On This Day

Most of my Facebook memories are utterly forgettable, but today’s was actually special.

It was 2 years ago today that I ran my first marathon.

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What a special day that was. The weather was perfect. Lakefront is an impeccably organized and put-together marathon that also fosters a great sense of community, as it is put on by our local running group. I made new running friends while training who I got to share that experience with – some also running first marathons, some BQing. My mom and brother came up from Iowa to surprise me at the finish line. Kevin biked along the course to cheer me on at multiple points. I ran a great race – not perfect, but pretty well-executed for a first marathoner. I didn’t hit the sub-4:00 I was secretly dreaming about, but I came pretty darn close and was 100% proud of myself anyway (still am). And I actually enjoyed the training and never felt overwhelmed or stressed out by it.

It really was a dream first marathon day, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I can’t wait to run Lakefront again one day.

But this memory was also bittersweet.

I can’t tell you how sad it made me today to bask in that happy memory and then fast forward to to present day…when my recent posts have been about feeling unmotivated to train, not wanting to run, and being so mentally burnt out from 2 years of pushing myself that I’m already looking forward to a break after this training cycle.

In the infamous words of the Talking Heads:

“You may ask yourself, well: how did I get here???”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the improvement I’ve made in the last two years and everything I’ve accomplished, including two more marathons. I’ll also never forget the pride and happiness that came 8 months later at Grandma’s Marathon after I trained my butt off, ran a flawlessly executed race and took 15 minutes off that Lakefront time (and also shared the experience with new running friends!).

But that’s the thing. I have no regrets and wouldn’t trade those days for anything, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe it was all just too much too soon. Not that I ran the two more marathons, but that I poured so much of myself into training for each of them. In hindsight it seems like the euphoria of running “firsts”, new accomplishments and easy improvements as a beginner runner just overwhelmed me and I got a little carried away.

I really miss the pure joy and innocence and wonder of those Lakefront days. When it was enough just to run a marathon and be proud of my training, without having to get a PR or qualify for something.  After this training cycle ends in a few weeks, there are going to be some big changes around here. The batteries that got me through the last couple years of greedily and relentlessly chasing “faster” are wearing down and I can feel that it’s time for a big running reset.

I’m hesitant to make a bunch of declarations for the future, because I am the queen of laying out all these grand plans on my blog and then not being able to follow through with them. But then I think, well, I’ve already mentioned it on here anyway, so what the hell?

I’m not going to be training for any race until June 2017 – 8 months from now. I’m going to spend that time trying to detox all the pressure and expectations I’ve put on myself over the last few years and get the passion and love back into my running. I don’t know if there’s any magic bullet solution to do that, but I’m going to try anything.

Including giving it up completely.

Now pull those jaws back up and put those eyes back in the sockets – I’m not quitting running forever. But after a lot of thought, I’ve decided that after my final 10K race in November, I am going to take several weeks completely off from running – possibly even the rest of the year (6 weeks). I’ve tried everything, and I really think I need a clean break for a while. I want the chance to actually miss and crave running again. I want to lose my speed and fitness. I want to have to start back at square one. I want to relish in the possibility of running personal worsts in a spring half marathon.

Well…that’s a tad dramatic. For someone who has been running for a few years, 6 weeks off isn’t going to result in that much lost fitness. But my hope is that it’s enough time for all of this competitive nonsense to work it’s way out of my system so that I can come back to running feeling truly fresh and have somewhat of a clean slate. I feel like forcing myself to revert back to slower paces and a minuscule aerobic base and “starting over” will eliminate the pressure I always feel to maintain a certain fitness level.

And then, hopefully, I can start running again because I really truly want to. Not to get “fast”. Not to train for a race. Not even for health and fitness. Just simply because I want to enjoy a quiet morning outside and have something to get my energy up before a long day at work.

