There were several things I was prepared for after 4 weeks completely off from running. I knew my aerobic endurance would be in the crapper and I’d have to start with bite-sized mileage. And I knew that even running only 20-30 minutes at a time, my old paces would be science fiction for a while.
But I had this idea that after a few rusty runs getting back in the swing of things, I’d pretty much be back to my old self, just a little slower for a while. I thought that my pace would slow and I’d have to gradually ease back into mileage, but that running would still feel easy and natural. I mean, it’s only been a month – how much could things possibly change?
So I was taken aback by how much effort it takes to get through 3 miles, and how it is taking more than 1, 2, or 3 runs for that feeling to go away. I actually got a side stitch a mere 1.5 miles into my run this evening. How embarrassing. And I hardly ever get side stitches. The day after my run this past weekend, I was even a little sore in my hamstrings. From a 3 mile run! I yearned for weather like this when I was trying to train through the humidity of August and September; now that it’s here, it feels like I’m running in the humidity again. I was hoping my HR data from tonight’s run was a joke.
Somehow I forgot how long and tedious the work of building a fitness base is. My vision of returning to running looked a lot like my memory of when I first started: with big chunks of time missing. Like suddenly jumping from a week or two of difficult runs to being in my element. It’s easy to forget how long progress takes. But I really didn’t think I’d be starting from scratch again.
Well, hey, I’m running for exercise now and exercise is supposed to be hard isn’t it? But it’s not just the physical aspect that’s pushing back against me. What I didn’t anticipate at all was how hard it would be to get myself into a routine.
As the weeks passed by during my running break, I gradually got to a point where going a day or two or three without running didn’t feel weird. By the time I was ready to run again, not only did my lack of exercise not feel weird anymore, it had become my new normal. I assumed it would be easy to jump right back into a routine because I took for granted how ingrained in daily life running becomes after doing it regularly for years. Now that I’ve gotten used to a life without it, it takes so much more effort to carve time out of my day, to change my routine, to remind myself why I need to do this.
It’s frustrating. I miss running and I want to run. But I’m having a really hard time getting into a routine. Without a marathon training cycle to motivate me, I can’t get up early to run, even for only 20-30 minutes. No matter how much I hate myself each time I snooze my way through the opportunity, getting into a new routine – especially at this time of year – is too overwhelmning. I am outmatched.
I have started to fight back, though. When I skipped my run this morning, I told myself: Fine. You don’t want to get up early and run? You’ll do it after work then. And I did. I’m trying to ween myself off evening running because it feels like such a chore to run after a long day of work – and today was long – but it’s not as hard to get out the door for 2-3 miles. And maybe it’s more important to make sure I’m running regularly again before I can worry about trying change up my routine. I have to do things in the right order, and I can’t try to take on too much at once.
One good thing that’s happening, however, is that I’m training my mind to see each run as just running and not some constant yardstick for improvement. I’m losing the habit of always needing to know my pace or even really caring what it is. It does make me feel more positive and encouraged about lacing up.
So, while it appears I have a much steeper uphill climb back to my old self than I anticipated, I also gave myself the gift of a somewhat clean slate by wiping away the mental habits that made running start to feel so miserable. Everything in life costs something, and I guess what I’m now seeing in the fitness I lost and my subsequent struggle to reclaim it, is the price I paid for a new, happier relationship with running.
And, notwithstanding the concerns I’m now having about whether or not I’ll be fit enough to run a half marathon in 4 months, I’d say it’s worth every cent.