Love Hurts: Running Blues and Letting Go

Nothing but ocean all around: a great time for real, honest self-examination

 

I apologize if I’m starting to sound like a broken record. I’ve been beating the topic of my running rut to death lately, and I’m sure you’re wondering how this post is going to be any different than the other ones I’ve written as I scheme up ways to pull myself out of Slumpville and reclaim my running mojo.

The difference now is that I had a lot of time to think during this past week of vacation – really think – about my running, training, and goals but more importantly, about myself as a runner and the direction I’ve been headed lately.

The ship pushed off from land Saturday afternoon and not even an hour later we were surrounded on all sides by miles and miles of uniform blue ocean, as far as the eye could see. Not a building or a speck of earth in sight. With all the noise of life as usual out of sight and out of mind, I found myself alone for the first time with so many of my demons and was forced to see myself with new eyes, as if the unending miles of the Atlantic were like a giant mirror all around me.

Neverending pressure, beating myself up, obsessing over minute workout details, and feeling like I’m never good enough. Jealousy, competitiveness, never giving myself a break from comparing myself to others. Spinning myself deeper and deeper into frustration, aimlessness, and unhappiness and further away from a place of love and fulfillment.

And, lately: being dominated by excuses and procrastination, pushing hard when I know it’s counterproductive, feeling more out of shape every week.

All of these monsters stared back at me as I watched the waves of the Atlantic gently bob up and down all the way to the horizon. But this time I finally felt the urgency of it, I finally realized with uncompromising clarity: I can’t go on like this. I need to do something. I need to change.

 

This is not where I wanted to be right now. I thought I’d be able to capitalize on the fitness gains I worked so hard for this Spring. But it’s not Spring anymore: life has happened and I am not in the same situation I was a few months ago. Grandma’s Marathon is over and it’s time for me to stop living in the past and start focusing on what’s going on now. I’ve made losses in my fitness since June 20. Some of them are my own doing, while some of them are the inevitable result of life and the fact that progress is not linear. It’s become obvious that the goals I set for this fall and dreamed about achieving while I was at my peak this Spring are just not going to happen. I’m not as good as I thought I was – and ooooooh boy do those harshly true words sting. There is a time for everything, and it’s becoming clearer every day that this season is not my time for exciting improvements and big gains. It isn’t meant to be right now, and the more I fight that reality, the more I will continue to regress.

I finally have to face the truth that the right thing to do now is let go of everything – my time goals, my obsession with getting faster, my ravenous desire for progress and improvement. I need to go back to square one and spend the next 10 weeks rebuilding, both physically (getting my strength and fitness back) and spiritually (re-learning to love running for its own sake and practicing gratitude and appreciation). Like it or not, my best option now is to focus on simply finishing this marathon strong. It’s very possible that the best I can hope for this time is that I set myself up to do better next time.

And you know what? I hate this right now. It hurts. It’s frustrating. It’s humbling. It makes me feel sad, mad, embarrassed, stupid, and weak. It makes me want to quit. It makes me feel like a failure.

But I can feel that something new is beginning. Despite the fact that I am tempted to give up on this marathon pretty much every single day, here I am and I still haven’t given up. I have to believe that my little Summer of Setback is happening for a reason, unclear as that reason may be right now.

I question all the running goals I thought I ever wanted now. I thought I wanted to qualify for Boston more than anything. And now I’m wondering if it’s worth it, if the dogged devotion to the equation of BQ=success is costing me far more than its worth. I am not saying I’m giving up on it. But I can’t help but admire the fact that for the first time, I find myself challenging something I never thought I would question instead of just taking it as an absolute truth and I have to say, it is refreshing and empowering.

The inevitable extension of these changes in my running is that it’s time for me to go down a new path with my blogging as well. There won’t be many more traditional weekly training recaps. There will not be any more mentions of what paces I’m running at or how many miles I’m logging every single week. Of course, I will still blog about running. It is a part of my life, and a part of me. It always will be. But I feel compelled to set an example in my blogging by shifting the focus of my writing to what really matters and staying true to myself. I’ll write about new workouts I’m trying or would like to try; I’ll write about breakthroughs in my training; I’ll write about some races; I’ll write about random thoughts and philosophies of running and training; I’ll write about how I’m navigating the inevitable low points or I’ll ask for help in doing so. I will write about the journey instead of just the destination. This is an opportunity for me to explore a new side of myself and maybe, if I’m lucky, inspire other runners and readers along the way. It may work or it may not, but I need to try. I need to write about what lifts me up instead of what will please other people.

