I took a break from running for awhile. Quite a long break. Over two months in fact.
To be honest, this past spring was a little rough. I was in a car accident and had some other health issues that prevented me from running for awhile. Then my coaching demands in track made it even more difficult to train. I had this horrible sense of guilt that I wasn’t able to run. Each day that I didn’t run, I knew it would be that much harder to get back into shape. I finally decided to let myself off the hook until the school year ended and track was over. I decided not to beat myself up over it, and wait until the time was right and have a fresh start.
I decided my first day back of training would be the first day of summer practice of my boys cross country team. I hadn’t run in over two months, which was the longest time I had gone without running in years. I knew running with my team every day would be motivating to me and the best environment for me to get back into shape. I have been running now with the team for two weeks, and this journey back to running has been quite interesting so far.
I had so many different negative thoughts floating through my head the first few days of practice.
The first morning I was very discouraged by the fact that my running shorts were a bit tighter and my legs had lost a lot of muscle tone. I was even more discouraged by the fact that my easy pace was about two minutes slower per mile than it normally is. This pace didn’t actually even feel “easy,” and I was only able to run one or two miles a day as opposed to the much longer runs that I was used to. I cringed every time I looked down at my Garmin and read how slow I was running. My effort level felt like I was running much faster. I noticed going over hills was so much harder than it normally was. I noticed by day three my legs were so unbelievably heavy from adapting to running again that they felt like they had cinder blocks attached to them.
Along with the negative thoughts, there were many positive thoughts that kept me in good spirits.
Simply put: I was so happy to run in the woods again. We are very fortunate to train in Riverbends Park in Shelby Township, Michigan. Behind the athletic fields of Utica High School, there is an access to park trails. To get to the park, the team has to go single-file through an opening in the fence, hop over old, unused train tracks, trek through an overgrown, perpetually muddy, single-track trail, slide down a steep, eroded river bank, teeter over a rotted board to cross a creek, to finally arrive at the main trail. The first day of practice when I ran this section with the team, I was all smiles. I had missed the lush, green, jungle-like atmosphere and the sense of adventure every time we run back there. As soon as we enter Riverbends, I hear the echos in the trees of the guys laughing and shouting as they weave through the narrow, winding trails. The morning is the most beautiful time in the woods. I often feel like we own the woods and that the trails are our best-kept secret.
The guys take a quick break in the trails of Riverbends Park to swing on the vines. Riverbends is a second home for us. We train hard but have fun at practice too.
A benefit to starting from scratch with my training again is that I can truly empathize with how the new team members feel. I have been able to monitor some of the guys who lose contact with the group and encourage them to keep going. I appreciate the reminder of how hard it is to try something new, particularly distance running. Each day this summer I have been very conscious of how the new runners feel, because I feel like a beginner myself.
I always tell new members to give cross country an honest two weeks. I have just finished my first two weeks of training, and I am just beginning to see some of the results of my training so far this summer: heaviness is less persistent, soreness isn’t as intense, my pace is starting to speed up a bit, and I feel like my turnover and quickness is improving. Mentally I feel like I am back in a groove too. I feel like I have created the habit of running again and it is part of my lifestyle and daily routine. I am learning to be patient and smart about my training and not do too much too soon.
Are you ready to start running or come back after a break?
There’s no way around it. Distance running is hard. I don’t want to make running out to be something it isn’t. I think it is a myth that distance runners love running every day and that running is easy for those that run on a frequent basis. I think it is important to be realistic about your goals and be patient. I think it is important to keep a positive attitude and not beat yourself up if you are just starting out. Commit to a routine for at least two weeks. If you can make it that far, you will want to keep going. Run places that you enjoy. Make plans to run with other people; this will often help you stay committed to your training plan.
Even though running is challenging, I love it. It is a part of who I am, and I felt somewhat lost during my time off. It is a stress reliever. I feel great when I am fit and fast. I enjoy working toward my running goals and seeing the fruits of my labor. I love running with my team and the social aspect of running. But is it easy for me? Hell no. Is it worth every bead of sweat, visit to the chiropractor, and alarm sounding at 7:00 AM during my summer vacation? Absolutely.