How I Got Back My Running Mojo

It’s been just about a year since I took a break from ultrarunning, and I finally feel like I’m back.

In my last 50K, the first eight miles took me two hours, which at the time I thought was a crazy statistic. I mean, it was uphill, but 15 minutes per mile?

I had no idea it would take me well over seven miserable hours to finish that race. (To this day I have incredible respect for the runners who did the 70-miler on the same course.)

It’s not that I ran a terrible race. The winner took 5:11 to finish, and 2nd place ran 5:39, when at most 50K’s I’ve run, the winning time is under four hours.

It was just a brutal course, the hardest one I had run, for sure. To me, it seemed to take the same amount of effort as the Vermont 50-miler had.

During that race, I retired from ultrarunning several times in my head.

Nothing out of the ordinary there. icon smile Usually these resignations are forgotten a day or two later, with another proud finish in your rear-view mirror and another race a few months down the road to think about.

But this one was different. A week later, there was none of that pride for having finished a tough race, nor excitement for the next challenge. I just knew I needed a break from ultrarunning.

So I took my break. I hit the gym for a while, and was pretty impressed with how easy it was to gain muscle on a vegan diet. (Unfortunately, a careless mistake resulted in an injury requiring about 8 weeks of no activity, so that experiment ended early.)

I took a few Parkour lessons after that, which was fun. And for most of the fall and winter, I ran. With a friend, mostly long runs without much speedwork or focus on getting faster, just running for the sake of maintaining a mileage base.

And in March, I ran the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with our NMA training group. No PR or anything remotely close, but a comfortable finish and a return to racing.

But only recently have I started to feel like I’m really back.

You know that feeling where you not only don’t mind running, you actually can’t wait to run again tomorrow? Where you wish you could just fast forward your life eight weeks, and see what kind of progress you’ve made by then? That’s where I am now, and I’ve missed this.

I’ve written a few times about the running rut I was in. Even before the 50K that was the final straw, even at Boston, it felt like I was just going through the motions of training and racing — using it as a way to stay in decent shape, sure, but with my heart and mind somewhere else.

Over the winter, with the training for the DC race in March, I felt my passion for running begin to wake up. But in the past two weeks, it feels like that passion for running is on an espresso and yerba mate bender.

I can credit three things for this new exuberance:

1. My new running habit.

Last week, I wrote about all of the new habits I had created recently. At that point, I was running just 20 minutes each day. This week I’m up to 30.

Mileage-wise, this is still next to nothing. But this approach has also resulted in zero soreness, zero missed workouts, and always looking forward to the next day’s run. I can’t say that about any other time I’ve tried to start running again after a layoff.

Even more exciting: what if I can continue adding 10 minutes each week to my daily run? I know it’ll get tougher, but if I could, then in a month, I’d be pushing 60 miles a week, about as much as I’ve ever run (and that was when I was in the throngs of marathon training).

What if I could carve out just an hour and 15 minutes each day, and establish a baseline run of 8 to 10 miles every single morning? With what I’ve experienced so far in my new approach to habit change, that’s not unthinkable. And it sure gets the wheels turning about what might be possible in terms of ultrarunning, even later this summer or fall.

2. Amazing sources of inspiration.

In my last post, I wrote about Rich Roll’s new book. Since then, I’ve been tearing through an advance copy of Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. I don’t know if I’m supposed to blog about the content of the book until it’s released next week, but I’ll say that I haven’t felt so inspired by any book about running since Born to Run. That was the only time a book has ever gotten me so jacked up to run that I had to put it down and do it. This feels like BTR fever all over again, and with a plant-based twist.

I’m actually interviewing Scott later today, which should be great. I’ll post that early next week, right before the book comes out, so look for the interview then!

3. Meditation and mindfulness.

I’ve done a lot of sitting meditation and concentration on my breathing over the past four months. While I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible with sitting, I’m really interested to approach running — especially ultrarunning, and the depths of physical fatigue and even pain that accompany it — from this new perspective of learning about myself. For this, I can credit not only Rich’s and Scott’s books, but another I’ve been reading called Running with the Mind of Meditation. Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot since I moved.

And behind all of this, as important as any of these three things, is the break from running that I took. If I hadn’t done that, I think I’d still be stuck. Don’t feel bad about “quitting,” if you know it’s what you need.

I know from what I’ve written before that a lot of you sympathize with the running rut and have dealt with your own, and maybe still are. How’s it going for you?

PS — My first new habit for June is writing every day. That doesn’t mean there will be a new No Meat Athlete post every day, but it does mean you’ll probably see a few more posts like this one. I hope that’s cool with you. Have a great weekend!

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Comments

  1. Bridget says:

    I also found myself in a running rut. Then I adopted a puppy and found myself with a lot less free time. The past month was just about training her and getting to the gym when I had time.
    Now that we’re finding a good routine, I realize I need my morning run. It took me not having the time to run in the morning to realize how much I loved it. I was mad at myself for taking a month long semi break, but maybe it was what I needed.

  2. There couldn’t have been a more ‘perfect’ time for this post for me! I have been forced to stop running and lifting… pretty much everything (was told to take it easy due to constant/chronic lower back pain which came on all of a sudden during a mere 6 mile easy run!). … 2 1/2 months later I have decided to run (last night). Had to run/walk but it was better than nothing! I have the fever again and I also am putting mind over matter. I will conquer this mysterious pain. The good news is my pain did not get worse and I feel ‘ok’ today, not pain free but getting there. The mind is a powerful thing! :)

  3. I can certainly get behind more posts like this one. I think it’s good to step back from running for a while and focus on other things, although my step backs have mostly been forced due to injury. I’m recovering nicely, post January’s knee surgery, and your posts have been small bits of inspiration to aid in that recovery. Mostly, my motivation to be a runner again is the biggest inspiration I need.