There are inspirational runners out there who have shaved 2 or more hours off their marathon times over the course of their careers, or who went from 20 minute gym class miles to winning 5Ks. Reading about their training and their journeys to becoming super-speedsters is fascinating. But, frankly, I’m not sure that becoming a super-speedster is my destiny. I’m trying to learn to be okay with that. I think I’m meant to inspire people in other ways, and I feel a calling to explore what those ways may be. I don’t know what they are yet, but as I go along I can definitely tell when I’m getting “warmer” or “colder”, if you catch my drift.

But with big changes come big fears. I have never found such a community or made so many new friends as I did when I joined the running world. The main thing holding me back from making these changes a long time ago is that I’m afraid if I don’t talk about running as much, I will lose those friends and that community.

But I have to follow my instincts and do what is right for me. If I lose some friendships because of that, I will just have to find a way to deal with it. Popularity just isn’t worth feeling bad about myself and being unhappy with the way I live my running life. I have to remember that if I lose friendships because I’m not talking about running all the time, well, I guess that tells me how strong those friendships really were. Running is something I do. It’s not who I am.

 

Yes, I know I owe you an update about my vacation. But this just had to come first; I started to write and the thoughts just poured out.

So thanks for listening. I hope this made sense to at least someone out there. I’m excited to blaze a new trail (so to speak) in my running and in my writing that will bring me more learning, more fulfillment, more joy. Because a more joyful and fulfilled me will be able to take that joy and spread it around and be an even bigger and better cheerleader for the rest of you as you continue on your own journeys.

 

-H

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31 thoughts on “Love Hurts: Running Blues and Letting Go

  1. I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this… but the greatest part of running is that you can pick it up and put it down whenever you want. You are young, and if you decided in two years you want to chase that BQ goal again, there won’t be anything stopping you. There is no shame is putting it on a shelf for a little while until you feel ready to love it again. I think all runners go through these phases. Maybe it’s the pressure of racing that is making you feel this way. If you were able to run without expectations or goals, you would feel better about it. I do want to say though, you said “you aren’t good enough” – that’s totally false. That’s your mind playing tricks on you. Your body is capable of so much more than you mind will let you believe, but when your heart isn’t in it there is no point in chasing goals that aren’t important to you. I feel like you’ve got this figured out and I admire your maturing and bravery in putting all of this out there!! I’m 100% sure you are not alone!

  2. Going back to basics is going to help you a lot. I’ve gone through this cycle – a lot. I’ve been living in the past myself – but for me, I can’t move past my marathon from last year. I can’t figure out how to get back to that point again, and I went through many days of hating running and resenting it. Only running out of obligation and because I paid race registration fees. Summer doesn’t help, because it rarely feels good or fast to run in the summer. After Grandma’s, I felt broken. I spent the last year chasing a PR that didn’t happen. I spent way too much time training and obsessing, and too much money. For what? I didn’t get that PR, and even if I did – is all of the sacrifice worth a couple of seconds? I still don’t know, but what I do know is that I did what you are about to do this summer. I started from scratch. I started with base building and running comfortably, and slowly added in some intensity. I signed up for races that were out of my comfort zone so I could have no expectations. Here I am, 7 weeks later and I can say that I love running again. Instead of the feeling of dread that I would have when my coach would send me a new schedule, I look at my workouts (that I designed myself) each week with excitement. You will find it again, and when you do you will make the most progress. It’s not always about running perfect workouts and splits – it’s getting to a good place mentally. The mental aspect of this sport is more important than what you do in training. You ARE enough, Hanna! You are an amazingly talented runner and I KNOW you have more in you.

