This year, I decided to do something different when it came to my running. I decided that I needed to really focus on the joy and love of running, and not get caught up in big race goals. I had really struggled with peaking strong in early 2016, and then falling into a major slump with many DNS’s and DNF’s. I knew that if I wanted to keep running, I had to rediscover how to find joy in running again.
During the middle of 2017 I decided to re-focus myself on doing shorter races, so that I could get back into the swing of things and enjoy what I’m doing. It ended up working out great. Although 2017 ended up being a somewhat lower mileage year for me, I felt much stronger heading in to 2018. When I started this year, I only had one goal. I wanted to get back in to 50K shape again. I had no races on my calendar for the entire year, and I was OK with that. Before I signed up for anything, I wanted to feel like I was ready.
I started out the year picking up my basic training plan again, and tried to follow it as best I could. It wasn’t the perfect training cycle, but as I talked about in my Chippewa 50K report, it got the job done. Once again, after Chippewa I didn’t sign up for anything until I felt like I was ready, and this led to doing the Treasured Haven Farms 12 hour run, pretty much spur of the moment. I knocked out another 50K distance at that race, and once again, felt good coming out of it. Without planning it at all, I had done two 50K’s, four weeks apart. I’ve never done two 50K’s in a year before, let alone a month apart.
This past weekend I decided to try something just for fun. I decided to run a 1 mile loop around Silverwood Park in New Brighton, MN, for as long as I felt like it. This is a simple paved path around the park with only a little bit of elevation change. I started at 6AM, setting up a small aid station in my car. It was a cool morning, but the humidity was already thick. I didn’t have any type of goal, so I just kept plugging away, figuring I’d quit whenever I felt like it was too warm and annoying.
After 10 miles I changed direction to give myself some different scenery, stopping at my car every couple of laps to drink fluids and eat food. As things got warmer and warmer I looked at my watch and realized I was at 17.5 miles. Twenty sounded like a good round number, so I set that as my goal and pounded out a couple final laps. I got back to my car and slammed back a bunch of fluids. I realized that despite having just ground out 20 miles on pavement, I wasn’t feeling THAT beat up. This was a first for me.
Normally, when I hit mileage like 20 miles (especially on pavement), I’m hobbling for the rest of the weekend. Saturday though, I felt fine and was moving pretty darn good. I got home and cleaned up, and then we went and stuffed our faces with good food. I was tired, and so a nap was in order, but at no point was I feeling so exhausted that I couldn’t move.
The next morning I decided to do a systems check and headed out for my standard 3 mile run. There was a tiny bit of stiffness in my right hip, but that passed very quickly. I managed to blow through my three mile run with negative splits, each one 30+ seconds faster than the previous. This is less than 24 hours after Saturday’s run, and I was feeling just fine. I even went for a 15 mile bike ride later in the day and felt good.
This is how I’ve been wanting my running to feel for a long time. What it took for me to get there was a refocusing of my goals away from external ones (running goal races) to internal ones (incremental personal achievements). There was an article that I read recently that talked about how we shouldn’t verbalize our big goals to others. We often get the same “high” and sense of satisfaction from telling people about our goals, that we would if we did the work and completed them. We’ve already gotten the serotonin hit, so it makes it hard to actually follow through. The flip side, is that when we fail to reach the goal, not only are we disappointed in our selves for not reaching them, but we’re also sad because we feel like we’ve let people down that have been cheering for us.
That’s why I’ve gone in to this year with all of my goals being personal, internal, goals. I wanted to get back to 50K shape. This past weekend I wanted to run loops on pavement. Some weekends I just go explore somewhere with only a vague mileage goal in mind. Things like that have made me more likely to get out there and get things done. I have shared some of these goals with my wife, and 1-2 close friends, but mostly I’ve kept it all off of social media. Even if I decide that I want to target something big, I’m probably likely to keep it to myself until I’m actually ready to do it.
Today, I still don’t have any races scheduled. When I feel like signing up for one I will. That does mean that I often have to let go of races that fill up quickly, but on the flip side, it means that I get to run some smaller races that might be even more fun. It also means that sometimes I need to be creative, and make up something. Running 20 miles around Silverwood is silly, but it was fun for me. In many ways I’m just getting back to old-school trail running where you grab a couple buddies and go knock out something crazy just for the heck of it.
What this comes down to is that, this year, I’m a happier runner, and a more joyful runner. I look forward to getting out there (most of the time), and I’m feeling healthy and strong. I’ve already surpassed my usual mid-year mileage and have a nice steady curve going. But the beauty of doing this for my own happiness means that I don’t need to worry about if I decide to scale it all back and take it easy. It’s all up to me, not a race schedule, and that’s incredibly freeing.