Disassembled: A Running Story

So, running. It’s been a little rough for me lately.

Is it possible that running a bad race can actually take away fitness? Because ever since The Great Saga at Canyonlands Half Marathon, running has been hard. Like, I-haven’t-done-this-in-6-months hard.

After the exhausting race and trip, I gave myself the requisite recovery time. I didn’t run again until Friday, and it was a struggle. Granted, I was running more at a moderate effort and I knew it, so I’ll take that that one felt labored. But then the next morning I decided to regroup for a short shakeout jog. I did 2 miles at well over a minute slower than my normal easy pace. STILL HARD. 4 mile run on Monday evening? Decent, but still hard.

Either: 1) it took me longer than I thought to really recover from the race/trip; or 2) my body hates running now. Just hates it.

Regardless of the cause, I’m running another half marathon here in town on Saturday and I’m really worried about how it’s going to go. If 4 easy miles don’t feel easy, how can I make it through 13.1? I just honestly didn’t realize two weeks ago how out of shape I really was, and if I had known Canyonlands would go so badly I never would have signed up for a second race so soon. I’m seriously considering DNSing, which I really don’t want to do because I like this race a lot and I’m trying to get myself out of the habit of skipping races just because I don’t think I can run them fast. I keep reminding myself that there were several mitigating factors at Canyonlands, and I’ve done the long runs this winter, I can do this – even if it means I have to walk again. Maybe I’ll finally learn my lesson.

But anyway, I digress. I want to talk about that whole “running feels so hard lately!” thing, not my half marathon on Saturday. So, yeah, running feels crappy. But this is not a pity party post. Because something else happened when running got difficult. It’s humbled me, slowly unraveling the ego and bubble I’ve built up, and making me feel like a brand new runner again. Each labored run brings back memories of when I was first starting out and reveals long-buried fragments of the runner I was back then.

And you know something? She may have been huffing and puffing and slow, but in so many ways, she puts this 3x marathoner to shame.

There was no such thing as an “effortless” run back in those days. It felt hard every day. And yet, I kept going. Even though I had many months of work ahead of me, even though I couldn’t comprehend how I would ever run 13.1 miles when I could barely get through 6, I kept getting out there every week and never gave up. Even though it was hard and so slow, I just kept believing in myself that if I kept working at it, things would eventually start to get better. And finally, one day, they did.

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At my 3rd-ever 5K, late November 2013: I finished in 28:something and was 18th in my age group and was SO SO PROUD. Ah, to be young and innocent again…

And maybe that’s where I’ve run into problems lately: running has just become too easy. I don’t mean that literally, but rather, that I’ve fallen out of touch with the true struggle and grit that made it all so worthwhile in the beginning, and I’ve  forgotten where I came from. That happens a lot in life – it’s easy to take something for granted once it becomes familiar and routine. Running and training have become boring to me – not because I don’t enjoy them, but because I no longer find any true challenge or purpose in simply jumping from one time goal to the next.

So, perhaps I’m going through this “beginner again” spell because I need to go through it. Maybe this is the sport’s way of making me humble again, of breaking down all the warped priorities I’ve developed so I can reconnect with running in a way that really matters.

And so far, it seems to be working. Ironically enough, feeling like a newbie again has made me more motivated than ever to get back out there. Not because it’s super fun to be slower than ever and have 4-mile easy runs feel hard again, but because in those very runs I’ve channeled my old self: the one who didn’t get frustrated and give up because she wasn’t seeing results in every workout, the one who relished the idea of one day coming out on top of the long struggle. It’s amazing that New-Runner Hanna who could barely run 6 miles was able to “trust the training” so much better than the Hanna who set another marathon PR last spring.

At the start of this year, I had big dreams of chasing a sub-3:35 at the Chicago Marathon. But with each passing week, month, shitty race, and skipped workout, that dream gets further away, and after Canyonlands it just seems like a cruel joke. I’ve just gotten way too far from where I was.

But just when I was about to give up the dream entirely, I remembered New Runner Hanna again. I remember how she started from scratch in September 2013 – steeling herself to make it through a 20 minute jog without stopping – and by the following May, ran her first half marathon in 1:56:42. 6 months before that race (I’m just over 6 months out from Chicago now), I was thrilled to scrape together 5 miles at an 11:30 pace for the first time. Granted, I didn’t know or care at the time what half marathon finish time I was capable of, but the point is, I didn’t back down in the face of something that seemed impossibly hard. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, somehow trusting that it would all come together one day. And I hear whispers from that runner now, saying don’t give up – it may be possible, it may not, but just keep going. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t worry about fitness or paces or training plans right now. Just focus on the day in front of you. You got to that level once, you’ll get there again. One day at a time.

I’m getting my motivation back. But it’s a different kind of motivation now. It’s not the kind that comes from sharing detailed training recaps or broadcasting my workouts all over social media. I’m doing things on my own terms now, and that may mean that aside from the occasional race recap or post like this, I’ll be pretty quiet about my running life for the next couple months. I hope those of you who only want to read running stuff will come back to the blog when I start training in June, but for now, this whole “reconnecting” thing just works better when it’s just me and the pavement, ya know? And, okay, yes, maybe I am a little embarrassed by my current out-of-shape paces. So sue me.

