Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Running

Today is the day that I didn’t run the Kettle Morraine 100. For most of the last year getting ready for a 100 miler and then this particular 100 miler had been a major goal in my life and in my running. For most of the time the training was going well, and by all indications it appeared that I would be ready as scheduled. Twice, once in the fall and once in the winter, I ran my fastest 50k times since 2003 (and my second and third fastest 50ks ever).  I was definitely on a running high.

Then I hit the 50 mile training race in April, and things began to unravel.  I had a DNF. After my second not-so-successful attempt at 50 miles, I realized that I was not ready to run 100 miles (and may not ever be – the jury is still out on that one). This put me into a bit of a tailspin in regards to my running.  As I sit this weekend and follow my acquaintances on Facebook who are running Kettle Morraine and other 100s this weekend, I am definitely at a low point.

At the same time, one of the runners I have been coaching for quite a while has been going through her own set of struggles. Life encroached on her running, as it does for all of us at time. She started missing runs and gaining weight, and pretty soon she was in a bona fide running slump. 

These events represent the ups and downs of running that we all encounter if we run long enough. Most runners start out experiencing mostly the ups. I mean there are always bad days and hard runs, but for the first few years running is usually a pretty exciting and motivating activity. There are new people to meet, new races to run, with the accompanying PRs, and all kinds of new gear to buy.  Life is good.

Eventually, though, things change. Sometimes it is injury, sometimes work or family, sometimes ill health (ours or that of someone we care about), sometimes it is achieving a long sought after goal and feeling at a loss for what to do next, and sometimes it is other interests, but if a person runs long enough, he or she will eventually experience the downs. 

Sometimes the ups and downs are short-lived.  Sometimes after a few weeks off from running, you think “Wow, I really want to get out there and run!” Other times they can last a while. If you checked out my race results on Athlinks and Ultrasignup, you would see that the years from 2005 to 2010 represented my longest running slump ever. I had some triathlons in 2007 and a few races in 2008, but most of that time I was not running regularly. I was in a slump that I could not seem to crawl out of. Every time, I would get myself going again, something else would pop up to push me back down. At times I was not sure I would ever get back to regular running again.

Whether or not a person continues running when faced with the downs has a lot to do with how they handle these downs. Many people just quit.  I meet a lot of people who say things like “Yeh, I used to run, but…”  These are often the people who were not able to sustain their desire for running through these down times.

A lot of whether or not a person continues running at this time is related to why a person runs. If the running was for extrinsic reasons (approval and attention of others or because someone they know talked them into it initially), it is not likely that the desire to run will survive. Usually this person just moves on to another activity. However, if the motivation was intrinsic (a real enjoyment of and joy in running) then the desire to run is likely to survive. It is not gone. It is just dormant for a while.

So what can runners do who are experiencing the downs of running. Well, first of all, be patient and know that this too shall pass.  Use the time to reconnect with some of the things that might have gotten pushed to the back burner while the attention was focused on running.

There is also trying new ways to enjoy running.  Train for a triathlon or duathlon. If you run on the roads, try the trails. If you have been doing trails, enter a few road races. If you have been going long, go short for a while.  Run without a watch. Run in new places. Volunteer to run with some kids or volunteer at a race. All of those things can help keep you in touch with running. I am using all these things to help me get through the slump. 

What about you? What do you do to get yourself past the “downs” in your running life?