You know those people who regularly run a ridiculous amount of miles through the mountains, cross the finish lines of every race (sometimes races that are 100+ miles) smiling and then look like they’re ready to rage? Yeah, that’s not me. Sure, I’ve run tough races with a decent amount of mileage, but you better believe that I am struggling through it. Training is HARD for me. I do not WANT to wake up at 4 am and then go run for two hours. I don’t want to strength train when my body is already exhausted and sore. I don’t want to foam roll or do yoga because both activities are completely boring to me. But I do it because I have my eyes and heart dead set on my goals, and I know the only way to get there is through honest, hard work. Yes, at the end of the day, I love running and couldn’t imagine what my life would look like if I couldn’t do it anymore. But my point is that it does not come easy to me. At all. My cheery face and disposition you might see on Instagram or other social media outlets reflects my high moments – you don’t see shots of me when I feel like everything has gone to shit.
Just two weeks ago, I felt completely drained. I felt like I had very little left in me physically, mentally and emotionally. Fun fact – I’m prone to very low levels of energy and also depression, which makes it extra hard for me to do what I do. But you have to work with what you got, and two weeks ago, I decided the best thing for me to do was to take a break from running. Instead of going after 60 miles last week, I took running off my radar completely. The best thing for me was to not think about running, not obsess over my workouts and to let my body fully recover and my mind clear up and recharge. Here’s what happened:
- I woke up happy
I used to be a morning person. I used to wake up at 4, make coffee, and head out the door for a run or to the gym with very little problem. For some reason, I’ve recently been having the most difficult time waking up early. More than that, I’ve been waking up with an extremely negative mentality. I know that’s not who I am, which is why I knew I needed a break. When I finally took it, I actually didn’t struggle waking up as much. I looked forward to the day, and my mind was positive and excited about the possibilities of what I could do with my freed up time and energy. Taking a break taught me that when I resumed training, I needed to stop dwelling on the negative (i.e. “I’m so tired,” “it’s too hot,” “I have so much to do,” “work is going to be crazy today,” etc.) and adopt an attitude of excitement and gratitude. I’m thankful that I’m injury-free, able to run and enjoy the outdoors on my two feet. This is what I choose to do, it’s what I freaking love, so stop whining and get after it.
- Working out became fun
Even though I needed a break from running, I didn’t want to stop working on my fitness. I decided to do strength training, cycling and take HIIT-based classes at my gym. Oh my god. I hadn’t realized how weak I’d gotten. Yes, I’ve been upping my mileage and doing different running workouts, but in doing so, I’ve really neglected my strength and cross training. Spending a week switching it up with different workouts challenged my body, and I also had a blast doing it. It reminded me that when I resumed training, I needed to incorporate different workouts in order to make me a stronger, more efficient runner and that it could also be enjoyable.
- My body stopped hating me
Before I took a break, my body had absolutely hated me. It hurt to walk, let alone run. It hurt to sit. It hurt so bad to lay down that it prevented me from falling asleep. Running felt more like shuffling, and when I finished, I felt more defeated than accomplished. I knew that a break would help my body recover, but I also knew that it wouldn’t get any better if I didn’t do something about it. When I resumed training, I needed to make recovery a bigger priority. So for the next 12 weeks, I’ve made it a goal to do some amount of stretching and foam rolling every day. It could be 30 minutes, or 3 minutes, but I need to make it a daily habit. I realized that at the rate I’m going, I could very well be on my way to another injury, and that’s the last thing anybody wants.
- I became a kinder person
Lately, I’ve been cranky to the max. My boyfriend deserves about 70 awards for the last 6 months alone. I had mad road rage (well, more than usual if I’m being honest), I was extremely irritable, and even my thoughts were angry. Maybe I should be examined, but I’m fairly confident that I was just letting my stress trickle into just about every other aspect of my life. Taking a break gave me the opportunity to stop thinking about my training so damn much and just be grateful for and enjoy the other things that mean a lot to me. I was fortunate enough to spend 4th of July weekend in the Outer Banks, which was just the getaway I needed. But there was a moment when I was sitting on the sand at night, with the waves rolling up near my feet, stars and planets visible overhead, a loving arm wrapped around my shoulder and spectacular fireworks going off just 40 feet away from me, when I breathed it all in and remembered all that I’ve been blessed with in my life. When training starts getting crazy, I need to remember to go back to that place of peace and humility and hold that gratitude in my heart.
- I missed running
I’ll be honest – the first few days of my break, I did not miss running. I was completely enjoying being “single,” so to speak. Towards the end of my break though, I started to miss it. In its absence, I started thinking about all the things I love about running: the feeling of freedom and pure bliss when you’re flying down a gorgeously green trail with not another person in sight, with the wind whipping through your hair and cooling the salty sweat trickling down your face; the feeling that you’ve left everything on a course and cross the finish line holding back tears in your eyes; the feeling of strength when you can feel and see yourself getting stronger, faster, better. I wanted it back oh so bad. Sometimes all we need to rekindle a flame is just a little time to remember all the reasons why you love it in the first place.
The biggest takeaway? Balance. And perspective. Yeah, we love running. We know it. Your friends and family know it. Your online networks certainly know it. But it’s not everything in life. If you’re feeling like I was a couple weeks ago – drained, frustrated, apathetic – I recommend taking a step back, even taking a short break for yourself and seeing how not running can actually make you a better runner in the long haul.