Disclaimer: This post is probably only going to be interesting to runners. You have been warned.
Last April, on a flat, tree-lined stretch between mile 20 and 21 of the Vernonia Marathon, I got pretty bored. I had to fartlek it in between mile 22-25. To say I was “over it” would be an understatement. Why was I doing this again?
It didn’t help that I was back of the pack. To paint a picture: In bigger marathons I’m pretty much at the back of the mid-pack, but wouldn’t say back of the pack. In half marathons I’d say I’m a true mid-packer. In recent years the 5k/10k distances I’d say I’m more front of the mid-pack, with the occasional front pack placement for smaller, homegrown 5ks.
One of my favorite lil races, the Walterville Waddle 5k. I came in 7th place female in both 2016 and 2017. I told my friend Lauriene who I coached Girls on the Run with about the waddle, and we ran it together this year. This year 1-3rd place age groupers won donuts, woohoo!
Not that any of this matters, AT ALL. But I will say that, at least for me, the psychology of the run is definitely impacted by pack placement. It’s exciting to be in the front. I feel most myself and comfortable in the middle (maybe because I’m a middle child?). The back is fun too, because in my experience the people in the back (myself included) keep this whole running thing in perspective and don’t take themselves, or the sport, too seriously.
But anyways, back to Vernonia. I was so burnt out after that race. Not even physically, My quads were a tiny bit sore, but that was really it. Even still, it took me a whole month to enjoy running again. I remember the run in which everything clicked and the joy of running returned to me. It’s a 5 mile out and back from my in-laws’ house which I run pretty frequently. I was maybe a mile and half in, at the point where the road narrows. I thought to myself finally. That took way too long.
Picture from that run.
I made a vow to myself on that run to not put another race on my calendar for the rest of 2017. What I really meant (not articulating this to myself at the time, but retrospectively I know this) was no more long distance races, which I’m qualifying as half-marathon and anything longer. So far, I’ve held true to my vow.
I’ve always admired the elusive runners and joggers of the world who don’t ever sign up for races. They do it because it is who they are. They are runners, so they run. They don’t need medals or race shirts or race pictures. There is something that seems so humble to me about the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other at a pace more accelerated than a walk. So simple, yet so invigorating and, at times, rewarding.
But let’s be honest, there is such thing as too much of a good thing.
The problem for me with using a goal race as an external motivator is that it is too shiny of a carrot. Once the race is over, it’s like my internal motivation disappears. Actually, the internal motivation disappears as soon as I’m on a training cycle. Running becomes just another thing on my ever-expanding list of things I “have” to do. I hate having a prescribed amount of miles. It takes away the sense of freedom, intuition and spontaneity that running brings when I am intrinsically motivated.
I had a little bit of a running identity crisis, knowing that goal races were off the table. But I ran through it.
Looking back at my running log, I was consistently running about four days a week all summer long. I don’t remember exactly when the idea of a running streak came to me, but as soon as it did, I was all in.
I know Runner’s World does a #RWRunStreak every so often (Thanksgiving to New Years, Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, etc.), and Angie from the Marathon Training Academy podcast was on a super long streak. But those are every single day streakers. That was not going to work for me. I like and need my rest days.
I vividly remembered listening to an episode of the Another Mother Runner podcast last winter while folding laundry on my bedroom floor (next to the wall heater, obviously). Sarah mentioned the idea of not taking more than two rest days in a row. Something about that third rest day just really ruining the running momentum. I remember thinking, my god, she is Spot. On.
So just like that, I decided to see how long I could keep my running streak going, with no more than two rest days in a row. It’s been about 75 days of my running streak, and I’m happy to report that I am loving it.
You may be thinking isn’t a running streak just another shiny carrot? What happens when you break the streak? Well, what inspired me to finally sit down and write this post is that on Monday, for the first time, I broke my running streak by choice. (I was forced to take 5 days off when Oregon Wildfires were absolutely horrific and air quality was hazardous, but I don’t count that…). I opted for a 2 mile hike up a local butte with my husband and pup instead. I was having a really bad day, and he asked if I wanted to go on a hike after work. A hike with my family sounded better than a solo run, so just like that, I “broke” my streak.
There was a piece of me that thought maybe I can get out the door for a super short run when we get back home, but I knew I wasn’t going to want to do that. And that is perfectly alright with me.
Run to live better, don’t live to run better.
Yesterday was Tuesday. I got home from work exhausted. I did an hour of housework. I lit a pumpkin spice candle, and cuddled the dog on the couch in the nice, clean house. I was definitely very tempted to stay there. It’s getting colder out. I didn’t want to wear running pants and I’d have to shave my legs if I were to wear shorts (the worst, lol). The excuses started to creep into my brain.
But the choice was easy. I got up, got dressed, grabbed the dog, and walked out the door. I wasn’t going to let one third rest day in a row become a fourth.
It’s not about keeping the streak alive, I’ve already broken it. It’s about becoming one of those runners I have always admired. A runner who does not need a goal race. A runner who just needs to run, so they can show up as the best version of themselves in all of the other areas in their life. A runner who does things like hike on their rest days.
So have I given up racing entirely? No! Not even close. I’m more excited than ever to have more running adventures. I specifically have been day dreaming about trail races, and even ultras. Obviously I’ll need to figure out a way to sneak in more miles to my running streak, without it feeling like I’m on a training plan, if I do sign up for an ultra. That will be an interesting challenge, and I’m open to any suggestions if you happen to be an ultrarunner-reader who also happens to be training plan-averse.
But also, I’m rediscovering the beauty of the 5k/10k. There is a special runner’s high that accompanies going long, but my favorite thing about shorter races is that more friends and family in your inner circle, who probably aren’t as much of a running fanatic as you, are happy to participate. Those races are always so fun, and it gives your loved ones a glimpse of why you love the sport so much. It helps them understand your weird running ways, and why you do what you do. Everyone feels awesome after a 5k. 🙂
There’s a piece of my heart that wants to keep the identity of “marathon runner”. I ran one marathon in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. And I like that streak. But maybe that’s all just ego. Crossing marathon lines are the only times I can recall being on-the-verge-of-tears-proud of myself. We shall see what 2018 brings. No matter what, 26.2 is a long fricken way to run, road or trail.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how Tuesday’s run was, it was great. An easy 2 miles at a pace that would not have felt easy a few months ago. And then out of nowhere I got stung by a bee for the first time in like 20 years. Right on the side of my forehead, and it really hurt, and it still does. Lol. The end.