Chicago Training Prep, Chapter 3: How I Overcame a Year-Long Running Slump

I bet many of my faithful readers out there have been wondering if this day would ever come. To be honest, I’m surprised so many of you stuck around this long. I mean, how many times can you listen to someone say “I’m gonna get back at it…no really, I am!”…”Oh hey guys, I hope you don’t remember when I said I’m gonna get back at it, because I totally blew off running for the last 3 weeks because I wasn’t feelin’ it. Oh those goals I had? Nevermind.”…”Hey it’s me again, my motivation is back for real this time!”…”Nevermind. Running is dumb. Seriously. I don’t know how y’all do it.”….

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Proud to ring that PR bell, but little did I know the true toll it would take.

For those of you who are not up to speed: I’ve spent the past year going through an on-again-off-again-but-mostly-just-off-again running slump. It started after I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of last year. I had worked harder than I’d ever worked in training, and I was really burnt out. I crossed the finish line with a PR and a Chicago Qualifier, but there was no euphoric high – I was just relieved to be done and all I could think about was getting the hell away from running and training for a good long time. I vaguely remember some thoughts about focusing on shorter distances for the rest of the year, but I was absolutely sure that I would not run another marathon until Chicago a year and half later (hey, at least I kept one promise!).

 

Then summer happened. The heat and humidity of summer 2016 was unbearable and nasty and it totally killed any motivation I had to maintain a running routine. Regardless, I made plans to start training in August for a fall 10K racing season and I was actually excited about it. But within a couple months, that fell flat too. The heat of summer continued into October and I just couldn’t get into training. I wasn’t enjoying myself, I felt flat, and despite the fact that I was switching things up and trying something new, I soon found myself burnt out again. So, I quit. And then I didn’t run at all for 5 whole weeks. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed all that time off and didn’t miss running too much. I ran a handful of times in November, and then took another two whole weeks off around the holidays.

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Smiling because I was DONE, and I had awesome pants, not because I just ran a PW!

It was now 2017, I was at my heaviest weight in a few years from not exercising and overindulging during the holidays, and I’d had enough. I was determined to get back into shape, but I wasn’t ready to commit to training for anything, so I decided I’d spend the winter base-building. Well, that fell flat too. I just couldn’t muster up the motivation to keep up with a running routine. The constant cold and darkness really got to me. I kept up with running, even managing a few 9-11 mile long runs, but by mid-February I was only running about 2 times a week. I was bored and unmotivated. It all culminated in a vacation half marathon I ran in mid-March. I ended up blowing up 10 miles in, needing to mostly walk the last two miles, and running a 10-minute personal worst time. And it didn’t even bother me. I just couldn’t care.

 

And then April happened. On the first of April – yes, literally, the first day of the new month – spring seemed to rush into life here in Milwaukee. I run-walked another half marathon on a gorgeous day, and even though I actually finished this one slower than the March blow-up race, I felt good. Slow, but stronger. I walked away from that race as the birds chirped and the sun shone and finally, I felt ready. I wanted to train again, I wanted to start feeling like my old self at races, and I was ready to make it happen again.

img_2999Unfortunately, moving to our new house in April meant even less running than before, but this time, my motivation did not falter. My desire to run only grew stronger as the weeks went by, even though I couldn’t make it happen. I was itching to start Chicago Marathon training and eager to explore new routes from our new house. And when moving settled down and I found myself thoroughly enjoying each of those first few runs from my new home, I knew that something had finally changed.

 

The slump was over.


 

So how did I do it? How did I finally beat The Slump?

img_2989As you can probably gather from reading my story, a lot of credit goes to things that are out of my control: winter changing to a lovely and friendlier spring, a new environment that freshened things up, a life change that made me happier overall, an upcoming big marathon to train for. It’s no coincidence that my motivation to run came back as all of these things started happening. There was more hope and positivity in my life, and I know that has translated to my running.

But here’s one thing I did to beat the slump: I never stopped believing that my love of running would find its way back to me. Throughout the dreary winter and the persistent lack of motivation, I never gave up on it. Hey, this was a LONG slump – it would have been so easy to say to myself “you know, obviously this running thing was just a phase and it’s not really for me. Why bother anymore?” But I always knew, deep down, that wasn’t true. So I just kept waiting – some times patiently, more often impatiently – for my old self to come back. Finally, it did.