And then, hopefully, when I start training for a marathon again in June, I will actually truly enjoy the process again. Without the pressure of trying to PR and build an insane aerobic base, perhaps I won’t run myself into the ground with training and expectations and I can actually just have fun with it again. Maybe I really can get back to a place where it is good enough just to be able to run a marathon, not a X:XX marathon. 

That, right now, is what I want more than anything in my running. I know it can never be like my magical first marathon at Lakefront again, but maybe it can be special and fun again. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not good enough if I don’t get faster. I’m tired of the training culture and running being a means to an end. It’s time for me to DNF this neverending race to nowhere.

I still have several weeks before my last 10K race, and rather than let this revelation kill my motivation even more, I’m hoping it will actually help breathe new life into my training. Perhaps I can relax my expectations now that there is no real reason for me to get fast or improve anything this training cycle, and in turn, enjoy my runs and workouts a little more knowing that there isn’t so much riding on them and it’s a blessing that I can do this at all. I also hope I’ll have a good race this weekend and that will make me feel better about running.

A new chapter awaits, and while I can never cross that 2014 Lakefront finish line for the first time again, I hope the next one I cross can be magical in its own way.

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15 thoughts on “On This Day

  1. Happy two year anniversary 🙂 Running is a tough sport because you’re always so isolated and have to rely on yourself for motivation. For me it comes and goes all the time. I’m sure you’ll get your drive and desire back, and running will be right there for you when you’re ready!

  2. What a great memory! It was such a great day to relive 🙂
    Who knows maybe after a few weeks off you will be dying to run just for the sake of doing it, but if you aren’t the break will hopefully serve its purpose and give you a chance to recharge your batteries!
    I am still super impressed with how well your first marathon went – pretty darn amazing 🙂 You are very gifted.

  3. Nothing like those early days when the small accomplishments were HUGE accomplishments. We all know that as we progress, the improvements become harder. I just try to remain positive and remember that it’s a blessing to be able to have running adventures and there are many people out there who would love to do the things we do. But I’m an optimist lol.

    I think the reset is going to do you good. One common item I read was running with great people. Maybe more group runs next year?? Just a thought.

  4. After big races, and I don’t just mean marathons, I usually take 2 weeks off. I did a Ragnar in September, and I have been just doing whatever since then, to take the mental break I need. I haven’t signed up for any fall races. Boston training will start in December, and I feel I need a big break before that. Running with the kids in practice really helps too (although they don’t run very far…). I find that it takes the focus off me–and on them. Running with kids is refreshing MOST of the the time (think of Phoebe running on Friends), however, it can try your patience at times too :)!
    I remember following your race via text updates from the race, and it was EXCITING! I remember my dtr asking me who I was “cheering” for… :). You ran a great race!
    As I get older, I realize I am running and racing for the way it makes me feel–stronger, fit etc. I do feel a bit of desperation at times–pushing paces vs getting older–but finding that inner peace through running is the biggest benefit.
    Don’t feel the need to apologize for taking time off–that is part of the natural cycle!

  5. I’m so glad you brought this up because I totally forgot this year! Happy anniversary!

    WOW I am impressed that you won’t be training for anything for 8 months. I wonder if you’ll feel the pull to race something shorter before next summer. I think it will end up taking some dedication to avoid racing for that long, but it sounds like a really smart thing to do. I know a lot of professional athletes take a couple of months off each year to recharge their batteries and to avoid burnout!

    1. I will doing a couple half marathons this spring, but I’m not training for them. I want to be able to just enjoy the race experience for once and not care about my time, so I refuse to train for them. If that means I run a half hour slower than my PR, so be it. I want to run and participate in races but it’s time to start reevaluating my priorities.

