A common comment among marathoners is that when they found themselves around that dreaded 20 mile mark, they realized that if they physically stopped, they probably wouldn’t have been able to get started again. I agree, and I learned to walk — albeit slowly, at times — rather than stop. I, too, knew that if I stood still, that would be it for me.
Another friend who ran the 2019 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon said that he “made the mistake” of stopping sometime after mile 20 and felt his whole body “lock up.” I feel you, bro. I feel you.
As are many things marathoners hoard as life lessons, as is this: No matter what your goal is or what you are passionate about, you’re going to feel burnt out at some point. They key is not to stand still for too long.
As someone who been low-key running since May and is just started to really get back into training, here are my top 3 tips for those ebbs and flows in your running career.
Tip 1: Give yourself some freakin’ grace.No, really. Seriously. Stop being so hard on yourself. Runners are known for pushing their limits, and this is such an admirable quality. In a world that is currently attracted to the easiest/quickest/painless options, there we are torturing ourselves (and the best part is that we paid lots of dollars to do so!). There is a time to push yourself farther than you thought possible, and there is also a time to back off and let your body rest (note: I said rest, not quit — there is a difference).
What rest looks like to you is going to vary. For me, it was decreased mileage and running “just to run.” I decided to forgo long runs for the summer and stick to shorter distances, and I ran about 3 days per week and no more than 4 miles (but it was usually a leisurely 5k). At first, I wasn’t happy with myself. I questioned my dedication and my drive to continue running. I almost gave up several times.
Then I realized HEY, I AM STILL RUNNING. When you run long distances and/or put in several training miles per week, 9-10 miles per week can feel like nothing. The truth, though, is that it’s 9-10 miles per week. Those are still miles, and there are many people who would laugh at you for calling that “lack of dedication.” Relax. Whatever that means for you.
Tip 2: Ease in just as you would as a newer runner. Remember when you began running and you were so damn excited that you went from five miles per week to fifteen and then you ended up with ITBS? Yes, me too! That excitement returns when you make the decision to start running seriously again. In some ways, you feel like you’re new to the sport.
So, treat yourself as though you’re new to the sport. You’re actually in a pretty awesome position right now: People always say they wish that they had more knowledge about life as an excited youth about to take on the world, and you *kinda* get that opportunity with running. You’re reliving the beginning, but you’re now armed with the knowledge of a veteran runner. It’s a win-win.
Remember not to increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. You should also remember that more miles doesn’t always equal more success. Sometimes, success lies in less miles + more strength; less miles + more x-training…it’s all very individual. But, you get the point, right? Give your body time to adjust. Even if you haven’t taken time off completely, don’t go from 10 miles one week to 20 the next.
Tip 3: Avoid very rigid training plans when you start running again. There’s some statistic out there that over 70% of people who set a new year’s resolution don’t keep them (I swear miss research writing teacher has better research skills; I promise!). So many of them go to a gym, no? Sometimes we fail at things like that because we go into it a little bit too ambitious. We forgo our schedule, other obligations, and plain old sense of enjoyment as we commit to a gym four hours per day, seven days per week. No wonder we fail; that is likely impossible!
The same is true when you return to running. It’s easy to look at your past performance and insist that you get on a 5-day-per-week running plan that takes up hours of your time. However, this may overwhelm you and cause you to do absolutely nothing. It’s true. When we make plans to which we cannot adhere, we end up avoiding them altogether.
Instead of forcing yourself to run X days per week for X miles and refusal to adjust, consider setting a weekly mileage goal with some loose stipulations. My goal was to run 8-10 miles per week and two of the days should be back-to-back. Whatever days those were didn’t matter. Setting loose goals is a great way to ease in to training that is more specific down the road.
Most importantly, have fun! The way to successfully ease back into training or running is to enjoy it, so make it enjoyable. And don’t stand still for too long!