How I Fell Back in Love with Running

bartyasso

Bart Yasso, “The Mayor of Running,” reminding us why we love running.

This weekend that I was to become a runner again started off with me feeling like a fraud.

Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Boston. Two hours later, Jason Fitzgerald and I walked into West End Johnnie’s restaurant, where we were to meet the rest of the invited bloggers and some of the Runner’s World staff, the kickoff to our weekend at the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon and Festival.

We each got goodie bags from Runner’s World. In the bags, among other things: an early copy of the July issue of the magazine, which I’d been eagerly awaiting. Fully prepared for disappointment, just in case the article I was to be featured in got cut at the last minute, I flipped to page 37 and found something unexpected.

The article was there. Focusing on what the elites drink while they run. Scott Jurek. Shalane Flanagan. Dean Karnazes. Kara Goucher.

Me. 

Record scratch noise. Excuse me? You mean the guy who had to stop and walk during his six mile run last month? Who even in peak shape wouldn’t be able to hang with the others for two miles at their marathon paces?

Look, it’s awesome to be in Runner’s World. You’ll never hear me complain about any mainstream feature like that, and seriously, what an honor to be listed with those legitimately elite runners. I’m grateful. But I’m the guy who doesn’t even wear his NMA shirt that much for fear of seeming overly self-promotional. An introvert to the core. To be featured like this, with these legends, is uncomfortable. To say the least. 

And so in a moment when more than any other I should feel like a runner, a real part of the running community, I felt an incredible disconnect from it. I don’t belong here.

How it All Turned Around

This half marathon was my “get back in shape” race after a seven-month layoff from any serious training. The buildup had gone alright: I always have trouble getting motivated to train for a distance I’ve already done, but the fact that this was on part of the Boston course and that I’d be a guest of Runner’s World’s certainly helped.

But without a massively inspiring goal, my plans for serious training devolved into “What’s it going to take to get across the finish line?”

In the end, I did get across the finish line. In 1:48:12, close to 20 minutes shy of what I could have done when I was at my fastest a few years ago.

But it was a victory. While not even close to a PR, 1:48 on a hot and hilly course says to me that I’m getting there. Getting back to where I was, for whatever is next. And trust me, I’m thinking about that now. Because there was a much bigger victory this weekend than progress crystallized in a finish time.

That victory? This weekend made me fall in love with running again.

Partly, it was “the stuff.” The screening of Finding Strong, a short film by Saucony and RW that profiles several runners and their dramatic stories.

The expo. The seminars. The gear.

The city of Boston itself, the epicenter of running in this country, where we were treated to an early-morning November Project hill workout on Friday. A workout far more intense than I usually do, but one complete with instructions like “hug two strangers” that left me energized and optimistic.

But more than that — a hundred, a thousand times more than that — it was the people who made this weekend special.

It was meeting Shalane Flanagan, who ran 2:22:02 at Boston this year, the fastest time ever by an American woman on that fabled course. Getting to run alongside her for a few minutes with the other 1:40-somethings during the race, before she effortlessly sped up to run with the next fastest bunch.

It was hearing Sarah Reinertsen, paralympic athlete and the first amputee to finish an Ironman, point out that “We all have a disability; it’s just that some people’s you can see.” And her story of sitting next to someone on an airplane while wearing long pants, waiting to reveal the best possible retort to their “I could never be a runner because …” excuse.

It was enjoying Mark Remy‘s irreverent sense of humor, then learning that just like me, he’s a writer despite being an introvert. I found myself inspired by his obvious love of running, but also his ability to dance with the fear that accompanies writing your thoughts down for everyone to see (and criticize, if they wish).

And more than any other single person, it was Bart Yasso who made me feel like a runner again. The “Mayor of Running,” a title I never completely understood before this weekend. What exactly has he done to deserve that, I wondered, besides popularize an 800 workout that carries his name? But now I understand: with his stories from a lifetime of almost 2000 races, he makes everyone he touches love running more. He’s a man of the people, and never was this more clear than when on the last night he walked by our circle of bloggers, sitting on the lawn in front of the Boston College dorm where we stayed, and took the time to sit and entertain us with more of his stories.

Oh, and that group of bloggers? They made it great, too. We pretended we were college kids for a few days (beer pong didn’t quite happen, but twice it threatened), and it seemed like that was something a lot of us needed. What we had in common, other than blogging, was that we all run — despite the challenges of kids, work, school, and everything else, we all know what it’s like to make running a priority. Because we’re runners, and that’s what runners do. To be immersed in that enthusiasm for running for a few days was no small thing. Neither was the running that most of the bloggers did — the majority (not me) ran the 5K, the 10K, and the half marathon in the span of two days.

When it was done, the goodbyes were sad. But I brought home more than a swag bag and a new book (Running and Being, by George Sheehan) with me.

My legs are still angry at me for putting them through a half marathon on so little training (6, 8, and 10 miles were my only long runs), but today they’re accommodating enough that I’ll go for a run. The first in many months that’s not for any specific purpose, other than the thing itself. To run.

