What’s Next?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed a shift over the last 6 months.  The general narrative has shifted from running a lot…to running not so much.  After being introduced to a hybrid crossfit/weightlifting gym in May by my longtime best running friend Amy (now my best lifting friend as well), I unexpectedly fell in love with something other than running.  There really are multiple reasons why this happened, though even now, it’s still hard to comprehend the huge shift over the last few months.  I do know why it happened and will get into that in a moment, but the fact that I found something I enjoy as much as running is still surprising to me, months later.  It’s important to know that running is a HUGE part of my identity (not was, is).  If you know me in real life, you know this to be a pretty accurate statement. I am a die hard, push through the pain, run all the miles, unstoppable running machine (or so I like to think :)).

Until things changed. I’ll touch upon the physical side of things first.  The emotional side, and really the most important reasons, I’ll discuss below. For years, I had dreamed of getting stronger.  I had experimented with different programming on my own and diligently worked my core and glutes (ya know, for running) for ages.  But a part of me wanted to lift heavy, to have bigger muscles and do things that I currently was incapable of.  I loved the look of strong, muscular women and even though I felt strong while running, in my mind I had the stereotypical body of a runner-normal weight with  no muscle tone.  And just to clarify, this is the image I have of myself. Not of anyone else.  I just didn’t have the courage to actually seek out the expertise to achieve anything I wanted, so I stuck with what was easy and that which I was good at; running obviously.  I really excel at distance running and do well in training.  Aside from some disc issues (which I make sound fairly minimal but are really not), I have good training, good recovery and a good turn around time after racing.  I stuck with running because it was like an old relationship.  I knew how to do well with it and I didn’t have the courage to leave.

Picture below from my first marathon- Columbus 2012, mile 19. Pic was taken by my mom who was mid chemotherapy and came out to see me race- a special memory.  When I first saw this picture, I struggled with the notion that I was running a ton of miles per week but still had a pretty soft midesection-it didn’t make sense at all. I later learned the science of why my body didn’t change with endurance training. 

Well, things changed as you can see (read.) I found a place where I can make my longtime goals happen.  And they are happening at a lightening pace.  Rarely will two days pass where I don’t PR on a lift (it’s a bit easier to PR in lifting as there are sooooo many opportunities to do so-for example, I can PR on both reps and weight so that right there gives me ample opportunity.) It probably won’t always be this quick of an upswing in progress, but I’m enjoying that component of measuring success at the moment.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that my body composition has changed in all of the ways I wanted it to while running but couldn’t do because I was running so much.  My arms, shoulders and back are more defined.  I have visible abs whereas previously, it was just a soft area.  My butt looks amazing in tight pants.  In the most simple terms possible (there is actually a lot of science here), I was running off my gains.  Every time I lifted weights, I would then go out and run for an hour or more, effectively forcing my body to utilize the potential muscle growth to sustain the endurance. (Side note-not an exercise physiologist over here, this is just my conception of how it works on an extremely simple level.) So basically, there was nothing left over to actually build muscle with.  As an endurance runner, my slow metabolism was an asset.  I couldn’t afford to show up to a race and burn through all of my fuel quickly.  This led to slowing down even when I wasn’t active. Thus, my body never changed for the better or the worse.  I stayed at the same weight +/- 5 pounds and looked soft without any noticeable muscle definition.

Strong as hell for sure , but not loving the softness of my body when I run all the miles

starting to see the tiniest bit of definition below

Other area’s that were affected with endurance running is my metabolism.  After years of 25-55 mile weeks, my body got really good at what I was asking it to do-sustain the endurance.  My metabolism seemingly slowed down in order to efficiently fuel me for the demands placed on it during running.  All of this is good, except that I when I wanted to build visible muscle, my body didn’t know how to do that.  It also didn’t help that I was eating to sustain running which meant carbs > protein.  For muscle growth, that mindset needed to change.

I remember eating one of these donuts after a 10 mile run because “I deserved it”. I am working on not having a transactional relationship with food anymore.  I don’t “deserve” food because I worked out hard.  I eat to sustain and fuel myself.  It’s a work in progress. 

