I’ve always been someone who just loves to run. I’ve never felt like I “needed” to run. I’ve never depended on it for sanity or therapy. I just love it.
The mindless repetition of one foot in front of another.
The exploration of new areas of my city.
The adventure of exploring a new trail.
Racing up a hill until my lungs burst.
Dancing between rocks while floating downhill—albeit dancing awkwardly because I have no rhythm and when I float, it’s more like a feather falling in a herky jerky motion.
I love being outside and love the exhilarating feeling of burned out lungs and throbbing quads.
That’s why when all of a sudden this past fall when I no longer loved running, I was concerned.
And when I say “all of a sudden,” I actually mean it was a steady decline over the course of about 3 months. Stopping something you identify with can be extremely challenging. My body was telling me that I needed a break, but I wasn’t ready to listen.
Here are the 7 stages of waiting too long to take that break your body has needed.
Back in July, when this whole ordeal started, I related my physical state as a candle without wax. I had been burning the candle at both ends and was crashing. My body was giving me signs with a slight pain here or a turned ankle there, but every time I thought about taking extended time off, I would look at Instagram and see someone running an awesome trail and I would think that I needed to get outside. I would take my lighter and hold it over the candle’s wick and run on the adrenaline of new experiences.
I couldn’t take a break. I was in Colorado. There were so many mountains. Not only did I need to explore them, but I had to share my experiences as an Altra Ambassador. I had to live the #zerolimits lifestyle. I had to post pictures and inspire others to get out and get after it.
But slowly I grew more agitated, and not only with my running. My sleep suffered. My body kept throwing me to the ground while on the run, but I kept picking it up saying “winter is coming, just one more weekend.” Snap a picture, #amazingrun, internet points, dopamine.
And then one morning I woke up, looked at my training plan for the week and had a moment of awakening. I don’t love you anymore. What once had burned so hot had gone out. There was no more wax. I assumed that it was only for a short time, but I honestly didn’t care if it was forever. What have you done for me lately? You’ve made me tired, you may have broken my hand, you’ve kept me away from brunch. We had a good run, but I’ve put up with your B.S. for too long. I’m out.
I began looking back on my relationship with running and scoffed at my actions. You’re so selfish taking that all that time to run. What about your friends? What about brunch? What about staying up past 9pm? Do you know how much money you spent on races last year?
And then it spread to the internet. Why does this person keep posting all these photos? Why do you care so much? I bet you aren’t even having fun! Are you even out there for the right reasons?
As I wallowed for a week or two in this stage of bitterness, I slowly melted into the cushions of my couch. Watching movies I had talked about seeing for the past year, catching up on the shows people used to talk about (I highly recommend Master of None and You’re the Worst), rediscovering my love for watching sports on TV. “Being American” I called it. It was glorious. I can see why it’s all the rage.
And reading! I think I read three books in the first three weeks of my break. Sinking deeper into my cushions, diving into worlds unknown. Burning calories in my brain as my feet continued to refuse to do work.
It was after about 3 weeks that I started to get concerned that it wasn’t coming back. One can only watch Kobe Bryant air ball so many shots and Byron Scott bench the future for so many fourth quarters until you start getting antsy. While I have generally maintained that I am not a runner, but rather someone who likes to run, a little of my identity was missing. I stayed strong on the outside, telling anyone who I could corner that I was excited to be taking a break and that I was looking forward to reconnecting with the rest of the world, but on the inside I wanted to go again. My energy was returning, but the few times that I was able to convince myself to put on my shoes, I couldn’t really get up on plane, and I quickly turned around.
Since moving to Colorado, I had been deficient in athletic diversity. With so many trails to run, I always opted for my shoes over other activities. I had been itching to join the climbing gym since I had moved here and the combination of needing to move and the early snow made me pull the trigger. It hurt in a new way, but produced the same smile of exhaustion. Sweat returned as a normal part of my day and I made peace with the treadmill, where I would do a “workout” every once in a while (although some days, I stepped on and couldn’t get past the warmup phase before stepping off and back out into the blustery winter wind).
An then, after a month of climbing, holidays, a little bit too much wine, family, and a little more wine, I was back in my familiar place in the corner of the couch. The opening credits began to roll and Adam Sandler’s name scrolled across the screen. Already disappointed in my decision, I started to glance toward my phone and caught my running shoes out of the corner of my eye.
Maybe I’ll just go for a run instead…
Wait, what!? Do you wanna go for a run? YUP! I WANT TO GO FOR A RUN!!!
8 miles later (nobody said I was smart), I collapsed on my front porch in a puddle of sweat and exhilaration.
And just like that, running and me were like peas and carrots again; and I feel great!
The two months that I spent basically off my feet allowed my legs to recover to a place where they haven’t felt this good in years. I look back and laugh at myself for imposing the labels of “dedicated,” “persistent,” “motivated,” and such, and for pushing through pain and suffering during exhausting runs. Making up excuses for falling and getting injured. Blaming everything but running itself. Not allowing the flexibility in my schedule when life got busy, but squeezing in that run anyway. Or taking that trip to the mountains even though I had to stop at the store for underwear because I didn’t have time to do the laundry.
As I sat on the couch during my break and watched the beginning of the basketball season, I noted how these professional athletes had just taken three months off to allow their bodies to recover from the beating they take over the course of the season. How most of us on the trail are not professional athletes but many of us fail to dial back our efforts unless we are injured. How I told myself in October 2014 that I was going to take a break after the barn fire at WIEM 50k.
I’ve come to enjoy my developing upper body strength and the balance and improved agility that appear to have come with it. I wish somebody would have told me that cross training was good for you. 😉
I am so excited about 2016 that I can barely contain myself. I’m looking forward to doing a better job of listening to my body, diversifying my activities, and finding out how close I can get to the sun without getting burned. Who am I kidding? I’m going to touch it. Because I’m a silly boy and we like to touch hot things to make sure that they are really hot. ☺
Adventure awaits. Follow along at mkebell.wordpress.com