  4. dan donovan says:

    I think it’s natural to go through periods of downtime and not be running at all. This time is needed to put some weight back on your body and to heal and rest. During those times I like to bike/hike and do other activities so when running season comes back I’m ready for it.

  5. Welcome back!

    Should we go ahead and start planning the first ever NMA Ultramarathon running event???

  6. I really enjoy posts like this so keep em’ coming. :D

  7. I’ve been in a running rut lately, so I’ve been cutting back and enjoying other forms of exercise. I don’t feel bad about it, but I do miss the feeling after a good run. I think taking a little bit of a break will make me appreciate much more when I get back to it!

  8. Ahh, a fresh start does wonders for both the mind and body. Sometimes you just need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. Glad you found your way back, it is a great feeling to get back on track!

  9. I was one of those crazies who ran the 77M that day. Took me almost 18.5hrs. That’s a lot of time to consider retiring. It did take me a couple months to mentally bounce back. I had a bad 50k in August prior to the rebound but I’d already registered for 50Ms in Oct & Nov so my focus . To your point of your re-found mojo…running is an ingrained passion in my life now. With a full time job, wife and two kids it isn’t easy but the impact that running has on my life is inextricably woven throughout every corner of who I am/what I do. It’s where I process, reflect, dream, quiet my heart/mind, and remember how small I am in this world. In two weeks I’ll toe the line for my first 100M. I look back to what happened at LH as seeds of inspiration for where I am now. Wish you the best as your mojo grows!

  10. “…so my focus didn’t wander far.”

  11. cobrasaint says:

    Wow,

    I gotta say that I was not going to plop down and read this email but sometimes you are asked to do things for the sake of others. After I read it I felt much more clear of where I am wanting to move through my running life. I too have had a running rut. Before receiving gallbladder surgery two weeks ago, I was swallowing 5k runs a day and 10-13 milers on the weekend. Then I had surgery and I felt like a ton of bricks dropped on me and I could not get up. Then I did a no-no and ate a 1/4 lb hamburger after 5 years of a beef-free diet. I felt like I was letting myself down and wishing I had never gotten surgery (I think I am sort of still grieving over a lost organ–no matter how small it was or insignificant.) I felt 99% and then I started to do the small things that I had forgotten to about when I first started running a couple of months back. Enjoying and just having fun. Now of course, its not 5k’s but I am starting to regain strength and I am reading more, gulping down BTR and reading “Relentlessly Forward” with an anticipation to cross reference Barefoot Running by Ken Bob Saxton. Not to mention my reversal of no more eating beef at a whim but to experiment with a truly inspiring ultrarunner like Scott Jurek who I am glad that is representing Sea-town. I cannot wait to eat his book, lol. Anyway, this message is turning into a novel. Overall I am glad that I stumbled upon this website and am glad to be part of this growing community. Thank you Matt for your inspiring message.

  12. Parkour! that’s pretty sweet:) that makes me think of that episode of the Office! hahah and congrats on getting your mojo back! :)

  13. Love the blog, found you a couple weeks and have enjoyed your journey! Look forward to seeing what happens next!

  14. Kim Davis says:

    We welcome and enjoy narratives that help us feel community and that we are not alone in our very human struggles!

    Thank you for posting!!!

  15. Great post! I’m running my first ultra in September, thanks for the book recommendations. I bought Finding Ultra after reading your post.

  16. This post really spoke with me. I have been struggling with becoming obsessive-compulsive with my training to the extent that I hurt all the time, was exhausted and of course simply not enjoying my runs. This morning I was in Grand Junction, Colorado on business. I went for a run where I just let my body go at its own pace. I ran past farms with horses grazing, watched the sunrise over the Bookcliffs and the early morning sunlight reflected off the Colorado Monument. I ended up averaging a full 2 min/mile slower pace that my usual morning runs but I ran longer and don’t feel completely spent as usual–this was such a great lession for me and I enjoyed running again!

  17. Nice to see some posts again. I’ve been reading since day one, but lately… not so much. I’ve found the Maffetone Method to be really helpful in maintaining motivation. Every workout feels good when kept to strictly aerobic intensity as Maffetone defines it. It worked for Mark Allen to dominate Kona, and Stu Mittleman was coached by Maffetone as well. You know the part in RIch Roll’s book where describes his coach giving him a heart rate ceiling of 140 BPM? That’s Maffetone’s 180 formula at work.

  18. I googled looking for the rich roll 140 bpm system and found this. Glad I did. Will read it all with links included.

  19. When I took a break from running, I stopped working out completely.. for a solid year and a half!

    I was lucky that I’m in tune with my body and scaled back my eating so I stayed the same size, but I seriously didn’t lift a finger for 18 months. Lately I’ve gotten back into yoga and have started running again, this time patting myself on the back and letting myself feel amazing whether I get a workout in or not – such a change!

    I used to hold myself up to crazy standards and would be grumpy when I didn’t meet them, working out became this negative thing I never wanted to do. Coming back to it positively is keeping me motivated and I’m feeling healthier than ever :) Thanks for sharing your story!

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