Weird when I look at all the activity in the Watchung Reservation Running Club Meetup group. I originally started that club as a way to meet more runners in the area. I had thoughts that I would become this running old-timer and eventually have a sense of ownership over something local. It didn’t pan out.
While I’m happy that it has continued (and seems to be thriving) it feels weird to see this thing I birthed out there running around… and I have nothing to do with it.
In 2016, I want to find a way to reintroduce running into my life. Over the last few years, it was my salvation. When all else could be going wrong, a long hard run would push it all away. When things were tough, I would remind myself that it was not as hard as running. It never hurt as much as that. I could withstand anything the world threw at me because I knew what is was like to really suffer intentionally, willingly, happily.
I dropped running from my life cold turkey. At the same time, I introduced a bunch of big, hard changes. So my stresses developed and, left unchecked, ballooned into something unmanageable. Now I’m suffering the repercussions of all of this. Stresses to a point that feel unsustainable. Sleep issues. Health concerns. And a general mood that borders on unpleasant, just ask my kids.
It has been a long time now since I have been able to think of myself as a runner. I’ve been embarrassed about it at times as those around me, knowing that I do enjoy a long conversation about my runs, ask me how things are going. The long pause, stare at the ground and shake the head a bit, then mention that I have not been running much since the marathon in the fall.
That worked for the few weeks immediately following the race.
“I’m taking a break from it for a bit to recover.”
“I have a slight injury that I’m resting. I can’t wait to get back to it.”
Then the weeks turned into the holidays. Months passed as winter settled in and I could think of so many reasons why I did not want to go out and run in the cold and the snow. I lost fitness and started to see that I wouldn’t enjoy the running at this point. I was going to have to suffer more than normal just to get back to a level of fitness that would allow me to get the results that I had grown used to. I was being a perfectionist who didn’t want to practice to get better. I just wanted to be there… so I gave up for awhile.
Winter thawed and races that I usually ran passed me by. I actually went and watched one of them. I clapped and cheered but left feeling despondent and lost.
I finally went for a run around the neighborhood. It sucked just as I imagined it would suck. I huffed and puffed and my legs cramped and flailed. One in the books. After my shower I took stock of the fatigue and elation that was flowing through me and said that I’m going to keep this up. I’m going to put it all back together and rebuild the routine, the necessary habit.
Then I got a new job, with new responsibilities. Long hours and increased stresses. At a time when running could have been the salve to help me cope with these new commitments, I could not develop the routine to get it done. I could not make the time to get out there on the roads and trails. Where I used to be happy to run in the dark of early morning or late night, I found that I no longer had the interest. I was committing myself wholly to my new job and saving what little was left for family and a little sleep here and there. There was no longer room in my life for another obsession.
Then a text appeared on my phone one Friday afternoon. It was from my old running partner (who probably thought I was dead or in jail). Would I be interested in getting out for an early morning run on the local trails. 10k. A very familiar loop.
I did not respond for awhile. I wavered back and forth, trying to determine the reason why I wouldn’t be able to do this.
I had been on 4 runs max of any value over the last few months. The fitness I had would be long gone by this point. This would be miles longer than anything I done in awhile
I would be slow
I would slow him down
I would be pathetic out there, wheezing, hacking, stumbling along barely able to lift my feet. The confidence I had in my abilities to suffer in the woods was shattered by all that had occurred over the last few months. What if I was no longer willing to suffer?
My wife and kids would need me in the morning. Getting out would commit me for and hour or two. I don’t want to have to get up early. I’m not ready, etc. etc. etc.
I laid it out there for my wife thinking that she would put the breaks on it for me. Surely she would come up with a reason why this would not work. There had to be something she needed me for, some reason to get upset at the thought of me even asking.
I was relying on her to make this decision for me. She didn’t do it. She shot right back with “Sure. I think you should do it.” I waiting a while for a sign. None came so I typed the message back and committed myself to starting it all up again.
The pre-bedtime routine felt familiar and satisfying. Decide on the shoes, shorts, shirt, gear. Get it stacked by the door with keys, ID and a water bottle waiting. I knew how to dress in the dark and crack the door just enough to slip out without waking the little ones.
