I feel like when I write a title like that, it should be pretty self explanatory...but a lot of times, it's not that simple.
I think there comes a point when every person (okay, maybe most!) encounters a steep learning curve. Maybe it's the first time that you run over four miles (Now I can run 5! 6! A marathon!) or the first time you squat your body weight (I can lift all of the things!), but that curve is addicting.
My relationship with running was just like that. When I first moved to Austin, I became enamored with the health scene. Everyone ran, everyone spent their days off on Town Lake, everyone was SO FIT! Coming from Chicago -- the land of the perpetual winter coat -- I couldn't help but get caught up in the madness.
I had never run more than 3-4 miles in college. I was in a major full of police recruits, so we always practiced the qualifying standard and that was it. Why would you run more? And besides, in the winter it gets COLD. And who runs in the cold? Or on a treadmill for that long? I mean, seriously, that's nonsense.
When I moved to Austin, that all changed. I followed my own training program for several months alongside my friend Karis and eventually ran my first half marathon in December of 2010. I was beyond proud of myself for what I had accomplished (my goal: don't walk!). But soon, just simply finishing, and not walking, wasn't satisfying. I attempted another half marathon in the spring--the Austin half marathon--and even though it was hot and miserable, my time was faster.
Cut to several months later when I met my best friend in a random sports bar in Austin and started on the goal of breaking 2:00 in the half marathon. At the time, this would have been a 20+ minute PR, but there's that curve again. It's addicting.
We trained all summer and ran the Chicago Rock and Roll half marathon -- an ode to my home town and an excuse to see my family and take her around my hometown. We did it. 1:58.59!
Well, logical progression has half marathon leading to marathon, right? Currrrvvvveeeee. The road to the marathon is very different than the road to the half. There are lots of new aches and pains. New experiences (ohhhh chafing!). New shoes. New blisters. New levels of hurt that you have never encountered. But again, it's so addicting. Each step that you take is longer than the previous. That was my motivation.
Cut to the fall of 2012, I ran my first marathon in San Antonio. It was a disaster, in the grandest sense. There is nothing that can prepare you for the suffering brought on by ungodly high temperatures. But, of course, I finished my first race and that was the goal. 4:28. On to the next.
I had signed up for the Austin Marathon before I had even run San Antonio. I think looking back now, I wouldn't have signed up for a second marathon so close to the first if I had known how much I would suffer. But alas, nothing can stop you when you're on the curve!
And what a curve it was. To this date, that Austin Marathon was still one of my best run races. I was consistent; I was strong; the weather behaved. I ran a full 28 minutes faster only two and a half months later. I was happy! Look how easy running marathons can be! When and where is the next one?!
As with all curves (or maybe I'm looking for roller coasters as my analogy), what comes up, must come down. There is a point at which this curve levels out. You hit a dreaded plateau or everything come crashing down.
Throughout the years since the Austin Marathon, I have tried to run faster marathons (Chicago in 2012, Austin in 2013) and been constantly met with disappointment. I have learned to train harder. I have learned to train smarter. I have learned to train differently. But somehow, I have always come around to the same dramatic conclusion--injury.
There's two kinds of people, I suppose. There are the people that are highly motivated by defeat and allow that to further motivate them to try harder. Then, there are people like me, who, if one way doesn't work, look for an alternative.
I've spent a lot of the last few years battling on and off again with injury. I've had some solid seasons where everything seems to be going right until just weeks before a race. I've had some downright crummy seasons. I've had seasons where I spent more time in the pool and on a bike than I did running on the roads -- only for it to come down to the same depressing scenario. I've switched to the half marathon. I've switched to the 5k. I've cried about it. I've let it bring me down to the point where I wanted to quit running forever.
But, I will say this. Looking back, I wasn't running for myself. I was running because I felt that running was what I was supposed to be doing. I let others choose my races. It is so easy to get caught up in that world --to live and breathe running. Some might even say FOMO--fear of missing out.
But not everyone responds to stimuli in the same way. I think that I'm a living example of that. The more that I run, the more that I weight train, the stronger I get. And for me, strength = speed. I've learned my strengths and through failure, I've learned my weaknesses. I've learned that endless weeks of miles don't make me stronger, but strength training does. I've learned that I need to listen to my body for when I need a rest day, not a running chart. I've learned to let the pace calculators go and run on feel. Maybe my easy pace is a little fast today or a little slow tomorrow, but that's okay. I've learned that to get out of bed in the morning and put on my running shoes, I have to truly want the goals that I set for myself.
And maybe now it's time to make a goal. I don't have a plan for the fall just yet. But I think it's time to put this new strategy of training to the test. It's time to love what I do again.