Lately I keep saying that “running is hard.” I’ve been lamenting the fact that, after a little break on account of mental exhaustion, illness, injury and more illness, getting back into running has felt more difficult than I expected, anticipated or, obviously, hoped.

While, yes, running is hard, I don’t think I can blame my lack of a kickass comeback on the sport itself.

It’s not your fault, running.

It’s mine.

Over the past two weeks, as my stomach started finding its “state of calm” and my leg pain had completely gone away (yay!), I started to run again. I took a relaxed approach, never planning paces or mileage, and knowing that extended time off meant getting back into things would take some patience.

So each run was planned around bathrooms and nothing more. My stomach still isn’t what I’d call “better,” and I’ve used that as a reason to take it easy.

Very easy.

Running makes me sleepy. (Brian took this last night. Evidently I came home from the event I was at for work, immediately crawled into bed without saying a word, and this is how he found me. Pretty sure I didn't actually read a single page. Who knows.)

I’ve been calling most of my runs “easy runs” or “recovery runs.” I hover around a 9:00–9:30 pace, never really feeling the need to push it. I’m “easing back into things,” right?

But this morning I realized: What the heck am I recovering from? My little injury has been gone for almost a month, and while I’m not ready to be out racing or knocking out marathons, that doesn’t mean I need to relinquish any effort whatsoever.

I can’t keep complaining that “running is hard” if I’m not putting in the effort to get stronger.


It’s nice not having a training plan right now and I appreciate this little break where I can just go out for whatever kind of run I want. There’s no pressure of having a race on the horizon. However, I want to go into marathon training in July with a solid base of both mileage and speed. I don’t want to feel like I’m starting from scratch during week one. I want to kick off the season with confidence, and I’d like to start building that now.

While this morning’s run was certainly no life-changing confidence booster, it did require some effort.

And you know what? I’m proud of myself for doing it. I haven’t gotten out of my comfort zone in a while, and that’s not usually my style. So today, instead of doing yet another “relaxed six or seven miles,” I decided to do something of a tempo run.

At least the last one was the fastest!

I say “something of a tempo run” because I went into this run with a “semi-plan:”

  • 1 mile warm-up
  • 4 miles “faster”
  • 2 mile cool-down

You’ll notice that “faster” is not very specific. But this was my first “workout” back, and I didn’t want to kill myself. I knew I needed to be realistic and put forth effort while not setting myself up for failure and disappointment.

So I ran hard. Hard enough that my breathing was heavy, my legs felt tired and I felt like I was working.

I also refused to let myself stay in my “safe place,” which is the Reservoir loop. It’s completely flat up there. I know I can pick up my pace where it’s flat. I needed to push it on hillier terrain, so I stuck to the regular Central Park loop, which added some extra “OMG I’m going to die now” essence to the run.

I’m happy I stuck it out. The first pickup mile was comfortable, the second and third were not, and by the fourth I gave myself the, “Get this done, Alison Feller, you will be so proud of yourself afterward” pep talk. And happily, the fourth pickup mile was my speediest.

Pat on the back. Pat on the back.

What did I learn from this run? You know I can always find a lesson in my workouts, just like Danny Tanner could find a sappy-music-worthy lesson every time DJ skanked it up with Steve or Stephanie felt bitter about Michelle being “Princess of the Day.”

I learned that I may be a little more out of shape than I’d like, but if I’m willing to work hard, the 8:20s I ran today won’t feel quite so hard a month from now.

A few months ago, 8:20 was a very comfortable pace for me, and today it felt mighty challenging. But again, I haven’t tried to run 8:20s in a while, so can I really be surprised that this feels tough?

Write this down: You can spin your heart out and do plenty of strength training, but you may not wake up one day with your running speed magically recovered. At least that’s the case for me, apparently.

I’m excited to track my progress (there better be progress on the way) and continue adding in weekly tempo or speedwork sessions to my lax little plan. Even though my run today wasn’t easy, I did get that oh-so-sweet runner’s high afterward, and I’ve missed that. I’m eager to get those 8:20s down to 7:30s.


I’m ready to leave my comfort zone every now and then. I’m ready to work hard.

In other news, today is a special day.

Look at that hot chick on the left. She gets to be the center of attention today. For once.

Today is my mom’s birthday. She is the best person ever. She knows that, because I tell her all the time.

