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.
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!