For three years, I woke up every single day excited about running.
It was always something I looked forward to. Days without a run-induced sweat just weren’t as rewarding as run days. Often times, I would ride one runner’s high right into the next one.
I ran my first half marathon in July 2009 in 2:14. Less than two years later, I ran my fourth half marathon, this time in 1:44. It just happened that way. I didn’t do speed work or hill training. I just kept running, and somehow I got faster. I didn’t know anything about pacing, I didn’t see the need for a running watch, and I had never heard (or, uh, mastered) the term “negative splitting.” I didn’t race often, but when I did find myself at a start line, I loved it. I would always tear up during those first few steps of a race because I was so happy to be out there, surrounded by fellow runners, racing our guts out. Race mornings, with all the nerves and the excitement (and the 400 trips to the bathroom…), were a friggin’ blast.
But lately, things have changed for me.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about running, and the knowledge has helped me, but it has also seriously derailed me from the real reason I started to run in the first place: for fun.
I never ran to lose weight or to win races. I’m not an elite and I’m certainly not getting paid to sign up for running events. I have always loved working toward a goal, which is why I got into a habit of racing. Nothing wrong with that, right?
When I was training for the Hamptons Marathon, my first marathon (you knew that already — I think I’ve mentioned it before?), I looked forward to each training run, because every run brought something new. A 16-miler! An 18-miler! A 20-miler! The big one! I felt myself getting faster thanks to speedwork, stronger from all the miles, and excited about how badass I felt. I finally felt like a runner.
So naturally, as soon as I crossed that Hamptons finish line, I was ready to sign up for my next big challenge. I took one day off — one day to recover from running 26.2 miles for the first time — and then I was back at the gym, back on the Bridle Path and back on various race registration sites. I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I just wanted to keep going! I took it slowly at first and then built my mileage back up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.
Despite a Crohn’s flare-up in the middle of training, my long runs all went well, and with Brian as my new training buddy, I got significantly faster and set a few shorter distance PRs leading up to race day.
Race day arrived, it didn’t go as planned, and I moved on.
The new year showed up quickly, and I felt ready to run a spring marathon. I knew I had an excitingly busy spring coming up — I’m the Maid of Honor in my best friend’s wedding, I’m moving, I’m throwing a baby shower for my sister-in-law and I’m becoming an aunt for the first time! — but I was happy to add one more personal challenge to the plate.
And so, I registered for the Eugene Marathon on April 29.
I hired Coach Cane to train me for the race, and together we were excited. My goal for the race was to break 4 hours, which meant shaving 14 minutes off my Hamptons time. We were both confident I could do it.
I’m still confident I can run a sub-4:00 marathon.
But it won’t be in Eugene, and it won’t be on April 29.
Over the past month and a half, my body has started giving out on me. I like to think I’m superhuman and that I can overcome anything, but that may not be the case. Weird.
Training for Eugene hasn’t gone as planned. First there was the brutal hip pain that forced me into a few unplanned rest days. No big deal. But then I came down with that stomach flu and spent five days in bed. Not ideal with a crucial 20-mile run on the horizon. I recovered from the flu, and then I hit the road again, only to be greeted with some worrisome knee pain.
A Crohn’s flare-up.
I knew it was a flare-up as soon as I woke up Friday morning. By Friday night, my fever had climbed to 102, which is a side effect I always get at the onset of a flare. My entire body ached — joint pain is another side effect — and I spent more time in the bathroom than out of it.
Coach Cane wanted 20 miles from me on Saturday. I followed my usual run plan. It took me two hours to leave my apartment. Every time I tried to start running, I ended up back in the bathroom, doubling over in pain and doing Crohnsy things.
I eventually started to run, slowly as requested, but it was hard. By the time I hit 5 miles, I knew 20 wouldn’t happen. At 10 miles, I called it.
Everything hurt, and mentally I had no push. There was no, “I really want to do this! You can get through it, Ali! Come on, let’s crush it in Eugene!” I was just “blah.”
My self-diagnosis? A little case of burnout.
I think it’s clear that I piled on a bit too much too soon, and my brain and body rejected the idea. And as my body started shutting down and being uncooperative, my mentality shifted from “I love running!!!!!!” to “I don’t even care about this long run today.”
About six steps after I stopped running — completing just half of my planned mileage — my phone rang. It was the real estate lady, Delilah, calling to tell me that Brian and I got approved for the apartment we wanted so badly. The one with the pretty kitchen and the great views.
I was so happy. I didn’t even care about running. I realized that I have so much to look forward to in the next few months, and if running a marathon on April 29 is going to add stress to that, it’s simply not worth my well-being.
I want to take a few weeks to just run. I want to wake up and run however far I want at whatever speed I’d like. I want to spend a Saturday running either 5 miles or 20 miles and be happy regardless of my weekly mileage total.
I was nervous to tell Coach Cane about my decision to bail on Eugene. I have never been a “quitter” and I don’t give up on things. But this time, I know I’m making the right decision, and yet I still wanted my coach’s blessing.
And I got it. He’s the best. “You’re not getting paid enough to do this if you’re not enjoying it,” he told me in an email he wrote from his vacation on his birthday. “It does not upset me,” he continued. “It would upset me if you stopped coming to workouts or stopped considering yourself one of the team.”
He said he wants to get me healthy and recharged mentally and physically, and then I will “PR and enjoy it.”
That sounds like a great plan to me, Coach.
I spent a long time on Saturday thinking about my new “No Eugene Plan,” and I felt good about it. It was like this huge weight had been lifted. I didn’t want to fly across the country — spending plenty of money on flights and lodging — to run a race I hadn’t properly trained for or been emotionally invested in.
There’s another race I have in mind in the meantime. It’s a bit later in the season and I’d have more time to recover from this flare-up, get over the burnout and re-energize. If it works out, great! I’ll keep you posted. If not, that’s OK. There’s always NYC in November, and you bet I’m going all out for that one.
I woke up early Sunday morning to spectate the heck out of the New York City Half Marathon. As my friends PR’d in both D.C. and NYC, I didn’t feel envy. There was no “I wish I had signed up for that race” regret. I was happy for my friends who set new records. More importantly, I was psyched to be on the sidelines, screaming like a total fan girl for my #1 runner!
Brian has had a rough “training season,” if you can call it that. In fact, he didn’t really get to train for the NYC Half because he’s had a knee injury. But he was determined to push through this race (still not sure if I think that idea was noble or nuts), and push through he did!
Brian finished in 1:46, nabbing himself a 6-minute PR! I’m so proud.
As I stood at mile 13, screaming with the Runner Army cheering squad, I saw runners plowing toward the finish. They were hauling ass, determined to leave nothing behind on the course. I saw people surging with pride and people in excruciating pain, refusing to give up. It was so inspiring, and it was exactly what I needed to be surrounded by yesterday.
I know my love will come back. I know my knee and hip will heal. I know my stomach will be on the mend soon.
Everything will be great. I just need to not run a marathon right this second. And I’m fine with that.
Congratulations to all of this weekend’s amazing runners, especially all you first-timers!