I’m sad I’m not up in New Hampshire to celebrate with her, but she has a big day planned: work (she’s a teacher), “exercise class” and then my dad is cooking dinner (scallops to start and ribs as a main course — I assume they’ll be sending me the leftovers).

Mom, I hope your day is filled with love and many photos of your new grandson, Tyler.

And to everyone else, I hope you have a magical Tuesday!

Also, if you’ve ever taken a little bit of time off running and found it tragically difficult to regain your speed and fitness, feel free to give me your advice on how you went from fast to injured/sick and then came back way way way faster. I love that stuff.



40 Responses

  1. I’m starting on a new project with really long hours; we’re talking 12 – 16 hours per day, 6 days a week, and knowing that I won’t have much time (if any) to get any runs in, am already dreading having to get back into shape once I do have time again. Of course this had to happen right when my runs were starting to feel fast and effortless. Figures! I’ll have to remind myself to re-read this entry!

  2. Thanks for this pep talk, I really needed it. I too have been slogging through and not really enjoying a lot of my runs. But after reading your entry, I went out for a short run that was faster in the middle. It was OK that that faster part was hard, and I felt great after.

  3. Good for you, Ali. Love that you had an “aha” moment and are making your progress work for YOU. That sentence was not very clear, I’m jetlegged.
    Anyway, I am starting marathon training TODAY for a marathon I have in October (I use the Hal Higdon programs). I don’t have advice yet on how to train/injure/and start training again since I’ve only completed those first 2 steps so far. Stay tuned! 🙂

  4. Ali, I think your times are driving your workouts and not the other way around. You need to base-build right now and not worry about speed. Speed will be the consequence of that base-building. Put down the GPS and just go out for some EASY runs–40 mins and up and just enjoy being back out there. Build your mileage and then start adding some speed. Adding speed or long mileage too quickly will keep you in the vicious cycle of injury. Run so slowly on some days that you wish you were wearing a mask. It’s fine. You know the goal, and it isn’t to PR in training. You’ll get it back, but you need to be deliberate in getting there. And start coming back on Thursdays! BTW, I looked back at what Cane had me doing post partum and for about 2 months there was no speed involved. I kept asking if he knew what he was doing (he didn’t find that annoying at all,at all!) The rest is history, xo

  5. Well if it makes you feel any better, my last marathon was in May of 2010. since then I have worked out 5 ish times a week and am considered “fit” by many (although I know I am not in “running shape”). I have been running oh I don’t know 25ish kilometres/week since the last marathon (2 years ago) and have not raced at all. Well last week was week 1/18 of marathon training for a race in September. So you are LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of me. My long run last week was 11….Kilometres.
    I know it’s soooo hard to get back into running shape and seems to take forever but just know you are already way ahead of most everyone else and are still putting in a solid amount of miles. The fitness will come back quickly and you don’t really seem unfit at all (we runners just have high standards for ourselves).
    Keep up the good work!

  6. Aw! Happy birthday to your mom! The same day as my wedding anniversary, aww. 😉

    I’m loving that you pushed yourself on your run in a good way, and that you did it for YOU, not because a training plan said so. So gratifying that way, isn’t it??

  7. I love this entry. I too am snapping out of my own rut but I cannot compare myself to the hardships you have been going through. Hope it all gets better. I am happy to have sped up in long distances but haven’t much in shorter ones. I’m still “chasing” after that under 9 min/mile race for anything under 5 miles. I need to just get with it and do it! I hope others do pose their stories so I can learn from it as well.

  8. Hey Ali – what about weight training to get stronger? I’m a big fan of not running only a few days a week (and taking plenty of breaks in training as needed). However, weight training helps me to take a long break from running and come back faster than ever. I wrote a lot on my blog about the Kara Goucher strength training program I used – it has tons of deadlifts and other things designed specifically to help you improve your running.

  9. Ali, go sign up for a 10k. When you run with other people, you’ll get out of your “oh i am injured, i should take it slow” mode. You’ll see that you are still fast… After months of injury and slow running I ran a 10k without any expectations and finished it with an average pace that is much faster than the pace i was running on those days. It will shake you up 🙂

  10. Great attitude! I kept trying to get faster times during my runs by just running more frequently and pushing harder. Turns out adding 1-2 days of actual sprints/speed work days made all the difference! I took a few months off from running and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t magically faster – it took work but now I’m faster than I was last year!