    1. Aww thank you for your sweet words! You are an inspiration – if you can get through such a sucky year long rut I’m sure I can survive a few more months of it! I’m really glad you’ve learned to love running again and are stronger from making some changes and getting back to basics – i hope to soon join you in that happier mental place.

      I like your idea of doing different races so that you can go into them without expectation and indeed I’ve enjoyed reading about your 15Ks this summer. I’m doing something similar, as I plan on signing up for a 5K in October. Just because by that point I will not have raced a 5K for almost a year and it would be fun to have a fast, short race again. This Spring I would have been all “OMG I CAN’T IT CONFLICTS WITH MY TRAINING” but without all the expectations it’s actually nice to feel like I can do new things and stuff.

      1. This isn’t the first rut I’ve come back from – in 2011 I stopped running for 6 months. Like not one mile. I was DONE. I was frustrated and burned out. I had a high school student in the fall that wanted to do the local half marathon but she needed someone to run long with her because her mom was nervous about her going out that far alone. I had her in class and we had a good rapport so I said yes. I almost didn’t even register for 2012 Boston but she urged me to – telling me I was lucky to have a BQ to use and it might be my last chance to run it if I decided to take a break. Words of wisdom from a then 15 year old. She’s 21 now and we are still close. I always tell her if it wasn’t for her, running wouldn’t be in my life right now. But seriously – you will come out of that. I was thinking about you a lot yesterday on my recovery run and had a suggestion. What if you stopped worrying about pace completely for the next two weeks? Run with no watch. If you have to use a watch, see if you can customize the face to take off everything except distance so you know where you are in the run. I’ve done that in the past and it’s like a breath of fresh air! Also – I am no expert but my goal this summer was to race a lot but not taper for them. Like this weekend – I have a half on Sunday but I did my 18 miler this past Monday because I don’t want to taper. If you ever want to do a race but you think it conflicts with my training, text me and I can help you make sense of your week so you don’t miss quality workouts!! Don’t give up!!!! I saw your love for running when I met you!!!

  3. I remember last fall when you finished your first marathon that afterward you when through a similar rut. I think it might have been easier for you to process since it coincided with the start of winter which in general kind of leaves running in a rut while we deal with the snow and ice. Plus there was less of a comparison trap to fall into since most running blogger were also starting to wind down their training after a big fall goal race. I imagine that it must be so much more difficult to be going through that sort of mental rut now while all of your friends are in the process of ramping up their training for fall races.

    I really admire your ability to put these thoughts into words, because I think it is something that many runners struggle with. At the very least I know that I do. I have felt the same feelings of not being good enough and the constant comparison to others. It’s hard for me to put it into words because on one level I know that I am being a bit ridiculous. I can only put in the training that is best for me and matches my current abilities.

    I think one of the great things about running is that it offers up such a diverse range of goals. To me it doesn’t matter if your goal is just to run and have fun, or run a marathon in every state, or run a sub 3 marathon, or anything! I’m happy just to talk about running. So as long as your don’t change your blog to “Hanna’s Creepy Spider Collection” or “Hanna kicks puppies,” I will be here cheering you on!

    And, for what it is worth, I share my weekly mileage and paces not in a “Look how amazing I am” sort of way, but rather to keep myself accountable and offer some transparency. I can hardly suggest to other people that they should slow down on their easy runs if I am running them faster than I should be. And if I am setting goals that aren’t within my abilities, I would hope that someone with more running experience might point out that my training doesn’t really match up with my race goal and I will probably blow up in the second half of the race.

    1. Thank you Heather! I agree with so much of what you said, and I think you bring up a great point that a lot of it is timing. It was harder to fall into the comparison trap this Spring because I was one of the only people I knew training for a marathon at that point. Also, I had a much longer break in between my first marathon and Grandma’s, so this experience of trying to jump right back into training after such an enormous effort is uncharted territory for me and it occurs to me that a lot of the bad feelings might be part of that learning curve as well. You always have a way with pointing out things I wouldn’t have considered before! That’s the great thing about blogging – I can put my thoughts out there and when others read them they can frame things in a way I couldn’t see on my own.

