Running sucks. Some days more than others, but in general, when you think about it. Running sucks.
We put our bodies through hell, lose sleep, deal with injuries, upset stomachs, lost toenails, and more! For what? So we can spend hundreds of dollars on sneakers, gadgets, and race fees? Yeah, pretty much...but why? Why do we do it? We all know why. It is because RUNNING IS AWESOME! It is because in those fleeting moments when everything is clicking and our bodies are flying through the air effortlessly, nothing in the world is better. This is why we run, to capture life in those moments.
What happens though, when running lets us down? When running chews us up and spits us out the other side mentally and/or physically broken. When all the work that we put into running just doesn't pay off. Those long runs, the early morning wake up calls, the speed work on the local track, all of it was for nothing! Sometimes this leaves us feeling like a lesser human being than we were the day or days before running let us down. We've all been there. Maybe you were injured and couldn't do the big race you were training for, maybe you had cramps and didn't get that big PR you've been working so hard to achieve, maybe you DNF'd your first race, or maybe you're simply burnt out.
No matter the "why" we can all relate to that time when running broke our precious little hearts. If you can't, just wait. It will come. The let down is an unfortunate part of this sport that so many of us love to love. It is a necessary evil that makes us work harder the next time and learn from our past mistakes.
So, now that you've broken up with running, how or when should you get back together with it? is it worth it? (it is!) The answer is different for all of us and depends on our exact situation. As one athlete who's been through heartbreak after demoralizing heartbreak with running I have some tips that I think may help others when running lets us down.
Step 1: Admit Defeat
I've found that the first and most important step on this relationship roller coaster is to admit defeat. Yes, to admit that we simply didn't have it or didn't want it badly enough on that given day. For whatever reason, it's easier to move on after admitting some degree of fault. There are many reasons this can happen. Maybe your training wasn't as good as you wanted, maybe your heart wasn't in it, maybe your goal was just too big for the time being, or maybe you had an injury that prevented you from training as you would have liked. Regardless of the reason, first you must acknowledge that something was missing and then and only then can you move on. This process may take days or weeks, but we each must go through it on our own terms. For some of us, those terms involve binge drinking PBR's at night and being depressed for days on end...but to each their own.
Once you've truly and honestly opened yourself up and looked inside and are able to admit defeat then you're ready to begin rekindling that romance you once had with running.
Step 2: Listen
This is a tough one. It requires not only that you listen to your friends, family, and loved ones, but that you hear what they're saying. Every phone call, text message, Facebook comment, etc. that you get in support of your endeavors (even if they didn't go as you planned) are important in getting yourself back out there. Every time someone says "you'll learn from this" or "you're an inspiration" or "you made the right decision" or "it's okay" just listen to them and most importantly hear the words they're telling you, soak them in and know that it will be okay.
Step 3: Ease Back Into It
Once you're ready to open your heart back up to running, do so slowly. If you jump back in 110% guns-a-blazin' you're more likely to set yourself up for another heartbreak (at least in my experience). Start out with a couple of easy runs, on your own terms. Don't plan them out every day like a training plan, but just go run when you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, then don't go. Don't worry about how many miles you'll get in for the week or what pace you're running at. Just run to remember why you love it.
Step 4: Change of Scenery
When you're easing back into a routine, it's important to try and do it fresh. Go run with a good friend who maybe doesn't run your pace, or who lives a little further than you might want to go for a run. Try a new trail or route in your neighborhood. Go away for the weekend and find someplace new! It's important to start back with running on your terms and on a clean slate.
Step 5: THROW DOWN THE HAMMER
Now, it doesn't matter if this is a 10 minute mile or a 5 minute mile but sometimes when you're running through demons and heartbreak the only way to accomplish it is to do so as fast as your body can handle. It's easier to feel vulnerable and push through to the other side once you've put yourself through the hurt locker and felt the burning in your legs and lungs that only running hard can give us. So, get out to the track and run as many mile repeats as your body will allow or get over to your favorite hill and run up and down it until you can no longer stand. Sure, it may take your body a few days to recover from the intense effort, but getting your mental self recovered from the breakup is more important and trust me, this will help.
Step 6: Lose the Pressure and Find the Fun
For me, this means getting back to the enjoyment of racing. Not big A-race type stuff, but find a little local race and go enjoy yourself. It doesn't matter if you win or come in last, but just have fun with it. Talk to the other athletes out there forget about the race itself. This undoubtedly means something different for all athletes, but you know what makes you enjoy this part of the sport. Find it. Get it.
Step 7: Refocus
This is the last step and it may take you weeks or months or longer to get here. Once you're back together with running and you're committed to it again then it's time to refocus. Seek out your next mountain and then go climb it.