous trick to break it. Maybe you’ve got your own habits to fight. No matter how hard, I bet you can find your own creative trick to change them. What change did this month bring me? More fun, less worrying, and a feeling of being recharged. Oh, and these:

-an adventurous 73k run to a birthday party
-I ran (and won) my first 100 miler!
-a guided run by two friends showing their local forest trails in the snow
-first time: marathon in <3h!
-first ‘runabout’: ran to another city, then took a train back
-lots of forest and nature


-Rob Bell in Robcast episode 170: We are the committee (Spotify, Podbean. Freeing, recommended listening). He says the quote came from the movie Chariots of fire, but I haven’t seen it myself.

-Some additional thoughts on the concept of permission slips. Dr Northrup focusses on external permission while I struggled with internal, but worth the read: How to give yourself a permission slip

Upcoming races:

24hour National Championship
Deventer, The Netherlands
July 13, 2024

Blog archive:

The dip
Sept 13, 2023

July 16, 2023

The people that surround you
June 17, 2023

The beauty of racing
Apr 26, 2023

Ready, fire, aim
Apr 4, 2023

Race prep
Mar 12, 2023

Thinking too small
Feb 20, 2023

Permission to not achieve
Feb 1, 2023

Why I run
Jan 1, 2023



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One response to “Permission to not achieve”

  1. Matthias DC Avatar
    Matthias DC

    Mooi gezegd !
    En veel dingen waar ik mezelf wel in herken !

    Knap hoe je dit blijft doen

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