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. 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!