Runner’s Block

When I was cooling off in the shade after the Mass State Triathlon on Sunday, sitting on a folding chair and finishing up my second bottle of water in a matter of minutes, I summed up how I was feeling. “I have something I want to talk to you about,” I told Lisa, “but not now. I want to get a shower and a meal in me beforehand.” I know from past experience that at one point or another during or immediately after a triathlon I have serious doubts. Doubts about finishing, about doing a longer one, even about doing another one. We did wait for a couple hours, after I had cooled off (literally and metaphorically) before starting in on the big conversation, but we did talk on the ride home about the event itself and about something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I’m having trouble running. I don’t just mean running at a pace I’m comfortable sustaining. No, for months—since February or March, actually—I’ve had trouble getting excited about running. It’s something I just don’t want to do. I used to love running, but now I’d rather not do it all. I have a ton of general merchandise which I use for performing exercises like running, but now whenever I think of running, I feel its better just to stay home. A couple short years ago, the swim at the beginning of a triathlon filled me with trepidation, and I looked forward to the bike and run. Lately, when I’ve been thinking about my events, a dark cloud hangs over the run. I know that I’ll do well enough, but I just don’t feel like I’m going to do as well as I’m capable of doing, and (more often than not recently) I don’t.

Between the low blood sugars that I’ve had when running, the need to walk when I don’t want to (because I’m low, high, or just dead tired), and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on, running is actually something I’m starting to dread. Sometime over the last year, lacing up my shoes for a nice run outside has just lost all associations with joy for me. Perhaps the winter was too snowy. Maybe the spring was too unpredictable blood sugar-wise. Maybe I’m bored with the three or four routes I usually use. (Ironically, the only outings I really get excited about are the ones where I mindlessly run around the high school track, push a hard tempo, count the laps en español until I get in the required distance, and then turn around for home.)

I suspect—which means it’s probably the case—that I built New Bedford up to be too big by giving it specific goal paces and was disheartened that I wasn’t able to sustain them over those last five, awful-feeling miles. If a half marathon felt so dispiriting, how was I going to race a marathon in the fall? That feeling compounded during last month’s half-Ironman, which I couldn’t do without walking. (And, yes, I agree that the run/walk turned out to be a very effective technique, as it was again Sunday; it just didn’t fit with my idea of my fitness or toughness.) Now, whenever things start to get really hard on the run (or really boring on the bike) I start to wonder how I’m going to make it through a full Ironman, which I had planned on doing next year. I’m caught in a spiral.

And then there’s the idea that maybe I’ve finally found my limit, and it’s a lot less than I had always thought. My recent results and my concept of myself aren’t matching up. No one (other me) said I had to do an Ironman, and I really enjoy the intensity of the Olympic distance and the accomplishment of the half-Ironman (a.k.a. 70.3). But I had always imagined myself doing an Ironman and getting better at it until I qualified for Kona, where I would represent for all my T1 peeps to show what we can do despite our pain-in-the-ass disease. (I know: No pressure there, right?) So obviously, the idea of having the 70.3 as my possible limit is grating on me, even if it’s not based in fact at all. (Or even a bad thing if it is the case.) The idea is there.

And that’s what I think about (consciously or subconsciously) before I lace up my shoes, when I’m running down the trail, and after I get done running or racing. It’s what I was thinking about Sunday as I was running through the humid 85°F (30°C) heat, when I was incapable of turning off the doubting part of my brain. As usual, I was able to push hard over the last 5km—and especially over the last mile—which left me simultaneously happy and frustrated. I was pleased to know that I have a well of talent that I can develop and count on, and yet I seem to have such difficulty tapping into it and believing that it’s there.

And that, friends, is where I am these days. I have a wicked case of runner’s block.

How am I going to get past it?

First off, I’m going to try not to worry. I’m going to do my rebuttal thoughts and say nice things to myself. I’ve run fast in the past, and I’ve run fast recently, too. It’s been crazy hot the last couple of months, so feeling good while running is not something I should expect. I just need to get through a workout, make an ugly face at the end, do that dismissive thing I do with my hands, and be done with it, knowing that I just put some conditioning in the bank for later when I need it during a race.