      I totally do not have anything against others posting paces/recaps etc and I really hope it didn’t come off that way. Obviously, I’ve done that before. But now I think I need to take a break from it – for my own sanity, and also because it doesn’t really make sense since I’m not chasing a specific time goal anyway. In the future, when my training circumstances are different I will more than likely go back to that format but for now I think taking the focus off numbers will be good for me.

      1. Oh no, it didn’t come off that way. I was just trying to offer up a bit of perspective of why I try to include that information 🙂

        I really hope that taking the rest of the fall to focus on rebuilding pulls you out of this rut. You have a lot of running talent and I think you are only just beginning to tap into your potential.

  4. Awww Hanna, I hate that you wrestle so.
    progress is not linear <—- that statement has a lot of wisdom, and I agree, just because we were at a certain point at one time, doesn't mean we can have it all the time, however, there's still a lot of joy to be squeezed out of running. Your mind was working overtime when training for Grandma's, training that hard can bring on mental and physical exhaustion and you have to recover from it. Let go of thoughts that don't make you stronger, or feel good. Squeeze out that stuff. It's okay to run and not hit a new goal every time. Minutes and seconds shaved off sure make us happy, but sometimes we all need to go back to basics. You hit that super high point for the year, so maybe run the races now just for enjoyment. 2 or 3 marathons in a year is huge accomplishment in itself 🙂
    Try to focus on the joy of the run, the blessing of movement, the blessing of being strong, of being fast, because you are all those things! I also believe if you obtained it once, it's like muscles, it has memory, your body responds, it comes back.
    You pulled off an amazing performance at Grandma's and you will do it again many more times!! You have years of running ahead of you 🙂
    Think about down the road as you can say to someone I am 3 x marathoner or 4 x marathoner, or a 15 x marathoner you can be proud of that even is they all aren't 3:46's , right! You still completed them. Remember 4 hours is an amazing marathon time, sub 4 anything, even more amazing. You are already in the more than amazing group, you have than enough talent, more than enough strength, now you just need to believe it and see it 🙂 I like your idea, try to be present in the journey.
    Next run, every time that mile beeps on the Garmin I want to tell yourself, I am Hanna, I've run _____ marathons, ______ half marathons and I am pretty freaking awesome 🙂
    I hope you had a wonderful vacation and enjoyed some beauty and r & r.

    1. Aww thank you so much Karen! You have such a great perspective and you are so right about all of those things. Practicing mindfulness and perspective in my running is something I really need to work on. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in a current goal or wish for the future that I forget how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  5. Well, do I have some great news for you. As far as amateur running goes, you and I are young. It feels like we should be peaking here in our late 20s, but I was recently clued in by a doctor during my VO2 Max test that women don’t peak in running until their mid to late 30s. You’ve got YEARS to improve. And, in all honesty, the strongest and fastest runners I know are all in their 30s. So, give yourself a break, enjoy the journey, and count down the days until we make it to the big 3-0 and can start truly working towards our peak 😉

    1. Yessss!! Your doctor confirmed what I’ve always suspected to be true. At pretty much any race I ever do, the 30 year old women – particularly in the 30-34 group – are insanely fast and I’ve always wondered if there was some science behind it. i have to admit that many a day I have also been glad that I’m still only in my 20s and looking forward to peaking in a few years!

  6. “Comparison is the seat of all unhappiness”…. I don’t know who said that but it has been one of my favorite quotes for quite a long time. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the comparison trap anywhere- especially blogging. Every time I teeter on that line, I have to remind myself that me and whoever I am comparing myself to are different people with different bodies, different muscle fibers, different jobs, different EVERYTHING! The only person I can compare myself to is myself.

    Another thing I have had to come to accept is that I can’t always be in the BEST SHAPE OF MY LIFE. I am not an elite athlete- not even close. There are going to be “Seasons” to my running- times I am fast and times I am slow and times I am in between. That is okay with me because I think it will help keep me running into my old age- which is ultimately what I want!

    Please don’t give up on your BQ dream though! You have it in you. Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. I understand you are frustrated and in a rut right now but you won’t be forever!

