I've been running for over a decade, but I'm still learning things. My latest lesson comes in the form of seasons. I've known about race season for years now, but as we transition from summer to fall after months of canceled races, I've found my running seasons look different than they have in the past.
I have been in a season of limitation. It was a necessary mindset for the time being, but now I'm ready to enter into a new season of expansion and rebuilding.
Survival & Excuses
Last spring, when news of Covid was new and especially terrifying, I think we all entered some sort of survival-mode. I know I did.
From April to early September, the vast majority of my runs didn't exceed two miles, and from April to July that was pretty much by design. The stress of selling our house, moving, working from home, quarantining, moving again, and basically facing the great unknown that was life this spring thinned out my stamina. At the time, running was solely an outlet for my stress, with no goals or expectations in mind. It was about survival. It was about staying sane.
|Short & inconsistent. Just doing what I could.|
My energy for performance was minimal, and that's fine. It's normal. I know myself well enough to know that when I'm dealing with a lot of stress, setting running goals is a sure way to burn out.
Eventually, though, the rough waters of uncertainty receded, and life found some kind of stability. Our move complete, I settled into a routine. I could finally breathe again.
When some semblance of normalcy returned sometime in August, the limits I had set became an obstacle, and excuses followed. The elevation. The hills. The cold air and my sad little asthmatic lungs. These excuses are valid in that they are real, but my response to them was unfair to myself.
View this post on Instagram
In all honesty, last night’s run was not good. I’ve been dealing with some intense and disruptive stomach issues this week, and I’ve felt lethargic and dehydrated as a result. Thank goodness this goofball can make me smile despite it all. I’m looking forward to the next one being better!
Rather than acknowledging the excuses and working through them, I let myself give in to them and get comfortable where I was. Eventually, that comfort started to make me sad.
I began to believe I couldn't increase my mileage again. I began to believe these self-imposed restrictions were part of my new normal.
Resetting & Rebuilding
At this point in my running journey, I have no real desire to beat my old speed or distance PRs. My experience with compartment syndrome and recovery changed my outlook on running. Now I run purely for enjoyment, and I've let go of comparing myself to others or even to my past self. I haven't let go of improvement and growth, but the drive to meet specific goals just isn't there anymore.
If I were truly happy to run no more than two miles at a time for the rest of my life, that would be fine, but I began to miss my stamina. I began to miss longer runs. I began to miss feeling strong - feeling able to do more. I hated feeling like "two miles" had become a brick wall and every run longer than that was a challenge.
|I pushed myself to 3.5 miles on this run and felt an absolute rush. I hadn't felt this good in a long time.|
Coming to this realization, I worried that maybe I had held back for too long, and would never experience growth in running again. (Just the other day, as I struggled up a hill around mile three of my run, I said to Matt, with wry amusement, "Remember when I used to run marathons?")
So, I have this virtual 12k I'm excited about. I'm already late in completing it, but I've at least started building some mileage. When I completed my 5-miler last Monday, it was the longest I'd run since early March, when I ran six miles with a friend. My knees and quads really felt it.
This week, I ran another five. I was tempted to stop halfway through because the first lap was tough, but after a break to ditch my vest and use my inhaler, I found the second lap felt much easier and I finished feeling proud of what I'd accomplished.
|The first run was fully flat and sunny toward the end; the second was a little hillier and super rainy.|
I'm remembering that my body can do a lot more when I bother to put in the effort. What a no-brainer, huh? There's a mentality among athletes that you should push yourself to the point of punishment, and I find that mindset to be dangerous, but there is a healthy way to challenge yourself, and I am remembering how to do that and why I enjoy it.
I had forgotten the sense of accomplishment and confidence that comes after completing a difficult run. I had forgotten the little muscle tingles and aches after the cool down, and the way your body reminds you that you've done something tough.
I realize that I had kind of resigned myself to no longer being a distance runner, but now I know I was just taking a break and I can take on challenges again if and when I want to.
I am still happy to run for the joy of it, but maybe pushing limits can be part of the joy once in awhile.