For The Love Of Running
“Do not lose heart, we were made for these times…”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
It is nearly impossible, now being a runner, to imagine not loving running. Technically at some point I didn’t, because we weren’t yet acquainted. This is true. But once a runner, my love became ardent. I love running for fun, running to train, running to race. All these reasons go hand-in-hand for me. Picture my dismay, then, when I began to feel ambivalent about racing. Did these sudden lukewarm feelings mean my fire for running was in jeopardy?
To date, I’ve run 40+ races of varying distances. I built short races into my training for half and full marathons. I’ve raced just for the heck of it. I always showed up feeling that competitive edge. Then I plodded my way through the NJ Marathon. Despite a PR, the race was a classic example how not to run a marathon. I came away disappointed by the experience; and more so disappointed in my execution. After a few weeks recovery, I went out to run a 4-mile race and the NYRR Mini 10K.
The Mini 10K is one of my favorite NYRR races! I couldn’t wait to run it for the third time. Unfortunately, I lined up feeling mentally worn out (just like in the 4-miler). My body was running, my legs were fine, but my brain wasn’t pulling its weight. The competitive drive dissipated. I found myself pushing through to finish and walking away nonplussed about what just happened.
I had no way to explain it other than I didn’t feel like racing. The typical NYRR Central Park course was starting to resemble Groundhog Day. Running the same circles nearly every race was turning tiresome. These park races are so convenient for me, I’d never questioned the repetitive nature of the course. Racing there meant I could be out early, run, wrap up, and easily get on with my day. But recently, I thought, “why bother?”
After considering this lull, I began to talk about it with runner friends. Quite a few, especially the veterans, confirmed this is a normal cycle. The thrill of racing has its highs and lows, they said. They reassured: take a break from racing; run just to enjoy running. The desire to race will come back.
I decided to heed their advice before my next marathon training cycle. I backed out of several shorter races and showed up to spectate instead. I’d never done that before. If I wasn’t running a race, I wasn’t typically there watching. This change in perspective began to help me. From the sideline, I witnessed everyone from professional athletes to back-of-the-pack runners unleash all their efforts. Seeing a race differently – not in the midst of a weaving crowd – made me appreciate the respect racing deserves.
What then occurred to me was how casually I’d been treating racing. I raced to the point of exhaustion countless times after saying, “I’m going to take this one easy.” Why was I utterly disregarding my intentions? Maybe it’s inexperience, or uncontainable enthusiasm. But the effect was clear: I had nothing left to give my most important races. I now realize races need to be assigned a priority. Racing for fun should be kept light and relatively easy. Racing for a goal means having a strategy and heeding it. I need to be more structured here. Striking the balance between discipline and passion will take some practice.
While I’m taking my short hiatus from racing, I’ve reconfirmed the most important part of this story: my love for running. My runs lately have been without time or mileage goals. They’ve been run to enjoy, or to clear my head, or just because I can. I’ve been more open to taking in my surroundings as I go. I’ve spent less time looking at my Garmin for pace, and more time letting my body achieve that rhythm that makes me feel I can run forever. For me, this reconnects me with the basic foundation of the sport.
All this has left me ready to start marathon training feeling fully present. The routine will ensue and strategies will be set. I have some half marathons lined up as training runs only. This time, I’m leaving the racing for the NYC Marathon. So come November, I feel that competitive pulse that tells me, “This is what you trained for. Now’s the time to leave it all on the course.” And I will.