    1. Thank you Meg! It’s true that you can’t really know something until you experience it. I’ve always known mentally that there are fast and slow seasons, on and off times, we can’t always be at our best but then I’d always say to myself, “yeah yeah yeah”. This is my first time going through such an obvious and drawn out slump so it’s harder to deal with because it’s all new. It’s so hard not to compare to myself last summer, when I was on fire with marathon training, never missed a workout, and seemed to do okay in the heat.

      Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on my BQ dream! I think I was just starting to go down a dangerous road investing too much self worth in it, and questioning it now is my way of getting some perspective and reminding myself that it’s not the end all be all of everything

      1. You will get through the slump, and all this thinking/self discovery is going to help with that.

        I get down when I think about 2 summers ago when I PR’ed in the mile and I was in the absolute best running shape ever. I wonder if I will ever be there again. I choose to think YES I will be, all in good time!

  7. I think it’s good you are going to chill out and not focus so much on pace and miles. That seems to be stressing you the eff out. I hope you find your calm and peace with running. We aren’t professionals, enjoy it! I’d have a hard time naming a runner who flourishes during the summer, and doesn’t take a break after a marathon. It’s OK! 🙂

    And people aren’t going to stop reading because you aren’t talking as much about that stuff, lol. Blog readers come and go in cycles – and they’ll either like your style or not, and that’s ok!

    1. LOL it *is* stressing me the eff out! Even if I needed to haul my butt out to the middle of the ocean to realize it.

      I seem to remember that I did okay running last summer, and I think it’s hard for me not to compare myself to last summer – even if I wasn’t as fast then, I was on the upswing and gearing up for something big and I can almost feel that missing this time around. But I have never been more excited for fall and even – yes, really – WINTER running weather!

  8. I am reading this as I pack for my trip to England, and while I can’t write a long enough response to do you justice, I just want to say I’m so proud of you for recognizing what running is really about for YOU, and deciding to focus on what matters to you personally rather than some external factor that is beyond your control, or pressure from others 🙂

      1. I have 5-6 posts scheduled to go up over the next couple of weeks so look out for those 🙂 But I won’t have Internet access the first week since I’ll be hiking so there won’t be any England updates then, and I may hold off on recapping my adventures til I return!

  9. Yo… It has been a minute since I have followed. But sorry to hear you have hit a rut. We have all been there, I was there about this time last year. I did not feel the need or want to get out and run or improve my fitness. Although I have now made the change of scenery and transition to the trails for ultra marathons, finding motivation can at times be difficult. Also more difficult for others to understand what you are going through in your head. Pushing your goals off on the back seat at times can be the best to focus on JUST RUNNING. I have found a handful of motivational ways to improve my love and re-discover my love of running again. If you want to bounce things or help guide feel free, shoot me a message. I am on all the social media sites. (run_konz)

  10. You are very brave and strong for doing what is right for you! And just because you are slowing down/stopping/taking a break doesn’t mean you have to be done. Change is good. And exciting. And scary. But there is a reason you need this. Maybe it’s your bodie’s way of avoiding injury, or try a new exercise you haven’t discovered yet or meet a new batch of wonderful people …. the world is your oyster …. corny, I know!!!
    I have taken many many breaks from exercise in my life and once it’s a part of you, it doesn’t ever leave. I used to play soccer on 3 different teams, year round, for years and years and trust me when I say I understand what you’re going though. Quitting that lifestyle was a HUGE change for me but I knew it needed to happen. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t care about the sport anymore. I dreaded practices and games. It was time. While I haven’t played since high school, it set the precedence for my future in the exercise world.
    I taught group classes for 6 years and quit that when I was forced to go on bed rest during my first pregnancy. While I was forced to quit for a GREAT (albeit scary) reason, I made peace with it and you know what, I don’t miss it much.
    All of that has lead me to running. And running has lead me to reading wonderful blogs like yours!
    So all of that just to say ….. change can be good 🙂 It can be a blessing in disguise 🙂
    Sorry this is so long!

  11. I think all runners go through this, and it’s important to be honest about it. Some runners can run through a rut, but many of us need time off and then need to build back up and make up the progress we lose. There’s no shame in that, but yes, it’s SO frustrating and humbling. Next time this happens, after your next huge goal race, maybe, you’ll handle it with less pain because you’ll know it’s normal and okay. I’ve learned to just embrace when mentally I start to need time off. Having to start over sucks, but I think the break happens for a reason, and it’s important to embrace it.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing about your journey. That’s the fun of blogs! It’s about the journey, not the destination.

