Dedication vs. compulsion in distance running: What’s the difference?
There’s something I need to talk about:
Taking any kind of extended break from running and exercise makes me feel uneasy, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about whether this means something is wrong with me. (Hopefully it’s not a bad sign that I even have to ask myself this question.)
Here’s the thing: I’m at a phase in my life right now where I genuinely — truly — love to run a lot of miles. It’s not a chore, and it’s not a “have to.” I love to get up early and get out there. I relish the satisfaction that comes from knocking out a workout in horrible weather. I love walking down to the bus stop from my apartment on the way to work in the morning, knowing that my feet already wrote a story on those streets. I love racing, I hate the idea of getting out of shape and not being able to perform, and I don’t have confidence in rest.
You know what does give me confidence at the starting line of a race? All the miles I put in. All the workouts I logged. All the paces I hit. Everything that isn’t rest.
Smartypants scientists and well-meaning peers tell me rest is a good thing, so when I do manage to take an extended break I feel proud and normal. I look back on those blank days in my training log and say, “See, look! EXPERT RESTER. I’m obviously not neurotic about this! I’m chill. I take days off. Even weeks off now and then. Completely relaxed and zen about my running hobby. Yeah.”
But inside, I know the truth. I’m not some watchless, zen yoga-runner. I’m not just lollygagging around about this anymore. I want to squeeze down as close to 3:00 in my next marathon as I can get, and I have a pipe dream about seeing a 2: at the beginning of my finish time someday. So although rest makes sense to the “big picture” section of my mind, I’m finding it tricky to see how its fits into the day-to-day and week-to-week scheme of things.
I bring this up because I’m currently staring down 20 weeks until the Philadelphia Marathon, and if I want to peg this as a goal race, now is the time to think about how those weeks are going to look. I just wrapped up a season of spring fun runs, and race-wise, my summer is shaping up to be more of the same. The next two weeks seem like a sensible time to take a hiatus from the volume, since it’s going to rain cats and dogs and killer whales for the next few days and a snowy mountain ridge run this weekend left me with an unsettingly sore foot that could probably use time off from these shoes I’ve been running in since December.
Another reason rest sounds smart: that whole diabetic scare (which turned out to be nothing, I think), was a hard evidence wake-up call to the fact that there are metabolic and hormonal consequences that result from racing hard and training for 90+ minutes a day for months on end. Seems prudent to shut my shoes in the closet and press reset on my endocrine system every so often, right?
So. In a world where I’m reasonable and not addicted to elevating my heart rate, I take one or two weeks off/easy right now, do a build-up for an early August race I’ve got my eye on, take another week easy, and then start building for the marathon. On the other hand, I’m going through some life transitions this month and running is the easiest way to sort my head out, so mentally, the timing isn’t great for a break. Guess it will be a good exercise for me to seek out some alternate coping strategies. Suggestions?
(Is it kind of pathetic that some non-elite, never-going-to-the-Olympics, never-gonna-win-race-money hobby-jogger like me worries about how or when to take weeks off? This seems like it should be a no-brainer, but for me, it isn’t. Makes me wish I had a coach or trustworthy running mentor who could just tell me what to do and how to think. Anybody?)