My relationship with running is special. But it’s also like every other significant relationship in my life. The experience of joyful union comes and goes. Feelings wax and wane. The relationship needs to be coaxed along sometimes. Things get dull, and/or the relationship seems kind of like work. This happened to me a lot in the past year or so, in the months just preceding my new commitment to training for another half-marathon.
Maybe I had been taking running for granted again because it’s been so consistently there for me, since I discovered how to control some of my long-standing injuries. For the past year or so, I can depend upon my body, at least for now, to take me on a run. There were several years where this wasn’t the case, where I was battling continuous injuries that benched me from running and sent me to the boring basement gym of the Y to get in touch with my biometrics on an elliptical-type machine. But I got better and became able to run regularly again. Then, drama and the longing sort of went out of the relationship for awhile.
Another factor was that we moved into the city two years ago. Those country morning runs of my previous life on the land are now behind me. I am lucky to be able to run the bike trail through the marsh, which is beautiful, woodsy, and sort of out of town while being in town. But it’s not quite “mine” in the same way as those country roads were. Truth be told, I’m often afraid on the trail. Once, last winter, I passed a guy out on an icy cold day who looked creepy, surly, very large, and not at all like the typical fellow athlete or meandering couples I usually see. And besides me, he was the only one out there. I got scared. I began running with an alarm, which still probably wouldn’t be heard if an assailant and I were the only ones around.
I also started shortening my runs depending on the mix of people, or lack of, that I perceived up ahead on the trail. If it was just a solo person walking, gender not discernable, or if there was no one yet visible when I looked up ahead to my usual turnaround, I’d often turn around early, defeated by that female fear. Alternately, I’d take a different route along the edge of town, generous with soft-ish asphalt (as opposed to the shin-splint-inducing sidewalks of the city), but dull and unpleasantly hilly. Or, on really unmotivated days, I’d run 12 minutes to the Y, remove a layer or two of clothing and lift weights, bundle back up and run 12 minutes home. It was a way to run, but not much.
I can’t say I’ve fully turned around some of these running relationship problems. But there have been a few things I’ve done to set my mind in a more hopeful direction and rekindle my running relationship as I begin more serious training for what will hopefully be my third half-marathon in early November.
To start with that female fear, earlier this summer I was on the trail and was feeling motivated. It was a beautiful June morning, green bursting into sight everywhere, the sun on the water of the marsh. But the trail was empty. I couldn’t latch onto a walking couple or dogwalker who could be my protection in case anyone jumped me. And I wanted to run out to the far end of my route, go to the 3.5 mile mark, because I felt good. I said to myself, what if I decided, just for now, not to let that fear rule me? Just for this run? What are the chances that the rapist in the woods would actually come out today? Well, he wasn’t there and/or he didn’t. Which is par for the course, actually, as women run on this trail every single day. There was a rapist who hung out there a few years back actually, before I moved to town. He was caught, and yes, there could be another one. But for that morning run, I let that fear go, and found, with my positive runner brain fully engaged, that that was fully possible, at least for that morning, that run. And that was all I needed.
As for the more general problem of feeling sluggish about running, I have found two tricks to help. The first was to call a friend whom I don’t see enough of, and who is an awesome runner. For her, running with me was like a walk in the park. She’s younger, taller, faster, slimmer, and all around in better shape. In the midst of one of my most serious relationship-with-my-running slumps, this past May, I set up a running date with her. We ran for 40 minutes or so, walked some (at my request), and then I said, “Want to run some more?” Of course she was game. At the end of that run, I had both a runners’ high and that joyful feeling you get when you’ve had a great conversation with a friend while also doing something you love.
I also got deeper into my body because I got deeper into my run. I’d pushed myself out of my slump with the carrot rather than the stick, by making a long run something that went fast while I talked and listened. Yet I felt much, much better afterwards than I usually had after running, because I had that WORKED OUT feeling permeating my body and my mind.
This can also work when I don’t have a readily available running companion and conversation partner. The key is optimizing a good run by making it a long run. On days when I just feel good, I sometimes decide to make that good into a new positive running experience that will re-energize my running. All it takes is to run longer than my usual two and a half or so miles, just going, literally, that extra mile. I relax into my run, knowing I’m going longer, so I can go slower if I want, so I can also avoid going back and taking up the other tasks of my life a little longer, and knowing that when it’s over, I’ll have that feeling of deep refreshment that just can’t usually be gained in a routine short run, unless a whole bunch of other conditions happen to be right. Three and a half miles—that usually makes things happen. Going into the depths of the running seems to be the trick.
Then, too, like any other worthwhile long-term relationship, you have to maintain your loyalty and your belief that dry spells end, and that joy returns. Now, as summer ends, I am on good terms with my “inner runner.” I’m rediscovering the pleasures of a training schedule, and feeling ready to make new discoveries as I go that extra mile every week.