In the spring of 2011 I began training for a 50-mile race. And for the two years that followed I did not stop. Race after race after race followed. The high-mileage training never stopped. Even to this actual day I am still training for an ultra marathon I'm running on Saturday. Weekends are sidelined for back-to-back long runs. Every weekend. Pressure builds during the week if I miss a scheduled run. I stress. I battle injuries. I feel inadequate when I struggle. And boy, do I struggle. Nearly every step of every mile run so far this winter has been a struggle. Mile after mile after mile after mile after mile. A month ago, if you'd asked, there'd have been no end in sight, as I had more ultras and another 50-mile race on my mind for the fall.
Even though my body and heart said "no, absolutely not, you asshole, you cannot keep this up," my mind wouldn't let it go. My mind had become so absolutely wrapped around the idea that I was a long-distance runner. That every 50K and marathon defined me. WHO AM I IF I'M NOT TRAINING FOR ALL OF THIS? I'll be a failure. A quitter. Inadequate. Weak. What I didn't realize was that I've started to hate running. I've become angry. Unhappy. Unsatisfied. Frustrated. Injured. Guilty. Jealous.
Suddenly, I realized those things.
Now there is an end in sight.
I turned off the part of my brain that is convinced I'll be unworthy, and I realized exactly who I'll be if I'm not running long, painful miles -- I WILL BE ME.
Running is a part of who I am, as it's been for the last 20 years. It will continue to be a part of my life. But I will enjoy it again. I've mentally torn to pieces the schedule of races I had my eyes on this year, the "Year of the 50K," as it was once fondly called. I think of that now and panic. That sounds like an awful year. So after next month, there will be no more ultra marathons in 2013. There will be no marathons in 2013. There will be running. Running because I can, not because I have to. I've had two years of having to run. I stopped enjoying having to run about six months ago.
There will be races I can reasonably finish in under two hours, not four or six or twelve. I can head out for a weekend run without having to pack four hours' worth of nutrition and water. Without worrying that my IT band will behave, or stressing over the pain in my shins. I can sleep in rather than run on a weekday, and not spend the day feeling guilty or feel like I'm disappointing my coach, who takes the time every week to create a specific training plan for me and my goals.
I'm readjusting those goals to get back to loving to run. I lost that. I tied myself so tightly to the idea of running and everything that comes with it, that I let go the best part of it -- loving it.
I'll still hit the miles, I'll still wake up to run, I'll still head out for my (former) favorite 13-mile lake loop, but there will be a difference. I'll do it because I want to. And once I turn that corner, once I remember how to want to run and how to love to run, I'll toe the line of ultra marathons again. But not one minute, not one mile, not one month, not one race before then.