  11. I can’t advise you on speed as your warm up miles are my faster miles but I think you’re right that we need to put a little more effort in. I’m just back from 6 very happy miles – there’s no reason I shouldn’t have pushed the pace for a mile or two in the middle – thanks for the mental butt-kick!!!

  12. Love your blog! I’ve found that muscle-building cross training helps me get back to speed after a break/illness. I used p90x dvds and just old fashioned weight lifting (with LOTS of stretching) to get my heart rate up. Lifting weights or doing push-ups just makes me feel like a complete BOSS, and makes me so excited to get back on the road. Strength training also forces me to breathe properly and really pay attention to my form, which carries over to my running 🙂

  13. Man, I wish I knew. I’m dealing with the same thing (well, to certain extent) and it is a struggle for me to hold a 9 min mile… if I even get out the door. My recovery time is twice as long as it used to be pre-pneumonia . Then when I do feel strong enough to work out, I then feel like I’ve been hit by a truck the next day… and not like “Ouchie, I hurt bc I haven’t done a legitimate squat in a week”, bur more like “WHY DO ALL MY JOINTS HURT? WHY AM I SO ACHY?! AM I GETTING THE FLU?! WHY GOD WHY?” When I signed up for Chicago Marathon back in Feb, I had grand plans to run with the 9min mile training group for long runs…. Now I’m pretty sure I’ll be back with the 10min milers this weekend. It’s just such a fine line bw pushing too hard and not pushing yourself enough… you know?!

    1. That’s so right about the “fine line.” It’s tough! Some days I can run and recover fine, other days it’s a serious ass-kicking. So I guess just…do whatever the heck you want? I’m a professional so take my advice.

  14. Your Mom & I are birthday twins! Must be a very special lady.

    Also, thanks for this post, Ali. I’ve been struggling with the same ‘running is hard’ mentality and this post just might be the kick in the pants I needed to get my {running} act together!

  15. It’s amazing how many reasons I can come up with on why I should continue to ease into biking but luckily my boyfriend pointed out about a month ago that if I keep easing into it I will never be prepared for my century ride in July. Since then the “fun” rides have turned into training rides and I’m finding having an end goal seems to drive me to work harder every week.

    Pushing yourself can be hard – thankfully you seem to have a great support team around you to get you back to where you want to be!

  16. I’m coming back from struggles with ITBS and the numbers on my garmin scared me this morning. I just have to tell myself the speed will come back. I can’t expect it just to be right where I left off.

  17. I fall into the safe zone with running all the time. As as athlete all my life running was a form of punishment, and when I push myself I automatically go back to that place of fear and try to hold something in reserve. I need to get paSt that and realize I am doing this for me.
    Thanks for the push.

  18. You what I found really inspiring when I was running really slow? Reading about all the mommy running blogs, where the ladies had a baby and then PR’d. Now that’s some serious improvement.. Nice workout.

  19. I took the winter months of running and came back faster. I think it was a combination of the mileage I ran while marathon training last fall, all the sprints we do at Refine and just the rest in general. That said, when I took off a couple months of Refine for marathon training, when I went back there it was harder than when I started for the very first time. I REALLY wanted to quit and almost walked out of class a couple times, but eventually I got better at it and stronger and now it’s like that break never happened. You’ll get back to your former running self!

  20. I like having a training plan. It gives discipline to my running – there’s always a flex day in my plan when I can choose to run whatever (that’s my freedom day). Right now I’m not running with any plan and I feel lost and I don’t feel like I’m making any progress. I have my marathon training starting in a couple of weeks. I wanted the longer plan that includes a little bit of base building.
    Maybe you should contact Coach Cane and get yourself a pre-official marathon training plan or at least do those City Coach group runs. Their workouts sound really good and I get the impression that they helped with the increase in your speed. A combination of a pre-marathon training plan and the City Coach runs would probably good for you. I want you to have a plan because I feel like you go all out and crazy sometimes on your own and that can lead to injury. Plus, you get to run with NSQ, if you do those City Coah runs.
    Happy birthday to your mom!!! And yes, please more pictures of Tyler. I’m afraid to ask, but I’m curious if “Big Poppie” stuck as your father’s grandpa monicker.
    Also, at the gym yesterday, I met your former roommate. The woman you lived with when you first moved to NYC. I was wearing one of my Sweat shirts and she remarked that she had the same shirt.