Part of not worrying is also realizing that I’m the only one putting this pressure on myself. I said I was going to do an Ironman next year, but y’all will certainly not think less of me if I decide that it could wait another year (or more) while I work on my run base a bit. I do triathlon because—believe it or not—I think it’s fun. There’s no sense in doing a particular triathlon—or even a marathon—if it isn’t making me happy (or happy enough to outweigh all the pain/boredom/dedication/etc. needed to get that happiness).

This next one is going to be hard, but I think it’s necessary for me as long as I keep doing my weekly long run on an afternoon in the middle of the work week: I need to become okay with “messing up” my diabetes management while running. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like I know what’s going on with my BGs in the afternoons when I’m cycling or running, so really I can probably only make things better. If I have a 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L) drop in an hour, there’s no harm in trying an even lower basal rate . . . or even more pre-exercise food earlier . . . or different food . . . or (very likely) a combination of all of these things. I’m probably going to go low several more times or end up way too high, and it’s going to suck, but eventually I will get better at it.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, I need to reconnect with the part of running that I enjoyed. As with cycling, when it’s going right, I love the feeling of being lost in the moment. I’m aware that I’m running, but I’m not thinking about it. My legs move themselves; my breathing is relaxed and second-nature; the running is effortless, and I just have to be there enough to feel the air move around my body and ensure that I make the correct turns to arrive home again, where I’ll get that feeling of completion and satisfaction. That state, I believe, will return once I’m able to lower the volume of the voice of self-doubt. It will take some work and time, but peace is an activity, not a state of being.

I’m going to try to practice some of that quietness this afternoon by getting off-road. I’m going to trade this week’s long run for a 6-miler around a lake near my house. I love being on the trails. Even here in New England, running on them reminds me of running in the mountains near my house when I was in high school. I love the concentration that I have to put into it and how it helps smother the thinking part of my brain. And it just feels so badass and primal!

I’m actually really looking forward to it. And that sounds like progress.

This entry was posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Runner’s Block

  1. mary! says:

    no pressure, but if YOU don’t have any motivation to run, there’s no hope for the rest of us!

    all kidding aside, this must be very difficult for you to confront and work through. i’m sure you’ll be able to overcome the block – just try to be patient.

  2. scully says:

    I think this is very keen of you to share because it’s not something we, as athletes, can really understand why it happens.
    BUT IT DOES… happen that is.
    I think it’s part of life and stuff. I like stuff. We would get too stagnant if we never expressed interests or disinterests for things. Perhaps running just isn’t your “thing” right now. Your super on the bike and you’ve been gaining so much in the water. I wouldn’t look at it as something that won’t come back at a different time.
    Back in the day I used to run during the winter months and cycle in the summer because it’s what felt better on my body.
    YOU ARE an amazing athlete and you’re going to reach your ironman goal one day, I don’t doubt it. Maybe pick a spring race or something? ;)
    Oh and lastly…. don’t be so hard on yourself. Your fitness is incredible right now. Missing a few runs or doing a specific run because you know you’ll enjoy it better is totally okay. I think you think too much about it, though I do the same thing.
    Looks like we will have a lot to talk about…. speaking of….. 2 weeks!

  3. Caroline says:

    I agree 100% with Scully because she is smart! I imagine most athletes have cyclical love/hate of their sport. And you’re a triathlete, so you get three times as much! WHOOO!

    I also think there’s a lot of credence to #3. Sometimes you just have to stop worrying about goal times and splits and CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT!!!1111 and do your sport because you love it. Relaxing on that sort of thing and just playing helps a whole lot. My times are kinda slow compared to many other runners out there, but that approach has given me an even bigger benefit: a continued passion for and enjoyment of running, 8ish years in.

    I hope you get your running groove back soon!

  4. For whatever it’s worth, I think you’ve made amazing progress in a relatively short amount of time. Maybe it’s too fast? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with taking some time to slow down and really work on that run base (and to find ways to enjoy it).

    For me, the joy in watching you comes from the journey, and your wise, introspective thoughts along the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>