I love training runners for races. I also love training runners and athletes in general. It is common for me to get e-mails from people looking to prepare for an upcoming race and I also have several who train year round.
Lately I have been noticing a trend. Someone gets super excited about an event they registered for and we sit down and create a plan. They dive in head first, and often times fall in love with the process. It can be time consuming, but there are ways to make life work around training and vice versa.
Race day comes and the excitement builds. Some races go well, others don’t, but most often the person finishes the race feeling really good about what they accomplished. They celebrate with a necessary post race beer (or a few) and indulge in some delicious food.
Then they kick their feet up and rest for a few days. I would of course recommend this. Everyone needs to recover after a race and training cycle.
Sometimes though, that rest and relaxation phase feels a little too good. We tell ourselves we will get back out there tomorrow and then tomorrow becomes next week. Time goes by and next thing you know, it has been several weeks or months. Suddenly, you’ve been gone so long you don’t know how you could possibly return. You want to, but you feel a bit lost.
Years ago I remember Oprah discussing her ups and downs with weight. She said that sometimes as you gain weight you start to look at yourself and you’ve suddenly gained so much, it feels hopeless. You don’t even know where to start or how it could possibly make a difference at this point. Stepping away from exercise can feel a bit like this too.
A few months later I will get a desperate e-mail. “I want to run a race that is coming up, but I don’t even know where to start.” So we start the process all over again.
However, this time around things feel extremely frustrating. Running used to be difficult, and then you built up that aerobic base, you learned how to get through the struggles, and it started to feel easier. This time, you know what that felt like, but it is hard again. It stinks to know how great it used to feel and be back in that difficult beginning situation again. It makes getting started even more difficult, not only physically but also mentally.
Sometimes when we dive into a training plan, it can be exciting. There is an end point and we are striving to reach that goal. Once that goal has been met, it can feel great to breathe a sigh of relief and sit back for a few. It can also seem a bit overwhelming. Where do you go from here? What is the next goal?
Keep in mind that there doesn’t always have to be a next goal. There could be a distant goal such as, “Next year I want to do another half marathon.” But that doesn’t mean you have to start training for a half marathon right now.
At the same time, keep in mind the progress you have made. You don’t always have to be in marathon shape, or race shape. That’s practically impossible. Trying to do so would likely lead to an overuse injury. On the other hand, you can stay in shape. You can keep some of that endurance and forward momentum that you have made at a much smaller scale. Your goal could just simply be to maintain your aerobic base and enjoy some easy mileage each week.
Maybe you were doing double digit runs for several weekends leading up to an event. Now you could do a few three mile runs during the week and enjoy a slow and long five mile Saturday. There’s no set rules as to how far you need to go or even how fast you must be.
Not only will you maintain that ability to run that you gained from your training, you will be keeping your heart and whole body healthy. Remember how much time you used to have to devote to training. Now you only need to devote a fraction of that time.
Sometimes the idea of carving out time for a workout can seem overwhelming. It’s easy to want to push it to the back burner. But I also know that once you start doing this for a few weeks and make it a routine, that routine becomes a habit and a running habit is hard to break. You will notice that it becomes easier and you might even start to crave your miles. Make the time at first and eventually it will become second nature.
Then the next time you see an event that is calling your name, you can sit down and figure out a plan, and know that you already are prepared to keep going.
One thing I always try to instill in my clients is that once you are a runner, you are always a runner. It’s always there for you. Take it and make it yours! Even if you do end up taking a break from running, it will always be there when you are ready to return.