Ok, so I’ve covered some of the physical reasons of wanting to cut back on running.  I haven’t really shared what really pushed me to want to step away, and that is the time (or lack thereof spent with my family.) I’ve been pretty open with how amazing my husband has been with my running.  He has always supported whatever I want to do and shows up to help make it happen.  He spent hours crewing me at O24.  And he’s spent hours caring for our son, taking care of household things and generally running the show. To be a good ultra runner takes time. To get a solid long trail run in took me away from home for 4-7 hours on any given weekend day.  Couple that with my training methodology of back to back long runs, and you can quickly see that I was taking an inordinate amount of time away for my “hobby” (but treating it more like a career.) Throw in a few hours of recovery and the unending hunger that followed my long runs, and well, before I knew it, my whole weekend was devoted to running, socializing with other runners, recovering and planning the next run.  I would try and combine family and running time by having my husband meet me and my running friends for breakfast following our run, but ultimately, I didn’t want to continue that.  I even got Chris into running a few miles here and there which helped but still, I was spending a lot of time away from family and life responsibilities.  A few months ago I started having thoughts about how I’ll feel when I look back on this time in the future…will I kick myself for spending so much time away from my young son? Will I question my decision to devote my Saturday and Sunday mornings to to other people, other endeavors? Chris and I are both fortunate to have wonderful jobs that provide for us extremely well and for which we’ve both worked hard to achieve. But right off the bat, I’m away from my family for about 50 hours a week.  I began to think of my time spent during the weekends a bit differently and realized that I don’t want to regret the time spent away.  And with my history of year round training, I knew deep down that I was spending far too much time away. The truth is that I haven’t stopped training since late 2013.  Despite commitments to not race so often, I often chose to take my training and racing and just continue it into a perpetual cycle-using races as long runs for the next race.  It was unending.  Which then leads me to my next reason….burnout.

Not Running means more time on the hiking trail with these two.

As I previously mentioned, I’ve never really given myself that downtime or rest in between races or training seasons.  I took time off due to injury but it never felt like true rest as it was “forced” and I spent the days trying to rehab myself and counting down the minutes until I could run again.  I’ve achieved a lot with running, both with time and distance goals.  I still have a lot to achieve (fast road marathon, a solid 24 hour race to name a few) but right now, I have a lack of desire to put in the effort to achieve those goals.  This is actually a first for me.  And it’s really surprising given the fervor with which I’ve chased running goals in the past. Internally, I seemingly have a drive to achieve these goals but putting pen to paper and writing a training plan is of no appeal to me at the moment.  I guess you could say it’s more of an appealing idea but not an actual feeling of wanting to put in the work.  The idea of training for a marathon is just exhausting right now.  When I finally allowed myself to “notice” the issue with lack of motivation, to honor that feeling, I realized that this is a highly unusual state for me, and probably indicative of burnout.  A few years ago. my friend Alethea gave me a keychain with “just one more mile” imprinted on it.  It was somewhat of a running joke (no pun intended) but there was truth to the notion that if we went on a planned 5 mile run, it likely would end up being more.  When the level of desire changed, I needed to take notice of it and give those feelings some room.  Physically, running has felt fine over the last few months.  But mentally, something has changed.  Rather than spending time on the trails or roads, I wanted to take that time and pour it into the gym. I found my mind wandering often on runs, thinking of the workout I had completed that morning.  It probably didn’t help that I was working out excessively – lifting 5 times a week, running 4 times. All of this to say that quite simply, I just don’t feel like running right now.

This picture is from my first day at the gym, last May. I felt so proud for being able to hold the barbell in a front rack position for the picture. I was holding 43 lbs and felt like a beast. Last week I front squated 113 lbs 6 times- talk about progress!

