Running Again

At the beginning of Spring, I signed up for two races, the half-marathon Dam to Dam in the summer, and the full Des Moines Marathon in October. This was my second half, but I’d never come close to a full marathon, so signing up for it was aspirational motivation. I was training with a group running long on Saturday mornings, so as the time for the half approached and I started thinking about the full, I was feeling more and more confident that I would actually be able to run it. Then I ran the half, and things went wrong.

It was hot. Not ridiculously so, but it started out in the 70s and went up from there. I probably would have been fine, but I wore my long Under Armor pants under my shorts, mistake number one. I started out at a good pace, but too good, running at around 8:30 or so, which for me is pretty fast, even when I’m at peak training. Mistake number two. The first few miles were fine, but around mile four or so the sun beating down started to take its toll. I stopped at every water station to take a drink. Around mile six I started taking an extra cup to pour on my head. Mistake number three.

Mile seven I hit The Wall. I hit it far too early, I was only halfway done. The water I had been dunking on my head soaked my shirt, which started chafing and I started to bleed. I was absolutely ready to quit. I saw quite a few other folks on the side of the road who’d given up or pushed themselves too hard and collapsed, needing medical attention. I’d stop and walk, then jog, then walk, then jog, pushing and pushing to get through the race. It was a struggle. It was hard. I was miserable.

Some days I can get out and knock down ten miles and feel great during and after the run. Sure, I’ll feel exhausted, my legs will feel tired, I’ll be breathing heavy, but inside I’ll still have energy, I’ll still have that spark of joy that makes running worthwhile. At the Dam to Dam, I lost that spark. I dragged myself across the finish line, got my finishers medal and went to find my friends I drove up with. While they agreed that the run had been one of the worst, they had finished far in front of me. It felt like my months of training had all gone out the window. I thought about the full marathon in the Fall, but the seed of hope that I’d fostered during the training leading up to the half was gone.

The week after the half I ran a local 10K, finishing first in my age group (being the only one in my age group), and then started training on my own for the marathon. I was on mile six of a ten-mile run when I gave up. My run out was great, my run back turned into the same kind of slog I experienced in the half, and what was left of my resolve to keep running dissolved. I went home and told my wife I was done. She thought it was probably the best thing for my knees.

My wife and I joined an early morning workout class, and I realized that all my running had done little for my overall health. The women in this class were out-punching, out-kicking, and out-squat-jumping me through the entire class. I’d built up endurance, but my overall strength and physical ability had floundered. This class kicked my ass.

At first, it actually felt great not to have a long weekend run to be anxious about during the week. I slept in on Saturday, had too big of a breakfast, and generally loafed around the house. I was getting into the workout class two to three times per week, so why not? Over the weeks that followed I slowly started noticing something in myself. I was more agitated, I became frustrated more easily. Something was wrong. Missing.

While the workout class pushed me physically in ways that I was not accustomed to, the loud pounding music and group environment didn’t allow me the quiet, personal time that was the primary reason I ran in the first place. What was missing was the meditative experience running provides, the feeling of doing something by yourself, for yourself, where you can literally run away from everything for an hour.

I quit running because I forgot why I ran in the first place. I’d had a bad run and thrown in the towel, and this created two problems for me. For one, I was missing out on the benefits to my mental health. Running helps me put everything in life in perspective, it gives me goals to work towards, it clears my mind. Secondly, I gave up on something I said I was going to do, which I felt violated my personal integrity. I noticed that whenever I thought about the marathon I felt, bad. A tinge of guilt. The same feeling I get when I think about my failed software company, Farmdog. I’d given up on something that I am. I’m a runner.

I can’t have that.

I decided to start running again after reading an article in Runners World about pushing through the hard things in life. The author said, paraphrasing, that we run because it’s hard. When we overcome the hard runs it prepares us to overcome whatever other difficulties life throws at us.

This morning I strapped on my phone, put on a podcast, and had the Nike app track a 20-minute run. I’m easing my way back into the habit, but with fresh eyes and a new habit to mix into my runs. I’m keeping up pretty good with the rest of the crew at our morning kickboxing workout now. Although there are some workouts where I’m ready to quit after 15 minutes, by the time we hit the 45-minute mark I’m feeling pretty good. I’m positive that the workouts will help with an overall total-body approach to health, but I’m going back to the road for my mind. I’m too late to start training for the full marathon this year, but I’m not giving up. I’m just saying, “not yet”. I’m still a runner.