One of the most common complaints that I hear from my runner-friends, is that they are dreading the process of getting back into running, again. They may have trained for a 5k, 10k, or some other race distance, but once that race is complete, they take some time off. Too much time, in fact. By the time they realize that they are missing the benefits of running, or just want to start training for another race, they quickly realize that they are starting from scratch. Again. I lived this pattern from about 2002-2012. So for about ten years I was getting into shape, falling out of it, then going through the arduous process of getting back into shape, again.
Here are some common scenarios I’ve seen myself and my friends go through:
The event runner decides she want to lose weight for a cruise, the summer (swimsuit season), or a class reunion. She works very hard to drop weight and creates healthy habits that help her to feel good about herself. The event comes and goes and with it, the motivation to continue to stay in shape. The consistent exercise drops off, more calories are consumed, and the event runner finds herself back where she started.
The seasonal runner decides he wants to get into shape, so he trains from spring, through part of fall. However, when the temperatures drop, he retreats inside and runs on a treadmill. However, after a few sessions of running on the treadmill, he loses interest. He drops training until the next time he signs up for a race, or the temperatures become more comfortable again.
The healthy runner runs to lose weight and may find some success. However, once they are injured, training stops. When the training stops, weight is almost always accumulated, so hope is lost. Once the injury is healed, oftentimes it is too late for the healthy runner, who now has lost inspiration to continue running.
The perfect scenario runner is a category I created as a catch-all for any other type of runner that I missed. Maybe a person stops running when time becomes restricted, a schedule changes, a baby is born, or they move to a new location, thereby losing their favorite running path or trail. Or maybe the perfect scenario runner was inspired by friends and relied on them so much for inspiration, that when their friend(s) stopped running, so did they.
I feel that there is only one real way to break through these easy-to-fall-into traps. I’ve fallen into many of the above excuses and traps. I’ve been injured (I’m injured, right now, in fact), I’ve moved, lost running friends, been chased indoors by sub degree temperatures, etc. I get where you’re coming from. It sucks, right? The perfect scenario runner is a rare one, because life is not full of perfect scenarios. We can’t wait for the perfect scenario to establish good running habits.
The consistent runner (and here’s what we’re shooting for) is a person who has a running frame of mind. Firstly (and most importantly), they have identified running as a necessary component for their lives. They have found that running benefits them and that going in and out of running is too exhausting and taxing on their bodies, and, especially their minds.
Well, this is about how we see ourselves. As runners, we cannot think of ourselves as people with full time jobs who run, or as students who run, or even family members who happen to run. Running needs to be as much a part of our identity as anything else that we work for, or else its practice will come and go, (more than likely it will surely go.)
The reason that we don’t seasonally go into roles as fathers and mothers, or full time workers (I know there are exceptions, here), is because we consider these roles to be necessary and part of our identity. And they are. Otherwise we would not be consistent parents and productive employees (I don’t need to actually say this, right?)
We should not only run to attain the perfect body, to enjoy a certain type of weather, or simply because the comets have aligned and running just happens to work out. If this is our frame of mind, we will likely lose sight of our goals and, more than likely *gasp!* quit running. This is not to say that good looking legs or pleasant weather shouldn’t be pursued or enjoyed. But these should not be the primary excuses for getting out on a run. Otherwise, if things don’t work out, we might lose sight of our long-term goal, which for me is health.
By the way, I don’t mean to say that running is the only way to get or remain healthy. Whatever physical activity(s) you have chosen to keep you healthy needs to become more than just a past time, or something to get you into shape for some function or event.
As soon as you learn to identify yourself as a runner (swimmer, biker, athlete- whatever), excuses fall to the side. An injury is nothing more than a slowing point in your training. A cruise is an fun event in your life, that is benefited by your identity as a runner- not an even that creates a mandatory running spree to lose weight.
A season is just one more thing you run through. Your clothes will probably reflect this. You have clothes for all different kinds of situations, because you are a year-round runner. You don’t stress about whether you will quit running, just like you don’t question whether or not you will have the willpower to breathe or go to work. It’s just what you do.
When you can learn to accept this, you will no longer struggle with on and off-again running seasons. You will cross train through an injury. You will run in horrible weather (within reason, right?)
And all of this is for a purpose. Running does two things for those of us who enjoy life. It lengthens it. It enhances it.
Still, some further considerations:
Time off: From time to time, it’s healthy to take a bit of time off. Maybe you’ve just completed a marathon and are burned out, physically and mentally. Or maybe you’re just burned out. Take some time off. Better yet, find something else to do that will help to keep you in shape, while you take a vacation from running. Just don’t mistake laziness for taking time off.
Aging: As we get older, we need to be a bit more forgiving on ourselves, if our goals aren’t reached, we aren’t as fast as we used to be, or we just don’t have the duration in our bodies that we once had. My 73 year-old father still trains for marathons, but he now runs 3 days a week, instead of 5-6. He has learned to listen to his body. This is as much a skill as anything.
Disclaimer: This post is a living document. I will be altering it until I feel I’ve got it right. However, I think that the bulk of it is ready enough to be helpful to those of us (myself included), who find ourselves falling off the running wagon from time to time.