While I’m not new to fitness, I’m relatively new to running. I picked it up in 2009 out of guilt. As a trainer, I was coaching runners — telling them how to achieve their goals — but I felt like a big imposter. See, I hated running. No, I really, really hated it. But, I decided if I was going to coach runners, I needed to become one – so I signed up and ran my first half marathon in 2009. After that first half, I felt like I had more to give. I planned to do another one fairly soon, but a seasoned marathoner asked me what was stopping me from doing a full 26.2 miles. I really couldn’t give her a good answer. I only had the same excuses clients give me: “not enough time,” “I don’t think I can do it,” “I don’t want to”… So, again somewhat out of guilt, I took the plunge.
When it comes to races, you either love them or you hate them. You become addicted or you swear you’ll never do that again. For me, it became an addiction. One marathon turned into another, into another half marathon, into another marathon – and another and more halves and I just kept going. But I began to notice – my times never really changed. Three years now and no real improvement. I hover around the 1:50 mark for halves and the 4 hour mark for fulls. Not terrible, but not notable either. I set more aggressive training goals, but I can’t meet them. My mind and my body won’t let me.
At the same time, the many other fitness endeavors I love – strength training and most importantly yoga, fell aside. Yes, I did them – but not with my best effort. My yoga practice ground to a screeching halt. Seems I am doing everything – running, strength-training, yoga – with a half-a@#$&ed effort. I might be invited to do something fun – a hike, a bike ride, a short race, a new workout — but I don’t have any energy to even attempt it. I have to run. I long to do other things. I used to jump at every new fitness innovation — wanting to see what it had to offer — I now feel behind the times because I pass up new trainings because I have to run. During marathon tapering, I tell myself I can’t wait to stop running and take on a new challenge. But, instead, I jump right back into running – out of habit or perhaps obligation?
So here is my confession: I am addicted to running – but I am neither in love with it nor very good at it.
During training, I feel good the first few weeks, but once mileage hits more than 30 per week, I drag through runs, other workouts and daily activities. I’m bone tired, but “I have to get in a run.” Many of these runs are sorry efforts at a doable, but not super challenging speed – just steady state hoofing it through the hills in my neighborhood. Who is holding me to this? Why do I “have to”? Where am I going so fast? (or, really, not so fast).
The last marathon I ran was the Denver Rock n’ Roll in October. My training for it was poor and so was my performance. I felt like I should do it. Someone once told me that “should” is the most violent word in the English language. I am beginning to believe her. I “should’ed” my way through numerous runs, long ones, short ones. I still “should” my way through runs. I’m not sure I’m enjoying any of them now though.
I ask — is this the face of a happy person?
At the same time, I love being part of running. I love the gear, planning for a race, shopping for shoes, figuring out pre-run fuel and post-run snacks. I adore the people I meet and the release I get from a good run, but those releases are fewer and farther between. The last great run I had was in the middle of a yoga retreat in snowy Michigan. I had done nothing but yoga for nearly a week and needed a cardio fix – a six-mile run through the muddy trails and fresh air did that for me. No timer, no pressure, just letting go. That was 2 months ago. I haven’t had that “good” kind of run since. The last few races I’ve run, I swear I’ll never do this again because I just don’t really enjoy it. Something keeps pulling me though back because, well, it is something I feel like I should do.
The compulsion to run also comes from the fear of what happens when I stop running. I’ll stop burning all those calories, I fear. However, I don’t really like what running has done to my body. Burning all those calories has actually made me soft. I always gain weight during marathon training and it takes months to get it off. I’ve lost muscle definition and the desire to keep moving when I’m not doing an obligatory run. I allow myself to be lazy during the day because I ran far in the morning; or, my legs hurt so much I have to be lazy. Running all those miles doesn’t help my knees feel good or help me play with my kids – it makes me tired and cranky.
In comes the horrific runner’s guilt. How can I throw away all those miles? If I stop now, it will hurt to build back up. And, when I read people’s posts about running 10, 15, 20 miles, can I really turn away and say a little piece inside me is not envious? Or more like, I want to say I did that today? Can I truly choose to stay home on Saturday morning and not go out? No, abandoning running altogether is not the answer either – but my compulsion to run, without passion, is not healthy and needs to end. I’m not getting anywhere. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
So, I’ve made a decision. I’m not abandoning running altogether, but I am rethinking my approach. I am backing off – cutting those miles down. I’m resisting the “I should” run and replacing it with an “I want” to run. I’m not going to force runs – just take them when they come. I won’t say a marathon will never happen again, but I’m not sure it will happen anytime in my near future. I’m going to get out and enjoy some of those things I’ve been missing for the last 3 years – more yoga, kettlebell classes, TRX training, experimenting with recipes, cleaning my house, decorating, my kids, trips up to Barr Camp or the Peak. I want to take advantage of the beauty and terrain that is Colorado Springs – heck, the beauty of life – but I don’t (always) have to run through it.
Running is a fabulous sport, but, for me, it caused a loss of perspective. If you love running, truly love it, keep running. If you don’t love it, give yourself permission to admit it. Find something that does fill you with passion and hit it with gusto. If you don’t know how you feel about running – give it a try. Most importantly, don’t feel bad about doing what is best for you. While fitness is critical to your health and well-being – don’t let it be a cause of stress. We have enough of that already.