Thanks to everyone at Runner’s World and the Heartbreak Hill Half and Festival, and the sponsors who made it possible. The race and weekend had all the spirit (and exact same hills) of the Boston Marathon, but with the electricity and big-city atmosphere replaced by a small-town feel and sense of community.

This was exactly what I needed.

Here’s a list of the bloggers whom I had the pleasure of getting to know (or getting to know better) this weekend. I hope you’ll check out their blogs:

A final note: I’m slightly concerned that people will read this and think the experience is unavailable to them. It’s not. While we got some private meet-and-greets with the people I mentioned, all of them gave talks (mostly free and in fairly small rooms) at the festival that were open to the public. Anytime I’ve raced before, I’ve skipped the festivities and talks — part of that “I’m not a real runner” complex, I suppose. My advice after this weekend: don’t. When you don’t feel like a runner, it’s this stuff that makes you happy to be one.

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Comments

  1. I noticed they had you in Runners World magazine this month!

  2. I love this post! Even though I’m not a runner, I definitely find myself getting burnt out on activities I do love and get nervous that I no longer have the passion to keep enduring. Fortunately it’s stories like this that always turn it around for me as well. There’s nothing more inspiring than reading and understanding how other people continue to be inspired.

  3. It was great to meet…and almost play beer pong…with you, Matt!

  4. YES I was trying to make sure people understood that the whole weekend is phenomenal to be around so much running love even if you aren’t there as a blogger!!

    glad you found your spark again and it was great to finally meet!

  5. I love this post and it was so nice to meet a fellow vegetarian/vegan runner :) I sort of found myself in a similar boat as you coming into this event and, like you, found that it re-fueled my love of running.

  6. Awesome! Glad to hear you got your mojo back. I think we all go through those periods where we feel lackluster about running. It’s probably healthy.

  7. LOVE this post, Matt! It was so great to meet you and all the other bloggers. What I loved most about this weekend was that it really felt like a celebration of running and the brotherhood of the running community, more than any other event I’ve attended. Glad you got your mojo back!

  8. I know just how you feel with not feeling like a real runner. When for so many years competing in highschool and college it was all I ever knew. But now that I am married to a non runner and responsibilies and struggle with injuries, it has been hard to get back into running and even feel like a runner again. But I am determined. Thank you for your article. I will take it to heart.

  9. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Matt,
    Glad you are getting some ink time. Ya we all go through the ups and downs. I feel guilty when I wear my NMA shirt and I know a few days earlier I had fish on grill and ice cream (I’m doing the best I can). I’m starting training for anither marathon and trying the Galloway wal;k/run method. Walking voluntarily during a training run or race is completely foreign to me. Will I still feel like the runner I used to be?

  10. This gave me chills. Last year, I had nearly the same experience as you did at the Runner’s World weekend in Bethlehem. It completely changed me as a runner, a blogger and — not to be overdramatic — a member of our little fitness community.

    I really, really enjoyed hanging out with you this weekend and don’t worry — I’ll keep wearing my five NMA shirts around town to do all of the promotion for you.

    P.S. Next year, BEER PONG.

  11. Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been following your blog for years and have always thought of you as one of the “real” runners; you were also a real inspiration for me and my husband in adopting a plant-based diet. Never in a million years would I think that we shared the same feelings about not being a “real” runner. I was injured several years ago and had to stop running, and then work and depression took over. In the last few months I’ve been getting back out there, and now I’m doing a program on RunKeeper (Sub-65min 10k). I might be slow, it might not be a marathon or a half I am training for, but this time feels more real, doing the thing I love. I am happy for you that you got that feeling back this weekend.

  12. I didn’t read my RW until I got home, but I was so excited to see you in there! I wish you’d told everyone, so I could have gotten you to sign it for me ;) Anyway, as a fellow introverted blogger, I, too, appreciated Mark Remy’s thoughts on it. What a great weekend. So nice to meet you!

  13. Dear Matt,
    I loved seeing your name and ingredient photos for your electrolyte drink in the new RW. Why did you get photos when the others didn’t? Because they look way better than a bottle full of red and blue dye. It was perfect timing for me because I am up to 10 miles in your NMA half marathon plan and it is crazy hot down here in Florida.
    So cool that you hung out with Bart Yasso. He is the guy I always think of when I hear anyone mention not being a real runner. He gets it.
    “I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” -Bart Yasso

  14. Tony Digaetano says:

    My wife and I were involved in multiple Runner’s World Challenges and have both appeared in some of their print products. The crew there are very much a part of our love of running. Mark Remy, Jen Van Allen, Bart Yasso, Amby Burfoot, David Wiley and all the others, plus other challengers all made us feel exactly as you say, like a real runner despite my doubts.

  15. Brittany says:

    Juiles link doesnt send you to PBFingers it sends you to runpretty..

  16. From someone who has been following your blog, read your book and followed your training plan I always considered you an awesome runner! Everyone was lucky to meet you at Heartbreak Hill and I hope to meet you some day. :) Thank you for all your info and honest sharing. Congrats on your RW article!!!

