Regular readers will know that this summer I ran my first marathon.
It was hard work.
There was loads about the process that I really loved—I had to put myself out there, attempt something I genuinely wasn’t sure I could do; I had to train hard, and in various different ways (yoga, cross training and nutrition as well as running); I was doing weekly long runs, seeing more of the countryside around where I live than I ever have before, and getting to know bits of Warwickshire that are really beautiful (and hilly)…
…but it wasn’t easy.
For every benefit, there was a cost: I had to actually use the M-word in public, and face the real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to complete it; training was a significant priority and meant other things had to move down the list a bit; I was tired and hungry—a lot!—and fitting in a weekly long run, plus other training and shorter runs demanded thought, planning and some sacrifice.
I didn’t think I’d run another. In fact, not long after the race, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to run at all any more. I was tired out. Daily running is an exacting discipline, and I was feeling a bit fed up of it.
I started wondering why I was running. Is it just a habit now? Am I pinning something on this, some sort of identity definition? Have I got something to prove?
There have been many runs in my life when I have soared along, lungs expanding, wind in my hair, and felt so alive—so delighted by the experience of being outside and running—that I simply couldn’t express my joy and gratitude at having found a physical pursuit so life-giving and energising.
Lately, doing short (and therefore, often, fairly mundane) routes around my block, galumphing along with heavy legs or sore feet, generally much slower than my pre-marathon-training average pace, and feeling cumbersome and uncoordinated, I started wondering where the Amazing Runs had gone.
Perhaps I’ve lost my mojo? Perhaps I’m just actually too old and unfit to enjoy this anymore? I came to it too late, the toll of marathon training has finally pushed me over the brink, and I need to ditch the This Girl Can shirt in favour of something more dignified and appropriate for a 40something with greying hair and wrinkles…
And then one day, pounding down my regular 3-mile route, it occured to me that whilst I’ve had many Amazing Runs over the last four years since I started this thing, I’ve had many, many, many more Average Runs. And some Absolutely Awful Runs.
And the one single, unifying thing that every one of those runs has in common is that I have never—not once, ever—come back and wished I hadn’t gone out.
Every run I’ve ever done has left me feeling better afterwards. Even the AARs. Sweaty, out of breath, maybe blistered, sometimes cut up and bruised even; always feeling better.
As I considered this, I began to realise a couple of other things, too. The first is that after training with so much focus and discipline towards a particular challenge, the unstructured nature of my running during the kids’ school holidays felt, inevitably, a bit aimless. The only aims, in fact, were to have a bit of a rest, be gentle on my body to recover, and avoid lengthy time away from family whilst they were all around to have fun together.
So I was running for its own sake, not to hit a certain time or distance, or be at a certain level of physical conditioning. Running just because running is totally fine. People do it every day. It elevates my heart rate, increases my lung capacity, gets me outside, gives me some headspace and stretches my muscles. What else do you need?!
As soon as that thought occured to me, I chilled right out. It’s not actually necessary to have an Epic Running Epiphany every day. Having a month or two of common or garden running is no big deal.
My second realisation is that I am quite a structured person. Organisation and focus work well for me. I like a spreadsheet. Having a plan for my running adds to my sense of motivation and balance.
Despite not having entered many races over the years, having some kind of goal in mind is helpful*. A challenge—maybe a miles-in-a-month event, a focus on beating a PB, tackling a new distance, more social running—gives me a sense of purpose and shape to my running, and motivates me to get out there and get on with it.
So. I’m considering my next goal—it could be any one of those ideas, and probably a combination of them. And in the meantime, I’ll keep on with my Awesome / Average / Absolutely Awful Runs. Every day.
Running streak total today is 629 days, 2609 miles. #runeveryday