A letter from the other side of running

Hello friends,

I write to you from the other side. The other side of running. Not from the complete opposite, the space of NON-RUNNING, but rather just that other space where running isn’t so all-consuming, so constant and extreme. I write to you from what seems like an entirely different realm of existence, where energy and clarity are plentiful, where perspective is broader, where daily routines are dictated by themselves and not under the ever watchful eye of running’s pressing demands.

I’ll elaborate.

I have gone from an existence that involved running every single day….for years, yes EVERY DAY, and yes, YEARS, to 5 miles every other day, at any pace i choose. And those previous years of running weren’t little jogs here and there. They were at least 1o miles a day, no slower than 7:30 pace. That is the world that is slowly fading into the cerebral compartment of fond memories. I now reside on the other side of that world, where I run to keep my sanity, to keep my health, but without such extreme obligation or striving for definable reward. And let me tell you, dear running friends, it’s NIGHT and DAY. For example…

On “the other side”, there is energy. Energy you can’t understand. It’s an energy that is quite surprising and after so many days of having difficulty walking up stairs, or just not so motivated to move throughout the day, to instantaneously jump from my chair and perform any task demanded of me without fatigue, is, well, it’s surprising. And it’s not what you think. I know you are saying to yourself, “Oh yeah. I know what you mean. I totally feel that during taper weeks. I feel like I’m bouncing off the walls!”.

No. You’re wrong. That is still such an incredibly sacrificed form of energy. You may be recovering from your efforts, but you are still in an energy deficit at this point. Sure, sports scientists have effectively worked out the ratio of fatigue to recovery to allow for a stunning race day performance, maximizing muscle and cardiovascular strength to compensate for overall fatigue, but despite whatever PR you run that day, you are still in a state of fatigue compared to the COMPLETELY rested individual. Sure, that rested individual has a less developed cardiovascular and muscular system, but they make up for it with exuberant energy. Their bodies are at the ready, for whatever physical demands may be asked of them. And right now, I’m there too. It’s crazy. I can bound stairs, run back and forth between buildings at my work all day, jump on my bike and ride around town, play with my 6 year old stepson, HAVE SEX(!), etc. all in one day without having to rest my legs or mind in the process. It’s, oddly, crazy.

And that’s just the beginning.

I now have trouble FALLING ASLEEP at night. Where before my wife was mad at me that I would be snoring under one minute from the time my head hit my pillow (no exaggeration), now I’m struggling to keep my rambling thoughts at bay as I try to get a full nights rest.

And then when I wake up….I’m up! Ok, that’s never all that easy, but it’s a far cry from the zombie induced trance I once experienced every morning before work. And that energy is then carried into work, where I’m not NODDING OFF TO SLEEP every time I sit down and close my eyes….as used to happen.

And yes, there is the sex. The ability and drive to actually have sex! No longer is it only during those rare moments of night time energy, or forced routine. It’s desired, anticipated and sustained (ok…most of the time)!

On the other side of running there is a clarity. A mental clarity you just won’t understand until you are on this side with me again. We’ve all been here before….before we started running, but so quickly we forget what it’s like when we are all consumed with the act of progression. It is a clarity of mind and heart, where my thoughts are focused on the task at hand and not constantly interrupted by concerns about the workouts to come, considerations about how to run further and faster, and not drug down by the heavy, hazy cloud that weights upon us during the most strenuous points of training.

The clarity is also emotional. My emotional state is much more tempered, even, not as subject to such drastic swings from either a deficit or surplus of excitement or frustrations. I can step back and process everything without such exaggerated reactions, because, precisely, I’m rested.

Let me give you a real world example. A story I haven’t shared with anyone but  my wife I believe. Before Chicago ’10, I was called into the Principal’s office (I work at a school) and basically told I was being put on a temporary contract with the school until I turned my act around. I was slacking. Not intentionally mind you, I was just tired…and didn’t realize it. I simply couldn’t work up the will to do my job, no matter how simple the task. I always had some sort of excuse about why I couldn’t get to a job right away, that seemed logical at the time, but now I realize was just a way of avoiding the effort necessary for the job. Again, I was just tired. Physically and emotionally. Then a few months after Chicago, when I “retired” (for the first time), I was called back in and was told I was doing “a great job”. She asked why, and the answer was obvious. “I quit running”. Suddenly, after a couple weeks of regeneration, I was able to perform my job to my expected capabilities, and it was nothing more than allowing my mind and body to develop the energy and focus to do so.

See, when you are in the throws of training so heavily, running 100+ miles a week, you slowly wear yourself down….but you just don’t realize it. I mean, you know this to a degree, but it’s all relative. You don’t know just HOW MUCH you’ve worn yourself down because it happens so gradually, and when you’ve been running for YEARS, that gradual decline becomes unnoticeable. It’s only after taking a massive break and allowing your body and mind to regenerate do you understand how deep in the hole you actually were. It’s pretty amazing to consider how you even functioned in such a deep, relatively dark place.

Now, of course, I’m not saying being in that place is a bad thing. Absolutely not. Those years of effort were some of the most rewarding and exciting times of my life. There are few things in life that I am more proud of than my accomplishments during all that training and effort, but I also think it would do those of us who are so incessantly driven to take a step back, a huge step back, every once in awhile to gain perspective. Ultimately, we’ll all get to that place sometime whether willingly or forced by the limitations of our bodies.

And here I am, writing to you from the other side of running. The side consisting of 5 mile runs every other day, keeping my body and mind fit, and retaining a clarity I haven’t felt in so long. I respect you, elite running friends, immensely, but I’m here to tell you that when you come to this side as well, it is not depression, gloom and weight-gain as we tend to think, but rather quite awesome in its own right. For now, keep keepin’ on.

I’ll meet you for a run when you are ready. Just a run. Not a workout. Not a recovery. Just a run.

5 responses to “A letter from the other side of running

  1. I love this post. I’m also feeling more energy after I re-injured an injured Achilles and was forced to stop running altogether. Of course, I was devastated (I was a week away from attempting to run a sub 2:46 marathon and in shape enough to do it) but now, I actually FEEL better than I have in a long, long time. I get up at 4:30 am to swim (I practice with a team) and it’s actually, well, wonderful. My writing has taken off as well– it’s as though my brain has more oxygen; and I have time to breathe. Thank you for posting this. You have voiced what I wasn’t ready to… that there IS life beyond running (which isn’t to deny that the running life was rewarding and beautiful)…

    • Glad to hear this Rebecca! I’m going to follow this up with another piece about the other difficulty with “transitioning”….Identity. Keep keepin’ on. Glad to hear you are moving past your injury.

  2. Nice coda to the story Scott.

  3. Hi! This is my first time wandering onto your blog and I found this to be one of the most human, sincere posts on running I have encountered–well…ever! I live in NYC, where frankly the runners are not runners per se, they are addicts. Mostly unhappy addicts looking to always better their last performance. I freely admit even though I sincerely have a deep LOVE of running–not training, not competition–I get sucked up into this vortex and the miles after miles (of course, none under 7:30!), year after year without real rest really do gradually wear at you. They build you up too, but they also take away. What would like be to go to work being fully rested? To read while fulled rested? To walk up the stairs while rested? Thanks for giving a glimpse on the other side. One day, when I can get off the carousel, I will join you. :):)

    • Thanks for your good words Colleen! And yes, being on a Carousel is a great metaphor for the cycle. It’s REALLY fun to be on, but no matter how difficult it becomes to stay on, it’s just as difficult to get off! Good luck in your running and attempts at staying balanced.

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