I’ve been an athlete all my life. As soon as I wasn’t on an organized school team, I started running. I ran my first marathon in 2005 and have run 15 since then (an approximate figure because I actually forget the real number and don’t feel like counting. I remember once thinking how anyone could forget the number of marathons they’ve run). I joined a women’s racing team when I moved to San Francisco nearly seven years ago. Training has been a part of my life pretty much always. Not just running, but training with a specific goal in mind, with a plan and a process to get there. Enjoying each individual run but knowing they all stitch together into an arc that lead to a race. And not just any race, but usually a race that covers a distance it’s hard to even finish let alone finish with a time goal that is faster than the previous one.
Which is why my current predicament is brand new for me. I find myself stuck in a place where racing doesn’t seem incredibly appealing. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lost the ability (mental and physical) to push through something hard, or because I’m burned out from a year-plus of having a singular focus at work that now it’s hard to want to have a singular focus anywhere else, or because I am going through a phase that will suddenly end, or that I’m scared of failing, or what. Some combination, I suspect.
I’ve gone through slumps before, and I know to find mojo again it usually takes a change of scenery (like more miles or a race on trails) or taking some time off or running without a watch. The thing is, if I’m honest with myself, it doesn’t even seem like I want to break out of this. It also doesn’t feel exactly like a slump — I’m still running between forty and fifty miles a week, still working out with the team, still doing strength training and foam rolling. On the surface, I “look like” a runner doing all sorts of runner training things.
I’m still choosing to take a long weekend and join teammates on a trip to Mammoth Lakes, the California mecca of altitude training. You don’t spend six hours each way in a car, increase your pace by a minute per mile (not to mention your resting heart rate by about ten beats per minute), eat pounds of quinoa and oatmeal, and have conversations that revolve around running if you don’t love the sport. One of the conversations was the question, “Why do you run?” It was an honor to be in the company of friends and teammates who have such a visceral connection with running, with answers all touching on the way running makes us feel not just as an athlete but as a human. If anything, last weekend reemphasized that I do love running, love runners, love the feeling I get during and after runs, love the “me” that running makes me.
The one thing that set me apart was some sort of measurable, tangible goal: I don’t have a marathon on the books, I’m not vying for an Olympic Trials standard or other time goal. Quite frankly, I was surprised that being around others with audacious goals didn’t inspire me to set one of my own. I still feel somewhat apathetic about racing, but it shows me that at this point it’s a mental block rather than physical: I’m covering miles, I’m feeling fit, I have the desire to hold a special place for running in my life. It’s really a matter of semantics and focus and intent, a shift in mindset. But, do I even want that shift?
I think I’m realizing how much of my identity I associate with running and racing. I mean, I’ve always known it was there, but maybe I’ve always felt like I could justify that identity by the fact that I was training for something or had a specific output in mind. I think there has been a shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation for me, and while “that’s okay” in the grand scheme of things, it does shake up my relationship with the sport, and pulls in a few nasty “shoulds” and doubts that my mind can latch onto: why should I even run if I don’t have a race goal to chase? What’s the point of dedication and spending all this time doing something if it’s not “for” anything? Why don’t I want to push through something hard? What am I afraid of?
Do I grapple with these questions? Or do I step back, take things in stride (pun intended), and see what time brings me?
I do know one thing: that no matter the answer, there is one place I can go that always brings me closer to the truth.
I can go for a run.