At the same time, one of the best things I did for my running slump was to just let it happen. I went on living my life and let myself go through what I needed to go through. It sucked, and it was humbling, but I knew that this was happening because it was something I needed to work through. So I eventually stopped pushing myself, accepted my feelings, and let the slump work itself out.

img_3037And I’m glad I did. Because honestly, as corny as this sounds, I really feel like I came away from my slump with a lot more than I lost. This “down year” has been such a huge learning experience for me. I was able to have some honest conversations with myself about my relationship with the sport. I was able to face down my fears of doing extremely poorly in a big race – blowing up and running a 10+ minute personal worst would have been devastating to me a year ago. But then, it happened, and you know what? It really wasn’t so bad. Life went on. I was able to put a lot of things in perspective and start developing a healthier, more holistic attitude toward running and racing. I was able to figure out how to have balance in my life. I’ve learned how I can better avoid and manage slumps in the future.

And last but certainly not least, I’m finally able to enjoy myself out there again. As I’m getting back into a routine, my runs have been slower than ever and they don’t always feel amazing, but I have been having such a great time. I’ve loved exploring new routes, taking in the sunshine and crisp spring breeze, and I’ve enjoyed sharing it all with my Instagram followers too.

I know it won’t all be sunshine and rainbows from here on out, but something is different now. I can feel it. The slump changed me for the better. Running is cyclical in nature – I will have great success again someday, but I will also go through more slumps. It’s all part of it. But I now have a greater understanding of how to better deal with the slumps (and the successes) going forward.

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It’s hard to give advice on how to overcome a slump because it’s so different for everyone, but here are some things that I think could work for pretty much anyone:

  1. Do what you actually love to do.
    Take the time to really listen to your heart when it comes to running. Do you really actually enjoy training for that marathon or that local 5K? If not, then why do it? Running isn’t your job – no one is counting on you to perform well or improve. So if you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s the point? The best way to avoid a slump or a rut is to figure out what you genuinely love and what keeps you motivated, and do that. Don’t do things because you feel like you have to. This is a hobby – you don’t have to do anything. Yes, it’s true that you need to mix things up if you want to keep improving at your target distance. But if it’s killing your love of the sport, maybe that improved race time just isn’t worth it.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others
    One thing that was admittedly hard for me during the slump was watching my friends who never seem to have to go through this. I have some friends who are just always motivated to get out there and run; they still log 30 mile weeks in their off seasons and if they do go through a slump it’s only, like, 2 weeks long. I also have friends who go from one training cycle to the next and excel at every damn one. I spent a lot of time watching these two groups of runners, thinking “what is their secret? Why not me??” until I finally realized: it doesn’t matter. I could pick the most successful runner I know and emulate every single thing she does and I’d still see different results. Because I’m not her. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s great. I’m not here to live someone else’s life, so it’s not fair to use another person as a standard for how I should live mine. We all have our own different relationships with the sport. I am not less of a runner because I’m not as in love with the sport as some of my friends are, or because I go through rough patches and ups and downs with my training. As long as I’m happy and healthy, my relationship with running is just fine as it is, no matter how it compares to anyone else’s.
  3. Let it be
    Sometimes the best thing to do for a slump is to just let it run its course. Pushing yourself is not always the answer in life, in fact, sometimes it just makes the rut worse. If you’re at a point where you’re trying everything to get your mojo back and nothing is working, consider the possibility that maybe it’s because you need to let go for a while. Every so often, the road we’re on turns into a dead end. It happens in life. No one wants to be in the position of needing a break, but just remember – lost fitness is a lot easier to get back than lost passion. Trust me.

Those things may or may not work but next time you find yourself in a slump or rut just remember – mine was a year long, and I got through it. You will too!

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4 thoughts on “Chicago Training Prep, Chapter 3: How I Overcame a Year-Long Running Slump

  1. I so need to break my slump. I have started back, sorta…a couple runs each week, with no long run to speak of. I was going to do one this past weekend, but wine and the couch won me over, LOL! Great job getting back at it!

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  2. Glad you are back at it!!
    I, too, have felt invigorated by spring (although the weather still pretty much stinks here). (and then I will complain about bugs). I also think that now I am back coaching spring track and the kids really inspire me.
    Runner’s world just published a 5k training program and I think I am going to try that. I figure my daughters want to race me this summer, so I might as well go down kicking!!
    I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed a month long break from any real training after Boston. I have been doing yard work for cross training. I am also a garden geek. I have 2 more weeks to wait for the frost warnings to lift, so I have been moving/dividing perennials…

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  3. This might be my favorite post ever! I feel like I can relate, since I went through my first slump this past winter without recognizing it at first. The weather was also a huge contributor for me. I used to have no problems running in the worst winter weather, but not this year. Like you, I let myself back off and gravitate toward running I like to do and finally feel like I’m in a good place. So glad you are too! It sounds like you really did come out better than you were before in terms of your relationship with running.

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