  17. Sudiesu says:

    So glad you’re back in the running d:-)

  18. Brad Capello says:

    Sounds like a good time! Keep up the great work. Thanks Matt!

  19. Gabriel contreras says:

    Glad your back to running! But you don’t have to feel as though your a runner. Running as we know it is so mass marketed and unfulfilling. I run on trails 8-15mi about five to six days a week, and when people ask me if I am a runner, I usually say I am a trail enthusiast. I don’t like being labeled a runner, because then the next question is, do you marathon! NO, NO ROAD STUFF. Hate it, Just the thought of running with thousands of people on flat roads sounds terrible. Give me a mountain to run up alone in peace, being present in nature. Be the runner you want to be. Not what’s expected of you. It’s your run!

  20. Loved the article, though I find it sad that anyone who runs, doesn’t feel like a ‘real runner’.
    Maybe we compare ourselves too much in this world or put expectations and labels so grand, that to be anything but, means we are inferior and not ‘true’.
    I run, therefore I am a runner. You run, therefore you are a runner. Anyone who puts the time / dedication required to regularly run, is a runner. No matter how fast or slow, how far or what records and goals we beat, make or have yet to…. we are still runners. :)
    I do however like the label of ‘trail enthusiast’! I love trails and solitude.
    Simply run and run simply is my favorite saying.
    http://running39to40.blogspot.com/

  21. What I will take away from this post is that my getting back into a running routine won’t happen by reading blog posts. What you said about making running your priority. That was what I needed to hear. And I agree with the previous comment. You run, therefore you are a runner. Thanks – been getting your mails about 2 years now – Hi from Cape Town!

  22. It was great seeing you again this weekend. :) Proud to be a fellow runner, no matter how fast or slow!

  23. I was very impressed to see your name in RW along side of the best of the best! You’ve been a great inspiration to many people, myself included. Congratulations!

  24. Allison says:

    I’m so glad you told us about the article bc I hadn’t had a chance to look at my RW yet. I whipped it out right away, though! Super cool! Congratulations!

  25. I blog about death and grief, so running (I use the qualifier “for fitness,”) reminds me fresh air is one of life’s best freebies. Great post, Matt!

  26. Love the honesty in your writing. So easy to identify with. Maybe everyone except the greats (and even maybe them) struggles with what it means to be a “real” runner. I used to think that if you didnt run at a fast enough speed, then youre really not a runner. Then I thought if you didnt go far enough, then you werent a really runner. After reading your article, I have to conclude that my definition of what a real runner is – is whatever I havent achieved yet. Funny…I guess I was a real runner all along.

  27. Thanks for sharing. I have the same complex, never feeling like a “real” athlete or a “real” blogger and sometimes hesitating to put myself forward for jobs or events because I feel I’m not legitimate enough. I’m glad you have fallen back in love with running, and I’m grateful you shared your thoughts with us.

  28. Great post, thanks. I struggle with running motivation when life gets chaotic and have been on a break from races since my last half a few months ago.

  29. I am not sure it matters how you get across a finish line, as much as it does why you started the race. You mentioned feeling like a fraud, posted your time of 1:48 and somehow conveyed that you were “let down”. Making running about time or comparing yourself to the company you keep makes no sense, (to me anyway). You run, because you run. I have always felt that your story was about how changing your diet and running changed your life. Not a PR in a race. No disrespect, I guess I just think that your article title spoke to falling back in love with running; but seemed to be about wishing you could be faster, or that you somehow did not belong. I think that this may be a “male thing” – we all do it, but usually men compare how much money we make to equate success; but not happiness. Maybe next time, stop running, spend an hour, (or a day), playing beer-pong and realize that you have brought yourself to a moment, (through your great writing and inspiration to many), where you can actually go to Boston, interface with some great people, see a historic city and be doing something you love. Again, no disrespect, it is just that most of your articles are more uplifting or inspiring to everyday people, to those of us who get up, go to work, pay the bills, and do our best to make healthy eating choices while we do our best to “get a run in.” Keep up the great stuff, and never forget, it is all great. Even a DNF means you gave it a go.

  30. Mark Duffield says:

    Thanks Matt. This post comes at exactly the right time for me. I too ran the Heartbreak Hill Half last weekend, with a 1:47 and change finish time, 10 minutes off of my PR. I have a number for NYC, and need to get motivated to start training, especially if I want to hit my goals.

    I skipped the festival and the seminars. Now I see that I shouldn’t have. I do wish I had known that you and Jason would be in town. I would have made more of an effort to get there.

  31. Awesome post, Matt. I too have gone through similar episodes throughout my training “career”, and it’s great to see insights from other people’s perspectives on how to get out of the “I don’t belong” slump. The thing that has helped me the most during such times is to take a step back and reassess why I’m running in the first place. Often times, I’ll find that my original reason–do it because I love it–has been replaced with something less secure (such as do it so I can beat the guy next to me). Your post helped me reinforce this concept at a time it was needed. Thanks!

  32. Richard Benson says:

    Running love really excites me ..when i first saw the title i was like this will be some kind of ordinary life experience ..but after reading your post i am like fully charged !!
    Thanks for the awesome piece ..

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