On New Year’s Eve 2017, I was burnt out. Over the prior 13 months I had completed three half marathons, a full marathon and a distance relay where my contribution was 18 miles. I had traveled from my home on Florida’s Space Coast to New York, and to Chicago, and back from Miami after a relay ended. I had planned every week in my busy family, that includes five children, around my training schedules. My husband once quipped that maybe I could take just one Saturday off from a long run so he could wake up next to me.
In addition to the mental wear of so much training, plantar faciitis in my right foot was at its worst over the 2017 holiday season, as I hobbled between family gatherings and slept in an uncomfortable night boot. I loved running – but I was tired, so tired, of training.
So I decided that my New Year’s Resolution for 2018 would be to not train for any races. I would not sign up for any races longer than a 5K, and I would absolutely not travel anywhere out of my county to run on an official roster. I told myself I’d still run, but on my terms and not a schedule determined by an upcoming race date. I operated on a Mon-Fri workout schedule, for the most part, that included interval training at Orangetheory on Mondays and Fridays, a six-mile run on Tuesdays with my friend Kristin, a four-mile run on Thursdays with my friend Tara, her son and my daughter, and a 1.5-mile run to a Wednesday morning spin class. I took weekends off – unless I felt like meeting friends for a run, or running in my neighborhood. I rode the stationary bike in my living room when I felt like an added workout. I still got a lot of exercise, but was eclectic about it. I dropped from 35+ miles run per week to 10 to 15, maybe.
Despite the drop in mileage, it’s actually been a really great year – and one of athletic growth for me. So, as my self-imposed year off from training comes to an end, with my first half marathon back planned for March 2019, I’m happy that I took this time for myself, for my body and for my family. I was worried initially that swearing off training would undo all the progress I’d made in the year prior but as I reflect on where I was then – and where I am today – the opposite happened. Here is some of what took place when I let go of what I thought I should be doing and took a training gap year instead:
I got faster.
For the first few months of 2018, I ran very little. I opted for guided bike workouts in my living room, walks to the beach and some spinning classes at the gym. By the spring, my plantar fasciitis had faded so I started to build up my running mileage again, careful to stretch and rest to keep the condition from coming back. On a six-mile summer run with my constant Tuesday running partner, I noticed we were running about 20 seconds faster per mile than normal. We now run about 45 to 60 seconds faster per mile on that weekly run. I signed up for a summer 5K and made a goal to beat my longstanding personal record of 29:12. It was a hot race, in the upper 80s, but I crushed my old time with a new PR of 28:35. Just before Christmas this year, that time had dropped to 27:12. Within the span of one year of non-training, I shaved two minutes off my 5K PR. By running less miles, and introducing interval workouts, I sped up.
I got lighter.
I have never been one of those people who loses weight when training. In the span of training for my 13 crazy months of races, I lost about five pounds. This past year, with no races on the docket, I lost 15 pounds and am still dropping. Without training, I had the freedom to experiment with different types of eating to see which ones fit my body best. I tried vegetarianism, then moved to veganism for about four months, before switching to a non-processed, high-protein diet that has so far stuck. As the pounds fell off, my running times and endurance level rose. On the days I was irritable because I really wanted potato chips, I took a walk instead. As my body adjusted to new ways of eating, my energy levels rose and my running improved. When training, changing anything even slightly in my diet seemed overwhelming, as a crash in blood sugar or energy would negatively impact my training goals. If I felt a food crash come on this year, I just ran less, or not at all, or slept a little extra on the weekends.
I found a deeper “why.”
I’ve always been very end-goal oriented. I set lofty ones for myself when it comes to career, family and fitness. Until this year, my running has always been contingent on an end-goal — like a race. Without any of those predetermined dates on my calendar this year, I have had to dig a little deeper to find my own reasons for running. If there is no bling at a finish line – why do I run? I have found that the answer to that is rooted in more than a surface sheen. I run to make friends, to be alone, to write my best stories in my head, to fantasize, to zone out, to meditate on my goals, to keep my brain healthy and to accomplish small benchmarks that lead to greater triumphs. I run because I love to run and any training plan in my future will be grounded in that realization.
As 2019 kicks off, I am itching to get back out on a race course, but with a new perspective about what training means and how it fits in my life. I have learned that it is okay to take a break from your own end goals – true runners will always find their way back.