So I haven’t quit running. I’ve just quit RUNNING. For now.
I’m tired. Bone-deep tired. Twenty to forty miles a day tired.
As I’ve talked about on many, many, many (I know) occasions (one of the problems with the blog format – you have to “refresh” regularly in case a reader shows up here by accident when he was trying to find a blog about the mentally deranged) about my dislike of racing. Frankly, for most of my running career I raced to justify my running. I LOVE to run. And when you run as much as I do, you need to have a “reason” for doing it so often.
And I was very lucky. Running so much got me on four US National Teams and some fun wins at races that I wasn’t expecting. But the longer I raced, the more I had to force myself to get on a plane/in a car to go to take my place at the starting line. I began to dread every single race I entered. Things that didn’t bother me in the early years (bad stomach, heat, cold, humidity, chafing), became excuses to quit. I lost the ability to override just how painful running 100+ is and keep running through it.
Over the last few years I’ve tried everything: sports psychology, special diets, increasing my mileage, decreasing my mileage. My logic was that the issue was a specific “problem”; a problem with a solution, if I could only find it. But somewhere, in the secret place of my brain that I try never to acknowledge, I knew that the “problem” was me.
Back when I was a competitive swimmer, I used to drive my coaches (and my mother) crazy. The higher ranking I achieved, the less I wanted to swim. I dogged my way through practices, doing everything in my power to undermine my training. My coaches and mom tried everything – bribes, discipline, and ignoring the problem in hopes it would go away. But it didn’t. Slowly, over the years, I self-sabotaged, started dropping in the rankings, and eventually quit after a fight with my coach when I was fourteen.
What they didn’t understand (and I had no clue, either, so I couldn’t explain it to them), was that I was a “natural” swimmer because I LOVED to swim. I loved diving into the pool, having that “flying” feeling you get in a great dream even though you are awake. I loved getting to the end of a lap and flip-turning fast, pushing off, stroking hard as I broke the surface of the water. I loved the natural meditation that came with endless laps in a giant rectangle.
But how does a twelve year old explain any of that to adults? And how does a twelve year old explain how sad she is when all of that is replaced with the stress and anxiety that comes with caring EVERY MOMENT about five one hundredths of a second. How does a twelve year old explain that sometimes success ruins pure love rather than enhance it?
Fast forward twenty years and the cycle repeats. But this time, I was determined to handle it differently. My coach and my mom just didn’t know how to “fix” the “problem,” right? I would fix the problem. So even though I lost my love for racing, I kept running. I kept acknowledging my love of movement – sometimes powerful and fast (uphill, downhill, fast leaps and corners), sometimes slower and meditative (one foot in front of the other, loop, loop, loop). I kept waking up in the dark, dropping to my knees in prayer, stumbling to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and then putting on the uniform of the diehard: nylon shorts in the summer, tights in the winter. I kept showing up to do the work.
By the end of this past summer, I was up to 200 miles per week. Somehow I believed I could break the ennui. I felt strong. I felt fit. But I did not feel happy. Running was now a job. I had a race to run, so I laced up my shoes and did the miles, but there was no love.
And then I quit the NC 24 Hours at hour 12. Yes, I was chafing. Yes, I was nauseous. But I’ve chafed and been nauseous many, many times before. I JUST DIDN’T CARE anymore. I was, once again, fourteen years old and I wanted to get out of the pool.
I came home, licked my wounds, contemplated my situation, and decided I had to separate running from RUNNING. Way back when, I walked away from swimming and didn’t look back for thirty years. I didn’t want that to happen with running. So, I signed up for another race, this one shorter (50 miles), on trail (no more loops) and no one knew about it. I would run for FUN.
But it wasn’t fun. Even though I was winning going into the final loop, it was not fun. At. All. Now, I know the last miles of a race are never pleasant, but this was past that. This felt like a complete waste of time. This felt like I was doing forced labor instead of voluntarily spending my weekend traveling to, and running, a race on a beautiful course. So I stopped. I ignored the nice people who kept yelling at me to keep going because I was winning. A medal was not going to change what was happening in my head.
When is enough, enough? When is it NOT quitting, but moving forward?
I don’t know. But I know I need to step back and figure it out. I need to figure out how to love running again.