Monday was the first day I have run since the Disneyland Half Marathon. That was over two weeks ago. I’ve wanted to run and meant to run nearly every day but just have not had the ability to make myself go do it. I felt great today out on an easy three miler, and I was super excited to get out the next day to double that distance, which I did. All of this has gotten me to thinking about why. Why did I temporarily lose the will, the drive, and the ability to get up and go do what I love doing? In my quest to get out of my funk I decided to do a little research, and the results were both crazy and interesting.
When I was a competitive young runner I ran six days a week. I ran Monday through Friday using various training methods to be ready for race days on Saturday. I rested on Sunday, my seventh day if you will. I basically followed this plan the entire year. I even followed it when I was not in a track or cross country season. I just ran a one man race on Saturdays. I never once had any trouble getting up and going for the day’s run, not even on the day after a race. I simply got up and ran without any thoughts otherwise. So why is it that today as a “grown up” I get so down and need a break after a race? I have run three races this year that were at least a half marathon’s distance. The Goofy Challenge, Azle Lake Run, and the Disneyland Half are all on my resume for the year, and all three saw me take at least two weeks off after I crossed the finish line.
I found myself thinking I would run and wanting to run, but my body just refused to comply. Maybe it was the other way around. Maybe it was my body that was itching for the action, and my brain was the one holding me back. Either way the result is the same, and I found myself with a myriad of excuses and very logical reasons for not doing it. It wasn’t until a few days ago when I was dressed to run, and I still managed to find a reason not to did I realize it had become a real issue. Under normal circumstances the act of putting on my gear gets me pumped and ready no matter my mood, physical state, or anything else. I’ve likened it to Clark Kent popping into a phone booth and coming out as Superman. Sliding on my running shorts is like ripping off my suit and flying away in a cape. On this day however the cape failed to make me fly, and I figured I might need to figure this thing out.
My plan was to use force on myself. I would make myself go run, and that would kick start my engine. I got up, got dressed, and walked out the door. I was on my way to recovery. I lined up, started the Garmin, and took off down the sidewalk for what would be a three mile run doing one mile at a time of out and backs. After mile one, I walked back into my house. I was tired and called it done after one. I called it a good start and decided to get my three miles the next day. It didn’t happen. I was able to yet again find a way out of it, and I decided I needed to step up my game if I was going to beat myself. I called my running buddy Sam and scheduled a run for the next morning. I knew having someone waiting on me would be the best motivation against excuses that I could find, and it worked. I met up with Sam, and we ran a 5k together, having a great time. When we started the run Sam asked how far we were going, and I honestly did not know. I told him I had somewhere between one hundred meters and one hundred miles in me that day, and we would see which one we got closest to at the finish line. As always he was game, and we had a nice run. So am I back? Good to go? I believe I am and I’m using the six miler I did the next day as my proof.
The most bothersome aspect of this whole thing is just how common it seems to be for runners. I remember my good friend Hester struggling with this same thing after he completed the Goofy Challenge last year. It seems that the drive to run can leave us pretty easily post-race. I got online, and I typed in “post race let down,” and I was flooded with 11.3 million responses! Holy cow, this is a big deal. I figured the key words probably caused some excess findings so I typed in “post race depression” and got back 1.8 million responses! That’s not as many but still more than enough to consider this a big deal. I searched and read a lot to see if there was an actual psychological issue linked to this and from what I could find there is not. So basically there’s just something wrong with us as runners? My readings did yield a lot of similar and logical reasons as to why so many of us get caught in a funk after a race. These include things like a long build up, stern focus on a goal, immersion into the goal specific training, and on and on. All of these say the same thing though. As runners we focus so hard on the goal of the race that we never really look past it. It’s all or nothing on that goal race so when it happens there is nothing left to look forward to.
So what’s the solution? I have a few ideas and recommendations. The first is to adopt a mindset similar to the one my younger self had. Every week is a race week, and the training is simply to get me ready for that week’s race. Each week becomes a microcosm of training within the big picture. In high school it was state. Each week’s training led to a race that I would use as a measuring stick towards my goal of racing at the state meet. So in this scenario each week would be a singular training week where I would test my abilities on Saturday with a distance run, and each week would be a meter to gauge my preparedness for January’s race.
The next idea is to create a season for yourself. Don’t just schedule one race but at least two. That way you have a follow up goal to allow you a reason to keep working even after you have already achieved the first goal of getting through the big race. I can see some potential issues coming from this plan as you will eventually run out of races and have to take some time off, but that would be ok because you can call that your offseason and even the best of the best have one of those.
If those don’t work for you because you are a newbie runner and have that big goal race you’re training for with no real knowledge of your abilities to even finish that, then you are in a different boat. My idea for you is to just focus on that race and do your best. If you find yourself needing a break from training afterwards then you should take it. The point for you is to prove to yourself that you can do it, and the break after is well deserved so you should enjoy it but set a time frame of allowance for it. Give yourself two or three weeks to marvel in your accomplishment, but mark the calendar for your return to training and maybe even find your next race challenge.
If none of those work for you then I say call a friend and schedule a run because that really seemed to push me over the edge and back into the excitement of my training.
I had my biggest layoffs after my two Disney races this year, and I can attribute it to a few things. The first being that both were big physical and emotional goals for me so the huge drop off and relief that comes from accomplishing and overcoming those things was big, and I was ill prepared for them. The other big factor is that I was injured both during and after these races. Running the Disney World Marathon with a broken big toe and then the Disneyland half with my heel spur were both extremely challenging experiences, and I think that took a lot out of me. Are these good reasons and excuses? Yes, of course they are, and so is any reason you have as well. The point here is to have a plan to overcome those reasons and find your way back to doing what you enjoy.