I think I was the only runner who didn’t know last Wednesday was Global Running Day. I didn’t write my own post but enjoyed reading everyone’s why-I-run posts. Reading those made me think about my own running journey and where I am now. So here’s my own deep-thoughts post about what running means to me now.
Why I Run
I run for very different reasons now than when I first started running. What started out as exercise to maintain my weight loss became a series of empowering, gratifying successes over the past five years. My first 30-minute run without walking. My first race, a 5K. My first half marathon. And now I’m about to embark on my first journey to the 26.2 distance. A big part of why I run is to challenge myself to do things I once thought impossible.
And yet, I often fail to meet the challenges I set for myself. I kick butt in training, but on race day I tend to fall apart. So I think I also run because I want another chance. In almost every other area in life, if you try hard enough, you’ll succeed. It doesn’t work like that in running, at least for me, at least not yet. I’m always reading magazine articles and blog posts about runners who start running at a 12-minute pace and six months later are running 3:30 marathons and placing in their age groups. It’s hard not to compare myself to them and think about my very slow progress to get just a little bit faster. Am I truly physically incapable of getting better? What if the bigger obstacle is mental? If I overcome the mental demons that haunt me during races, how much better can I get? I’m curious enough to keep trying.
Faster. Yes, I said it. When I say I fail to meet challenges, I’m talking primarily about time goals–those arbitrary goals that have given me so much anxiety and made me feel so much pressure that I swore them off last fall. At that time, I wanted to focus on new challenges, like new distances and trail running, instead of grinding away to shave seconds and minutes off my time. And I do want to focus on new challenges. But there’s still a whisper in the back of my mind that I hear from time to time: How much faster can you get in the 5K if you train for it? How much faster in the half marathon? Again, I’m curious.
But the challenge is just one part of why I run. The bigger part is simply that it’s become an important part of my lifestyle. I love starting the day with a run. I love being out on the trail before anyone else, before the sun rises, before the frenzy of another day starts. I love having the time alone to think or, just recently, share stories and laughter with running friends, all before I shower. It keeps me sane, and it makes me happy.
And I love being outside and experiencing the world and the seasons in a way I wouldn’t if I didn’t run. Every single one of my runs in 2015 and this year were outside. Yes, the blistering heat, intense sun, and swampy humidity–not to mention frigid temps and slipping on ice–aren’t fun. But I’d still rather be outside and experiencing the natural world than inside on a treadmill.
My Evolving Journey
So what has all this reflection taught me?
Focus on better, not faster. I’m sticking to my resolve to not set time goals.* The thing about time goals is that all the stars need to align to hit it–the weather is perfect, you run the race of your dreams, and you either run the tangents (mostly impossible) or run faster than you trained for if you run the course long. There are just too many factors out of your control.
Instead, I’m focusing on challenging myself in new ways to continue growing as a runner. This year my focus is on the marathon distance. The training and race will challenge me in new ways, and I have no doubt I’ll grow from the experience. But I also want to set other challenges, like training for shorter distances. While I’m still curious about how much faster I can get, I think if I focus on getting better in general, the speed will be a byproduct. And if it doesn’t happen for me, I’ll still be a better runner overall, and that’s what’s most important.
You may have noticed that I stopped posting my paces on my recap posts. That’s intentional, though not easy. When my paces were slow I felt a little guilty for not documenting how slow I was going because I didn’t want to seem like I was hiding it. But I’ve also seen faster paces–well, before the heat hit! It’s been a little hard not to call that out because I was excited. But the thing is: It doesn’t matter. Really. Honestly. If I were a professional runner, it would matter. But if I’m just doing it for the reasons above–for the personal challenge, for the time I get to spend outside in the mornings reflecting and enjoying being outside, for the love of it–it doesn’t matter.
Do more trail running. My happiest runs are in the woods. It makes sense because I’ve always loved the woods. I’ll always pick hiking in the mountains over going to a beach and am much more an earth person than a water person. When I was young, my dream was to live in a cabin in the woods someday. While that day isn’t here yet, I love to go hiking and exploring the woods. So it makes sense that I love running in the woods. I don’t worry about pace and love the time alone to enjoy nature and wildlife. I’ve loved the rails-to-trails races I’ve done–and am very happy I picked one for my first marathon. But I want to start doing real trail running. I think I’ve avoided it because I go so much slower, but I’m learning to not care–again, it doesn’t matter. I’ve never done an actual trail race but would like to. And I think I’ll continue to do rails-to-trails races because I like them so much. If trails are my happy place, I need to focus on them.
*Disclaimer! So I’ve spent all this time talking about how I won’t have time goals and how paces don’t matter. I mean all of that. But…the coach I’ll be working with for marathon training strongly believes in setting a time goal. I kinda knew that because the whole Hansons’ plan and its training paces are built around a time goal. So I will have a time goal for my first marathon, but my coach said we can make it very conservative. I’m very curious to know what her definition of conservative is! I trust the Hansons’ method, so I’m not stressed about having a time goal. What that really means for me is what my training paces will be. My main goal for the race itself will be to finish. To emphasize that, I will not be revealing my time goal or my training paces on this blog. I think doing so will put pressure on me that time goals have given me before, and I don’t need that for my first marathon!