Running feels tough right now, and I suspect it will continue to feel tough for a while given how much I’ve neglected it. But what’s different now is that I’m going to keep running anyway. It may not be a lot, and it may not be every day, but I’m doing it. I’ve also starting doing the strength training that I talked about wanting to do before Canyonlands. It’s not a lot, but it makes me feel confident and powerful in a completely different way. It’s hard to believe right now that it will really pay off or make me a faster runner…but I have to keep applying the same mantra I’m now using for running: one day at a time. Just keep trying.

Now, this is all well and good but unfortunately it doesn’t change the fact that Saturday’s race is going to be a crapfest (I actually had a dream last night that I was the last one to finish!).

But hey…at least it won’t be hot!

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10 thoughts on “Disassembled: A Running Story

  1. I can definitely sense a new spark in your attitude towards running here 🙂 If you put your mind and heart into something and believe you can do it, even if the end result isn’t perfect, you’ve won. Go get it, Hanna!

    Secondly, I do think you just needed more time to recover. Alot of runners need more than a week to recover from a half marathon especially when you add it on top of all the hiking and traveling you did that’s outside the norm.

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    1. Thanks Charissa! You are probably right – I also forgot the fact that my recovery time would increase due to the fact that my mileage and fitness are lower than usual.

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  2. I know I am going to be in the same spot as you once I can come back to running…and it makes me nervous. I do have so much respect for new runners and for early-runner-me, so I get what you mean about thinking back to your early running days and drawing inspiration there. But at the same time, I feel like I’ve paid my dues! I’m ready to be in the condition I’ve earned!

    You have a good attitude about improvement and being patient. I will try to borrow that from you!

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    1. I totally get the “paid the my dues” feeling. It’s not easy. But then I remember that that’s how running is, how all sports are: you don’t get to put in the work and then coast on it, if you want to stay at a certain level, you have to maintain it, if not, you have to do the work again. And that’s true for everyone, whether you’re a newbie or an elite. It is frustrating and feels unfair sometimes but what are we gonna do? I think that’s where it becomes critical to enjoy running for its own sake.

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  3. Taking it one day at a time is a great plan, and I understand wanting to limit the running posts. Sometimes running is just personal! I do wonder if you needed more time for recovery. You didn’t just run the most painful race in the heat but also spent an entire week doing really hard hiking. Also, I learned that my true easy pace was 2 minutes slower than what I thought my easy pace was, so you still could have been running at moderate intensity.

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    1. Very true! That’s another thing I miss about being a newbie. I didn’t have any pretenses about what my easy pace “should” be, it just was what it was! It was months before I was even cognizant of pace or knew what the numbers meant, I just wanted to finish the miles! I think I need to start running sans GPS again.

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  4. You know, there’s only so long that initial spark and desire to chase goals can last in any particular hobby without some serious, serious sacrifice, and that’s okay. I think the blogging community and the idea of identifying as a “runner” (or as a triathlete or as anything) can nudge people towards burnout when, perhaps, it’s best to just accept the cyclical nature of hobbies like this.

    My dad, after taking a break for a couple decades, started running again in his 40s. Since then, he’s run a few marathons, taken some time off for injuries, and run a smattering of shorter races. But since running was never something with a lot of pressure to constantly perform, he’s never really needed a mental break. Because if he doesn’t want to train for a race, he just doesn’t. He goes out and runs his five mile route three times a week and enjoys the time.

    Obviously, I’m using my dad as an example of someone with a really healthy approach to his hobby that fosters the longevity of that hobby because I’m a terrible example of it myself. 😛

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    1. Yeah. I think you may be right. If I were an outsider looking at my blog I’d probably see someone who is in denial about the fact that she’s just grown out of her goal chasing phase and isn’t sure how to move on from it. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s half marathon being over, because after that I have a long stretch of time with no long races on the calendar, so I can feel free to just do the mileage that feels comfortable every week without the pressure to be prepared for 13.1, and it will give me some breathing room to figure out how running fits into my life now.

      Blogging is another thing that seems to have run its course. I’ve thought so many times about just deleting this blog out of the blue and not looking back, but I keep hanging on because there’s so much else I want to write about (even if no one reads it). But I do feel like I’ve backed myself into a corner by creating a running themed blog and then subsequently not wanting to blog about running anymore. So I keep making excuses to hang on but all the while wondering if, like you said, blogging is another cyclical hobby for me that has run its course and it would really be better if I just move on.

      And, yeah, I wish I could just be one of those people who runs simply for the enjoyment of it. But every time I get close to going down that route I end up signing up for another damn race.

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  5. Don’t give up on yourself! Running is so frustrating because it’s not a linear path from beginner to success. There are so many highs and lows, even on one training run. Just go out this weekend and have fun! You have the fitness there, even if your runs lately haven’t been that great. I hope at least that you enjoy yourself. Good luck!!

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