  12. Even though we are completely different runners, I feel like we share so many of the same ups and downs around the same time periods. For a while I was blogging about my distances, paces, temperature and all kinds of stats but I eventually let that go. I stopped because after I took time off to heal my hip and as the weather warmed up my paces got slower and writing them for the world to see was bugging me big time. I believe in being honest and authentic as bloggers, but that doesn’t mean we have to share everything about our runs. I know a lot of people like to see distance/pace reported in weekly recaps, and when I stopped doing it, I lost a couple of readers, but not the ones that I feel like I am really friends with.

    I think we all get caught up in the comparison trap when it comes to running progress and even run blogging progress. We see what other people are doing and we have an urge to do the same or think we should be doing the same. I read your blog and see the amazing things you’ve done in the short time you’ve been a runner and wonder why I can’t do the same. I read a few other bloggers who started running around the same time as we did and I see them breaking 1:59 or better in the half marathon now and think “what’s wrong with me?” Then I remember we’re all on our own journey. I’m a much happier individual when I’m not comparing myself to you guys; plus. not comparing myself allows me to be authentically happy for you when you reach new running goals!

    I’m looking forward to the new direction your blog takes. I love your thoughtful posts and whether you include pace/distance or not I am sure your blog will remain just as insightful and interesting to read!

  13. Oh Hanna. This post makes me so sad for you. I’ve been there and it’s the crappiest situation. Social media and blogging makes running SO much harder. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others. It’s so hard not to compare to yourself! I fall into the trap all the time, and it’s one of the hardest to get out of.

    I wish there was something I could say or suggest doing to get your mojo back–but it’s all about finding it yourself. Have you thought about this being part burnout? My ONLY suggestion is this: think about running the half. A marathon is a lot of pressure in and of itself–without the added pressure of pace and time goals. You have to do whatever is best for you, but I know when I was feeling this way, I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t think I could handle the pressure of training, I’d drop my distance. Maybe you just need a fun race. A no pressure, easy peasy [it’s all relative 😉 ], FUN race to run. And maybe that’s a half. BUT. Do you girlfriend. If you want to run that marathon for yourself, then everything else be damned, and you run that marathon.

    I totally relate with the pressure of BQ. I think ANY marathoner wants that elusive goal. But I’ve been thinking that a lot myself lately–is it really worth it? Why can’t we just be happy that we ran 26.2 miles. More than once?! Why isn’t that enough? Anyway, I just want you to know you are not alone out there! I’ve been there and often have the same thoughts as you. I hope you get your running mojo back and I’m looking forward to where you go and where your blog goes! You are a great runner and I love reading about your experiences!

    And thank you for SHARING! I know I’m not the only person out there that appreciates your honesty!

  14. This is more helpful than you will ever know. We all struggle with this inner battle. Seeing this type of highly passionate decision will help sooooo many people. Great post!!

  15. I’m sorry you have had such a mental struggle lately. Running should be something we enjoy doing otherwise why beat ourselves up? Races as well. You are such a strong runner and I know you will accomplish great speed feats in the future!

  16. This was amazing. I’m glad you’re finding some ease in the whole mental battle, it can be an uphill struggle sometimes! I completely hear where you’re coming from, as I’m injured and when I eventually am allowed to run again, it will be very slowly. For the past 6 months or so I’ve made nothing but progress and was getting such satisfaction from seeing myself improve. But alas, it had to end I guess, and it’s just a case of getting back out there like you said, and trying to find the peace in my running again.

  17. Refocusing and getting stronger will get your head back in the game, for sure. I think you brought up a really good point – life isn’t linear. There are ups and downs with everything, and I have a hard time accepting this too. I think the faster you accept this and accept that you can’t control everything, the calmer your mind will be.

  18. All my long run routes have lotsa of hills. It s almost impossible not to have them unless you run back and forths in a flat neighborhood or if you go over and run in Harrisburg along the river- which I have done before!

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