    1. Hahaha.

      I am definitely planning to return to the Thursday night City Coach runs once my stomach is really in the clear. I don’t like being out on those runs with the group and worrying about my stomach going apeshit. So once I feel like I’m truly good to go, you bet I’ll be working those into my training, likely as my main speed training for the marathon. I can’t resist that NSQ!

      And no, sadly Big Papi didn’t stick. Shocking, I know!

      Yay for meeting Meghan! I’m assuming it was Meghan. She’s basically the best ever. Brian knows she set the bar high as far as roommates go!

  21. Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head! I’m right there with you, Ali. I’m recovering from a hip injury but during that time PR’ed at the NYC Half. I’d say I’m finished recovering and just need a safe, but challenging marathon plan come July. Here’s to challenging ourselves again!

  22. Ali, I think you definitley have the right attitude. I also think running comes in cycles. During my marathon training last year, there were days that I could barely run 4 miles. Your body isn’t always feeling 100% ready for a run. So I think coming back to that strong spot is a natural progression, and makes hitting those 7:30 so much sweeter. You have the right mindset: throw in the tempo runs and speed work, build up the mileage, eat healthy and get sleep! Keep it up, girl 🙂

  23. After my last marathon at the end of March, and a friend’s wedding/trip to the US/eating my weight (and then some) in Girl Scout cookies in April, I’ve felt (and felt like I looked) a slug. All workouts were hard. Running was hard. But on Sunday? I busted out three miles, with negative splits, two sub-10 miles (probably only the third time in my life) and even a sub-9! And that gives me hope that I’m progressing somewhere again, and I can get myself ready for NYC in November.

  24. I really enjoyed this post because I realized this a little bit ago: change is uncomfortable and if I’m not then what am I doing!? Sometimes you have to hit yourself in the forehead and go DUH cause we all know that- we just forget 🙂 not sure how to tell you to get faster cause I’m not but I’m
    Sure you will get there!

  25. Ali, I’m not an expert by any means, but I think there’s something to be said for “easing back into things” – even if it might feel like wasted effort. When you do consistent slow mileage, you actually promote biological changes in your body that make you a more efficient runner. With your aspirations of starting a marathon training plan in July, these are exactly the type of changes you want to have happen (http://www.active.com/triathlon/Articles/The_myth_of_Long_Slow_Distance__LSD_.htm)

    The speed will come, but I wouldn’t force it – I know what it’s like to be injured and have recently come back from an injury myself and am glad that I eased back into things.

    1. Oh I definitely agree, but right now I feel like I’ve been “easing into it” for a little long, and I’m ready to slowly start working on my speed again. Nothing too hard, nothing crazy, nothing overly-ambitious. But a once-weekly push out of my comfort zone will help boost my running confidence, I think. Thank you for sharing that article — going to read it now — and I appreciate the feedback!

    2. I can’t agree more with Adam. In summer one must also take heat into the account. In any coaching philosophy a “Base” is just pile of comfortable SLOW EASY miles. But, it prepares your body for the challenges of more difficult training. An acceptable rule of thumb among coaches is that whenever you start a new training cycle (after injury/rest or just after finishing a marathon) one needs at least 6 weeks (more is better) of easy running where one builds the weekly mileage to around 70% to your desired maximum mileage of the training cycle. No, None, None speedwork is required for those 6 weeks. Reading your blog, I don’t think you are anywhere consistent in your planning of your comeback. It sounds rude but do yourself a favor and stick to at least 4-5 weeks of easy running with slowly (no more than 15% per week) increasing your mileage to desired level.

      PS: I ran a 3:07 marathon in January but my easy runs in summer range from 8:15-8:30 min/mile.

      1. This is great advice, thank you! It doesn’t sound rude: I’m not consistent in “planning” my comeback because I don’t have a plan at all. I kind of just felt like I was running junk miles lately, and I thought I’d try to pick up the pace. I don’t anticipate doing any runs much faster than what I did today — I kind of just wanted to see how it would feel to push myself again. Thank you for your help, and congrats on the 3:07!!

  26. Congrats on the big push forward! As runners, we can be our own biggest supporters or our own worst enemies. Glad you were able to snap out of your injury funk and get moving forward again! I agree, I love the “in between” times of training when I don’t have a goal or an upcoming race. Sometimes it’s nice to just run to run and challenge yourself just for the sport of it. 🙂

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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