September can be a tough month for runners. Maybe your workouts are increasing in difficulty as the fall marathon season nears. Or maybe the summer’s heat and humidity has been taking its toll on you. But whatever the case or time of year, the tough parts of running shouldn’t have to ruin the sport. To illustrate, I thought I’d offer some lessons that can be gathered from a personal anecdote: my resurrection from the running grave.
Running was once all there was for me. In high school, I had very little interest in future careers, money, and girlfriends. I just wanted to run and get better—that was it. But as a junior in college and after six continuous years of competitive running, I was burnt. I remember the workout that put me down for good: a 40-min tempo run in the August heat that I totally tanked. The ironic thing was that I was probably near the best shape of my life with all the miles and training I had done up to that point. But it didn’t change the fact that running had now become a job to me. The seconds were starting to move slower and slower on each distance run. The enjoyment and competitive urge I once had was gone. I quit the team officially when I arrived back on campus a few weeks later. I never planned to run again.
Fast forward two years and I’m a grad student living in D.C. I got a job working at Pacers—frankly, because I needed money and not because I had any nostalgia about the sport. But you work around long distance studs like Chris Kwiatkowski and see a legendary track star like Matt Centrowitz Sr. waltzing around American University, it lights a fire in you. Add to this that life as a graduate student was stripping me of my sanity and I needed some outdoor air to counterbalance my time in the library.
So I started training for a 5K—just for fun. It was an enjoyable two months of training. Nevertheless, in the end, I succumbed to my insatiable love for cheese on a three-week trip to Switzerland and ran atrociously when I arrived back in the U.S. probably a few pounds heavier. Yet after that first race back, I felt oddly ecstatic. I had recovered the exciting feeling of competition and—more importantly—I had become more appreciative of the journey of training rather than the race itself. With this mentality, I’ve been training ever since and have been steadily improving. So what’s changed for me to get me back on the horse and what lessons can be learned from my experience?
Keep it simple.
First off, I’m back to the basics in a way. The competitive feeling I get from running is of itself a positive for me, but there’s so many other perks I get out of my running now other than racing. I’m now more drawn to the scenic distance runs; the friends in the running community I get to spend time with; and the alone time I get to relish on a Sunday long run—the same stuff that first attracted me to the sport when I was in high school. All of this has been vital towards making running intrinsically enjoyable and taking the stress off of the more serious parts of my training. So go explore some new running routes, meet some new running buddies, and whatever you do, don’t lose sight of how enjoyable it is to go get lost in the trails of Rock Creek Park for a few hours.
Don’t be just a runner.
This sounds weird at first, but its the most important lesson I’ve learned to combat “burning out”. Keeping with running in the long term requires you to stay balanced and not let running consume your life. I’ve run some successful races as a post-collegiate runner and I believe I have a lot more left in me. But unlike my past running life, I’m much more laid back. I am not just a runner. I am also an academic, a wanna-be comic, a lover of music, an avid beer drinker, and probably a couple of other odd things. Having other focus points in my life allows me to not let that bad workout get me down throughout the rest of the day (or week). So I encourage you to work hard towards your goal, but don’t let those mile splits in your last workout consume your day. Believe me, your mind will thank you.
If you are on the outs with running, I hope you will draw from the lessons I learned as I reevaluated what role the sport should play in my life and as I ultimately found my way back from the running grave. It will help you to rediscover what you truly love about lacing up and putting in the miles.
By Brendan Connell, Pacers Clarendon