This past week has brought me a front row seat to the great paradox of running. Why is it that I miss running whenever I am forced to take a rest day? But yet I can’t find the motivation whenever I am healthy and have a run planned? After completing my recent goal race, the New York City Marathon, I have found myself feeling a little lost this past week. With all of my focus dedicated to marathon training, the completion of the race also seemed to bring to a close my purpose for running. What is running without a goal in mind? Well, it’s time for me to rediscover the joy of running. Now that I have finished my goal race, it’s time to dig through my brain to remember why I started.
What To Do When You Finish Your Goal Race
Training for a race is one of my absolute favorite parts of running. I love the feeling of progress, checking those runs off a training plan each day. Breaking a seemingly insurmountable goal down into small, manageable goals makes me feel so accomplished. Each day I find myself hitting new milestones and accomplishing something new that makes that scary, big goal seem a little more possible. Training for distance races allows you to surprise yourself with each long run, pushing your body to new limits. It helps you discover what works best, recover from failures, and continue pushing when times get tough.
It makes you stronger.
But what happens when you complete that goal race? Everything you’ve been working for is suddenly gone. You cross the finish line and live in that joy for a few days, but once the endorphins wear out and life goes back to normal, you suddenly find that your normal no longer exists. I always find myself surprised after a big race, especially a marathon, with how quickly everyone around me returns to normal. They celebrate with me and congratulate me on the accomplishment, but easily return to their daily duties. While everyone else returns to their routine, I find myself feeling a little lost in the fact that mine can no longer be the same.
Marathon recovery forces you out of the running game for a few days, or maybe a few weeks. Those recovery days that sounded so marvelous in the middle of training are suddenly here, and you’re not quite sure what to make of them. On the one hand, those rest days bring a bunch of well-deserved, guilt free, relaxing. But on the other hand, those rest days bring bouts of restlessness and confusion.
What is the point of running now, if I am not preparing for something?
It’s time to reevaluate why you got started in the first place. Did you want to lose weight? Relieve stress, get healthier? Accomplish something on your bucket list? Test your strength, run for a cause? My favorite way to spend the extra time I have during those rest days is to think way back to when I signed up for that race. Why did I sign up? What brought me so much excitement when I found out I got in?
Oftentimes, my answers have something to do with all those runs I completed before even signing up for that race. Marathon training seems to take a lifetime, and it’s so easy to forget what happened before it started. No matter what you tell yourself, you did in fact have a purpose before training began. Running isn’t something that materialized the minute your training plan started, or ended as soon as the race was completed. Running is something that sticks with you for life. No matter how angry you get at it, and how excited you may be to get rid of it, it always finds it’s way back.
So, how do I get motivated to run again?
I find that my marathon and half marathon recovery seems to always follow the same cycle. No matter how much I tell myself that it will be different this time, it never is. The week following the race is always filled with those lingering endorphins, excitement over the rest days that I am “forced” to take, and dreams of future races. The following week returns to normal, and I find myself eager to head out the door. I lace up my shoes and hit the roads, only to find that my legs are a little creaky and running takes a bit more effort than I remember.
This continues for a few weeks, until I find that I am actually not quite recovered and my motivation seems to have disappeared. Following this revelation, I usually find myself taking a couple weeks off from running again, continuing to cross train but attempting to fully heal and rediscover that motivation.
I always have to remind myself that it’s okay to take some time off from running. Burn out is one of the worst things that can happen to a runner, and forcing yourself to push through only makes it worse. It is natural to feel a little burnt out after a race. With this burn out comes a change in purpose. Long runs may not be your goal every Saturday morning, but you can still burn calories.
Your purpose for running will not stay the same throughout your life. One day it may be to get rid of stress from work, while the next may be to burn off the dessert from the night before. You may run as a way of coping with a hard time in life, or run as a way to burn off energy from exciting news. You may check those runs off a detailed training plan, or the distance might not be determined until you’re out the door.
The best part about running is that anything goes.
Now that your goal race is complete, take some time to rediscover your passion. Try out some new cross training activities, run less miles, or share the joy of your fellow runners. Be honest with yourself and evaluate everything you loved about your goal race, and everything you hated. Think about those times when you wanted to quit and the times you were on top of the world. You discover so much about yourself in those moments of trial, and I’ll bet you’ll remember what kept you going.
Perhaps running now is a way to brainstorm new race ideas. It could be a time to spend with friends, heading out for easy miles around the neighborhood. Maybe running is way of not feeling guilty when you eat those holiday desserts.
Whatever it is, running is there for you. Don’t be afraid to take your time remembering the joy in running. We have the power to choose how we spend our time, and at some point along the road you made a choice to spend your time running. Remember why you started, and remember what all it brought you. Maybe another goal race is right around the corner, or maybe you are looking forward to low pressure, easy runs.