I started to get a little amped on the short car ride over to the trailhead parking lot. I always end up being early so I sit and listen to the radio. Part of me wondered if he might not show. Would I pack it in or get out there on my own? As I contemplated that question I was afraid that I was not sure of my answer.
I had no doubt that if I ventured out onto the 10k loop on my own, I would find some way of cutting it short, some reason to hike it in instead of working it the way I used to.
But he showed.
A little handshaking and catching up and we were on our way. I had warned him that it had been a long time since I had really done anything strenuous.
We took off. After a brief quarter mile of rooty running along the lake, the trail rises briskfully up to a slight ridge line, climbing a few hundred feet over the next quarter mile. I huffed and puffed behind Bret, keeping pace but constantly contemplating how long I could keep it up.
It was his slow day so he was able to downgrade as I worked quite a bit harder than I should have. Overall it was not destroying me the way I thought it would. My legs felt strong. My lungs, not so much. But I knew how to suffer well and could manage this for awhile.
We leveled out along the top of the ridge and settled into a nice little trot. I knew that the next stretch was a long downhill, losing what we had gained over a mile. I could coast along a bit, watching my feet for lazy stumbling among the roots and rocks.
After open field running the trail cut back into the woods into some tight, nearly overgrown single track. I love this stretch of trail and have missed it over the last few months. There is nothing better than moving quickly through the woods, working at your own perfect speed. Some days fast, other days labored and plodding, sometimes just slow. Moments to catch the light through the trees, eying the hills and drainage valleys for deer and other animals.
But all good, pleasant stretches of trail must come to an end. Down becomes up. Along the bottom stream bed for awhile, then comes the trail rising back up to the first ridge line. My energy drained and I was forced to speed hike the steepest sections. My running partner slowed his pace to a jog and stayed twenty yards ahead of me. I kept telling him that I had hit my limit and he should move on. I would finish it out at my own pace. He wasn’t having it, jogging ahead for bits. I would catch up on the flats or slight ascents.
It was not long before my energy came back, probably with the knowledge that I was nearing another downhill spell and the final mile long trot along the lake into the lot. That mile always feels longer than it is as I wait for the bridge and the trailhead lot to come into view. This time it felt just about right.
We wrapped it up at the car. Chatted for a few more minutes then both headed home to get back to our waking children. I went through the rest of the day with tired legs but a happy mind. My fatigue was earned and I felt like I had got something back that was sorely missed over the last 8 or 9 months.
This has been a transition year for me. Since the marathon back in November, I have barely run at all. I haven’t run a race. These last 10 months, I have had to focus on other things. New work, for one, and not a job I’ve found easy on my mind or life balance. I have not had the capacity to be controlled by the plans, the miles and minutes, the ascents. I’ve had to focus on other things.
Since that first day back on the trails, when I have made the time to get out and run a bit, I have left the tracking alone. Or I should say that I have left the obsessing over tracking alone. I still enjoy reminiscing over my Strava data, the maps, the climbs, the flats. But I have not gotten back into weekly training logs, expectations and goals. I have run when I needed to. When I know that, while it will not always be a great run, I will most definitely feel better than when I started. I’ve run when I needed to feel better.
As I ease back into running I am hoping to do it for positive reasons, and leave the number crunching at home. For awhile.
After a few failed attempts, I finally got out on the road for a short run this morning. My other "returns" were mostly miserable and completely painful. My head wasn't ready for it so each time I closed up shop and waited for the next impulse.
A new job put further breaks in the way as I have tried to figure out a new routine and considerably larger expectations.
Now, seven months after a foot problem and general running malaise, I'm hoping to make it stick.
Today's jaunt has me floating on tired legs and a clearheaded, less burdened mind. It will be baby steps but little by little I want to remind myself how to be a runner again.
In the middle of a regular training cycle, my little pains and niggles become normal, daily creaks. First steps on the cold wood floor shoot electricity up my calves. Hips are sucked-in tight knots.
Now that I am waiting to race, a week into my first part of a taper, I'm finding these new pains concerning. Tiring. I question whether it is normal delayed onset soreness or could it be that tiny micro-tears have split along the fault lines, becoming full fledged ruptures. One more week, that's all I need to get through, then I can take a little time off. A little time off sounds nice.