"Have To's" vs. "Want To's" in a Runner's Life

Burnout seems to be inevitable for me at least once a year.  Last year, I wanted to get faster, so I followed a really challenging training plan from July-November with lots of speedwork and lots of miles. I did set a new half-marathon PR, but a marathon PR eluded me, and I was terribly burned out by mid-October.  I followed that plan religiously.  My "have to's" involved five runs per week and running when I was absolutely exhausted.  I was too scared to tell my coach at the time that I was falling apart.  He was so nice and encouraging that I didn't want to disappoint him. Major fail on my part.

This year, I decided to focus on running FAR, not fast, and really emphasized trails.  I ran a trail marathon in February, a road one in March, a road half in April, another road half in May, a 41-mile ultra in June, and a trail marathon two weeks later.  I ran two trail half marathons in July, 166 training miles in August, a trail 50K in September, and a road marathon in October.  The trail 50K was my overall goal for the year, but I somehow talked myself into signing up for a 50-miler in November. 

In August, I really began to notice I was struggling,  I did a 9-mile trail race and felt like I could barely finish.  I backed off mileage in September, and my 50K went GREAT on rested legs, but I only ran 52 miles in all that month (with 31 of them at the same time!).  My marathon three weeks later on still tired and sore legs was awful.  My hamstrings and glutes were tight and cramping. My IT band hurt.  Apparently, it takes me more than three weeks to recover from a 50K hard effort.  Lesson learned.  Since then, I have decided NOT to run the 50-miler in November.  It feels so good to just let it go.  

I could keep digging this hole.  I could keep putting in running (very slow at this point) and walking miles, so I could eke out a finish at the 50-miler in November.  But I don't WANT to.  My motivation and energy left me sometime in September---maybe at that 50K finish line.  I'm sick of the "have to's."  
  • I "have to" get in at least 40 miles this week!   
  • I "have to"  get in one more long run of 24-25 miles!
  • I "have to" get in one 40-mile weekend before this 50-miler.
  • I "have to" run at least one more back-to-back.  (Good grief, how I hate back-to-backs!)
I debated on whether to let this race go for weeks.  I knew I no longer had any desire to do it, but I didn't want to be a quitter.  I didn't want to disappoint a friend running it with me.  I didn't want to leave my roommate for the night in a tough spot.  A wise friend put all this stressing out into perspective for me though.  "It's only running," she said.  Yep.  I'd forgotten that.  Yes, it is a HUGE passion in  my life and a big part of me, but it really is "only running."

Sometimes, a DNS is the smartest thing for your body.  I'm listening to my body.  It needs a break.  It needs a period of time where the running is because I WANT TO and not because I have to.   I'm excited to allow myself some real recovery time and to do some short races in the upcoming weeks.  I want to have fun for a bit.

I have tentatively planned my spring schedule, and it's much gentler than what I did this year.  (Learn from your mistakes!)

I have an early spring road marathon planned.  I have a late spring trail marathon or ultra planned (debating which.)  Then I have time to recover and a destination race sometime in late summer or fall. I'd like to have some 5K's, 10K's, 15K's, 10-milers, or half marathons in the mix, too, without overdoing it.  I've forgotten how to run fast. 

I thought I could run a marathon or ultramarathon every month (or even two in one month), but I can't.  Right now, my body just can't handle it.  I have friends who run a marathon or ultra every weekend, but they are not ME.  All those long, slow miles have worn me out and made me slower.

I'm excited to finish out the rest of the year just doing what I want to.   Tomorrow is the Go Commando Half Marathon.  It is a "want to."  I'm an ambassador for the race, and I trained several individuals for it.  I have no idea how my body will react, but I'm just planning on taking it gently as a training run.   I read recently that "A grateful heart can run forever."  So, I plan to just RUN GRATEFUL.  

After tomorrow, I doubt I'll go above 10 miles for a while--unless I WANT TO.  Next weekend, my hubby and I are running a costumed 5-mile trail race to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary because we want to!  I will be thanking God for my husband and this gift of running.  There are enough "have to's" in the world.  Enjoy the "want to's"!