  6. I always take a month or so off per year, and I find it to be a really helpful practice. When my month is up, I feel so ready to get out and run again. Yeah, it means I have to start over again every single year, which has maybe kept me from reaching some of the goals I’ve had for myself in running, but I’d rather not reach those goals and want to run than reach those goals and hate every second of the process. Rest is important! I hope that you’re able to find your love for the sport again after your 10K next month 🙂

  7. I am so so so looking forward to the off-season time after my race. In all honesty I probably won’t take a ton of time off from running completely, but I love being able to just go out and run however far I want and just enjoy it with no structured plan around it. The weather will finally be more brisk which means coming inside and taking a hot shower and drinking some hot tea. It’s so relaxing and wonderful. I agree that chasing goals does get to be a bit much after a while. I think a lot of people burn out because of that. I have some races in mind for the spring, but just like two years ago I don’t plan to have a huge goal race that I’ll be working toward. I just want to run and enjoy it and run fast at some races before getting back into training.

    1. One of the reasons I am a winter runner 4eva: a hot shower & coffee after a cold run is THE.BEST.THING.EVER. I don’t know how long my break will end up being, but if it goes til the end of the year I think that being busy with holidays and travel will make it go by faster and actually make that time less stressful knowing I don’t have to freak out about getting workouts in. Of course if I find that I am just dying to run I will – I mean, getting that feeling back is the whole point!

      1. I think holiday time is a great time to take off because it’s so busy. I always try to schedule so that I’m not training during that time so I can just enjoy it and do and see as much as I can!

  8. After my half marathon this weekend, I realize that while I do care about doing my best, train hard, give my all in a race, I really don’t give a f%@$ about Boston anymore – even though I desperately wanted to qualify one year ago. Why is an arbitrary standard the measure of my success at my hobby?
    For me, often releasing myself from that pressure leads to a breakthrough – which is so much more meaningful than beating my body up for just a time goal. Time goals DON’T change one’s life. But finding joy in running – whatever that joy may be- does.
    I think a short break will be good for you! And then maybe a break up with the Garmin for a little bit?

  9. I think early success is a double-edged sword. Running seems to have come really easy for you, and you got to experience what it felt like to reap a lot of benefits and improve quickly. I’m always envious of runners like that! But I totally see that it maybe makes it harder when some of the magic wears off. I think taking time off will benefit you mentally, however long that ends up being for you.

    I look at your success in running and think, wow, it’s only been TWO YEARS since you ran your first marathon?! You deserve a break – the way you’ve been running and training, I feel like it’s been so much longer than that.

  10. Very insightful! I think so many runners get caught up in the “Faster! Longer! A bigger (and better) PR!” thing, that they lose their love for the simple act of running. When every run becomes a science experiment and every race becomes a life-or-death quest for something even better…it’s time to re-evaluate. Some people thrive on that, but I’m not one of them. I have so many other things in my life that require my attention and focus, I’m quite alright with NOT always bettering my speed or finish times (of course, an occasional PR does feel good!). YOU are smart to realize this now 😉 Good luck with your 10K!

    1. Thank you Kimberly!! And thanks for stopping by! I agree with you. PR chasing is fun for a while – you know, in the beginning when it comes easily – but at some point I have to realize that I’m never going to be Shalane Flanagan, and the benefits of constantly pushing myself just don’t outweigh the increasing costs. And like you alluded to I think it does have a lot to do with how much else you have going on in your life. Some people are super focused on running and like it that way, and good for them, but for those of us with lots of different interests and commitments, running can’t come first all the time. Or even most of the time.

  11. I definitely relate to this. So much of my first few years of running was great because everything was a PR or a new experience, it almost didn’t matter what my times were. But now that I’ve been running for 6-ish years I feel like I am running out of firsts. Like if I don’t keep making time improvements that nothing is changing and that what is the point in me running. I think that’s what led me to get back into weight lifting last October. I can see steady improvement there if I keep at it, which was something I was craving but not receiving from running. I feel like I am back to a place where I am ready to do work & see improvement, but also cognizant of seeking out new opportunities & unique races so that I can still have more “firsts” which is part of the excitement of running for me. So crazy 5K’s, or different half marathon courses. I was running the same ones over & over which made me sad when I didn’t PR. But, now, my first race on any new course IS a PR. I hope some new “firsts” can snap you out of your funk. Because it truly is no fun to not love something you know at your core you do love.

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