10 Years of Running: Confessions of a Declining Runner

Two months ago, I hit a pretty significant milestone:  ten years of running.  I began in June of 2007 at the age of 36 .   On day one, I thought I was going to die during a 1/4 mile run on a treadmill.  It was terrible but intriguing.  I kept running at the YMCA that June, slowly increasing my distance, and sometime later that month, I ran my first nonstop mile outside.  I still remember it well.  Red-faced and gasping for breath, I walked into the house and told my husband, "I just ran a mile!"  He was duly impressed.  June in Tennessee is probably not the ideal month to start running outside, but I do enjoy a challenge!

My first 5K was that August in 34:59.  My goal had been under 35 minutes.  I was immediately hooked and proceeded to run one 5K a month for the next several months, beginning a string of PRs (personal records).  I like to call this the honeymoon period.  Every race was faster than the one before it.   In February, I upgraded to the 10K distance and finally broke 30 minutes in the 5K.  I joined the local running club.  In April, I ran the Country Music Half-Marathon with 30,000 other runners, with a happy 2:19 finish.

I find it difficult to dabble. After the half marathon, I was all in.  I continued running 5K's, 10K's, and half marathons, sometimes multiple races per month.  Since I don't like to do anything half-way (see what I did there?) only twenty-two months after that first short run, I completed the Country Music Marathon.  Then I decided I needed to share all of this running goodness with others.  I became a Road Runners Clubs of America certified running coach.  Just after the start of my third year as a runner, I was hired by the YMCA to coach a half-marathon training group.  Since then, I've coached over 140 half marathoners.

For a few years, my life revolved around running-- my own runs, my running friends, competing in races, running club activities, and coaching others.  It was more than a hobby and a job, it was a one-dimensional way of life.  I planned my week around my runs, not my runs around my week. My type-A-ness took over.  I was consumed by it. I think after having been a stay-at-home mom for 5 years at the time, I was just thrilled to have something FOR ME outside of these four walls, outside of being a mom and a wife. Other than my family, it was the primary source of my fulfillment as a human.

In hindsight, I see I was not just immersed in running, I was drowning in it-- to the detriment of my own health.  I was somehow able to remain uninjured the first few years of running, but when my obsession got the better of me and I began experimenting with ultramarathons and multiple marathons a year (plus Crossfit), I found myself injured part of the year every year.   There might be a pattern there, or maybe it was just turning 40!

During one particularly challenging training cycle in my early forties, my immune system decided to attack my thyroid gland.  I noticed my body was breaking down, my hair was falling out, I was constantly fatigued, I couldn't sleep, and my emotions were, let's just say, volatile.  There is a family history of thyroid disease on my mother's side.  There can be a genetic component that is latent until some source of stress activates it.  Did running give me hypothyroidism?  No.  Did training extremely hard for a goal race with little recovery, high mileage, and too many "quality" runs? Probably.  Since my foray into hypothyroidism, my race times and enjoyment of double-digit runs have both been slowly but definitively declining.  I have had to learn to let go of the runner I once was and embrace the one I am now.  A quick(ish) two-miles?  Run/walking a gentle 6 or 7?  Sign me up!   

So, after ten years, I find myself in a very different place regarding running.  Don't misunderstand, I'm still in to a degree, but not all in.   I work part-time as an English teacher, which I love. My job and my family give me the fulfillment that I once sought from running.  I still run, because it is now ingrained in my DNA, and I still do races every few months.  I hope that I will always run two or three days per week, but I also enjoy other activities like hiking, walking, cycling, and weights.  Plus, I get to do all of these things with my family!  I want to be fit, happy, and healthy, and I think I've finally found a degree of balance regarding running that supports all of those.

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