“Do I look like a runner?” – Prefontaine
Holding a primary identity as a runner is such a funny thing in it’s ability to completely consume both your mental and emotional state. For the first day you skip a run you feel like you left running behind for good. The first day of a week off is like you were never a runner at all. The first day off of a month of forced recovery, a needed one, is like you never heard of running in the first place. The first moment of a day where you know you won’t be running you embody the “Once a runner” line, except not in the romanticized “Once a runner, always a runner” sentiment, but rather the “I was once a runner” self-loathing.
It’s inevitable, no matter how fit you might be, no matter what PR you just set, no matter what milestone you just hit, when you aren’t running the last thing you feel like is a runner. You begin to doubt your self-worth and wonder what other interests you have that might replace that great gaping hole in your soul that running once fulfilled. Ultimately, for some of us, we come up empty in that consideration.
I remember in an interview with Ryan Hall where he took some time off to recover he stated that it was good not to run, that he realized he could walk away the sport, that running wasn’t his complete identity. Umm….what the F ever. The only reason he could say that was because he knew all along that he would be back running, that his break was entirely temporary. Sure, maybe he went through that wave of self-doubt during the break and probably at some point accepted his fate and came through with a sense of contentment, but he knows that running was always at the core of his identity. If he had to TRULY walk away from the sport, not ever fulfilling his marathon or olympic dreams, I guarantee he’d have a countless number of sleepless nights.
So, this is all to say that the past 3 weeks have been consumed with a sense of emptiness, not that my life was worthless by any means, but rather that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) engage in an activity that I enjoy so deeply that I simply felt off. My routine was gone. My achievements over the past two years seemed in jeapordy. Overall, without a definitive re-start date, I couldn’t be 100% sure that I’d ever run again. I know, I know, this is a terribly exaggerated statement, but that’s what it felt like. I just wanted to run so bad, partly because it was hard to feel like a runner, and I wanted that feeling back.
But just like that, I’m back. I took 3 complete weeks off after Tecumseh to let my groin/surrounding area heal in time for the next buildup to intense marathon training, and after all that time I tentatively got out sunday for an easy, easy, easy 4 mile run. And it felt good. I mean, my groin pain isn’t completely gone, but it is entirely manageable and not growing worse with each day of running, which is a great sign.
Let me tell you though, for 3 weeks I didn’t feel like a runner. I worried about my less than lean abdomen. I could almost feel my lungs shrinking. I swear my leg muscles shriveled up. But the very second I ran up the road toward the Monon trail everything came rushing back in. My legs turned over with an appearance that advertised their experience. My arms swung robotically. My face showed only a dedication worn in with every step of the past 2 and a half years. No matter how much fitness I have lost since Chicago, I was now a runner again, and it it’s only a matter of time before everything starts working like it once did.
It’s important to always keep in perspective what become essentially obsessions to us, but in contrast to becoming detrimentally consumed with one thing, it’s also pretty terrible to deny what we love all the same. One day “I was (once a runner)” will ring true, but for now it’s, “Once a runner….always a runner.”
The tentative plan…
Michelle and my good friend Kevin bought me Matt Ebersole (sounds weird eh?) for Xmas. Matt is the coach whose workouts I loosely followed leading up to Chicago, but now he’s my specific coach for the next year. This week is a very basic 30 mile week, just feeling out my groin to make sure it’s good for more effort, and making sure I’m also mentally back in the game for more mileage. I can already say, without a doubt, I’m ready for more mileage mentally, but I’m not making any assumptions about my physical state until the week is over. So far, so good though.
Other than that, I still haven’t discussed this with Matt yet, as it’s still early in the game, but my tentative plan is to shoot for the Traverse City marathon on May 29th. This would allow me to run a May marathon, giving me 4 – 5 months of dedicated training as well as allowing me to run the Indy Mini-Marathon. The one concern is that this is too close to training for Chicago in relation to recovery time. These considerations will all be hashed out later though.
For now, we’re just getting started. Stick around.