What do I feel like doing then? Obv it’s go to the gym.  A lot. I can spend 60-90 minutes at the gym working on my goals and not at the expense of time spent with family. It feels weird to sleep in on a Saturday, go to an 8:00am class, be home at 9:10am. I am really enjoying that time I have back for my family. I talked at length earlier about the positive changes I’ve seen physically. Some of other things I’ve found is the ability to push myself further than I thought possible-likely directly linked to working with coaches who are there to help you push past your self imposed walls. I have this idea every day walking into the gym that today might be the day that I fail a workout because it’s so incredibly intimidating/beyond my capabilities.  So far that hasn’t happened.  I also am somewhat incredulous at times that someone would not only ask me to perform said crazy workout, but they think that I can actually do it!  Goes to show you the power of your mindset. I’ve also found a community.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore the running community, particularly the trail running community.  All of those running people and training groups are second to none.  I’m not going to compare or contrast  but just say that I’ve found another community that I also enjoy. My gym community totally doesn’t get running and that’s ok.  To many in my gym, the day we test our 1 mile times sends people right back to 8th grade PE class whereas I show up in my running gear, ready to own the mile.  They also laugh at my 100km sticker on my car.  I joke that one day I’m going to put up a 100kg sticker up next to it.

What will 2018 bring? I’m not really sure truthfully.  I was talking with Amy and my coach/friend Martin about the feeling that something missing in my life.  The reality is that I spent upwards of 10 hours per week over the last 7 years devoted to running. I now am spending about half that time in the gym.  And I am really truly struggling to learn the value of a rest day. Logically I do understand and accept it but it’s still hard and I am not sure how to fill some of this extra time.   I texted Martin recently to ask him about rowing a half marathon.  I can only imagine the eye roll as he read that text. Truthfully, I wanted to ask him about rowing a marathon but decided to tone down the crazy and just inquire about a half! I also asked about two a day workouts which were a staple for me in heavy ultra training and something I’ve grown to love.  For now, I am just going to stick with my 5 days in the gym.  I’ll run when I feel like it (so far it’s been just once since Run With Scissors.) Will racing be a part of my next year? I really don’t know.  I just honestly can’t answer that.  Maybe I’ll throw my luck into the lottery for the NYC Marathon.  Or maybe I won’t.  There are so many races that I love and participate in every year (Blossom time 5 miler, Burning River and others) but I just don’t envision myself racing them. I”ll be at the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon as an ambassador but not yet sure what distance I’ll choose (thankfully I have a TON of options.)

And finally, the lead up to what I am definitely going to do next year: A crossfit competition.  Yep, typing that phrase scares the shit out of me. I’ve shared with a few friends my plan of doing this, but just like my first marathon, it seems out of reach and like maybe this isn’t a thing for me. For other people, yes….but me…ummm no.  But, I’m ready to face my fears and give it a try.  Competition has held an important place in my life over the years.  I am estimating that I pinned a bib on approximately 12 times a year for the last 7 years.  That’s a lot of racing! I’ve always enjoyed racing (I don’t enjoy the pre race anxiety!) and I’d like to continue to keep that drive in my life.  So that’s it! I plan to continue to chronicle my training and competing here….

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations.  That was a long one! These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for weeks and it feels really good to get it out there. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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8 thoughts on “What’s Next?

  1. Great blog post. I’ve been wanting to hear if other ultra runners also struggle to a balance between work, family, and running. The time part really speaks my mind and I’m glad that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for your blog post and I enjoy reading every single line of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sydney! It’s been hard to let go of running- I really enjoyed the social aspect, pushing myself further than I thought possible, and the time on the trails. But the sound of my own thoughts and questions about it just grew louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. I do believe one can balance it to a degree but ultimately, for me, the most important areas of my life suffered. I’m sure I’ll be back (maybe) to ultra Running at some point. For now, I’m content to run a few miles here and there, and cheer my friends on!

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  2. I totally agree…I took a break from running as much this past year and it was a great decision. I’m coming around again and I’m finding inspiration again…in the meantime, I’ve probably put on 5 lbs of muscle….I love how strong I am and the difference in body composition. Bottom line, everyone needs a break and to switch things up! Your lifting posts are just as inspiring as your racing posts! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome Heather! And it’s amazing how much a body can change with some strength training! Thank you so much for the kind words!

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