I’m a running coach, and here’s what I know: Running coaches are probably the worst clients when it comes to running. I have many “golden rules” that I’ve learned from others both in training and from hitting the road or the trail myself. One of the most important rules I preach is that rest days are part of your training. If you can’t treat your recovery days as a part of the process, you’re going to burn out, get injured, or fail on race day in some way. You have to decide which goal is the most important one when you train and focus on doing everything you can to keep from sabotaging that.
Easy to say. I’m here to tell you, as a coach who doesn’t listen to her own advice, that I’ve had a year of races that I wouldn’t advise ANY of my clients attempt. I’d tell every one of them that they were asking for trouble if they did what I did. This isn’t a poorly hidden brag about how strong I am. This is a lesson. A lesson in stupidity, perhaps.
This year alone, I’ve run 27 races. I’ve run four 5k races, five relays, eleven half marathons, two 25ks, one 30k, one marathon, and three 50ks. The three 50ks, all on trails, were only about a month apart from each other. Many races were on the same weekends I should have been resting up for the bigger races on my calendar. One of the relays was 27 total miles of hell on gravel.
None of this is something to be proud of. All of it was TOO MUCH. Too much time away from my family, too much mentally, physically, and emotionally. Too many hours, too many missed summer camping trips and weekends away. Too much to ever get back. I’ve been apologizing for it all year. And that doesn’t make it better, but at least I’m aware of it.
As I moved through the year, I watched my times get slower. I ran the last 50k while sick and it was miserable from mile one. I thought I wouldn’t finish that one, or the one before it. I also felt like I wasn’t going to finish my marathon. All of my friends left me behind at many of my races (as they SHOULD, BTW, because I didn’t want to hold anyone back!) because I just didn’t have the energy to keep up. I should also mention I had a busy year of races in 2018 as well .. My first ultra and then two more, another marathon, and several other races. Eventually, these things catch up to you. And when they do .. Boy, do they.
I took a training course in 2018 from Dr. Jack Daniels, the world renowned running coach and exercise physiologist and he talked a lot about recovery and how much we all need it.
"If you overstress some body parts, they may not get tougher; in fact, they may get weaker or break down completely. This brings up a very important part of the equation. When does the body accomplish the strengthening part of the stress reaction? It is during the recovery, or rest time, between bouts of stress that the strengthening takes place." (Daniels' Running Formula, Dr. Jack Daniels)
You can’t ever go back when you’ve gone too far. You can always add, but you can’t take away. I read once that in running, slower is faster. Anyone can run too fast or far or hard, and the result, eventually, is generally not great. Slower gets you where you want to be quicker than faster ever will. Faster might not get you where you want to be at all.
My biggest saving grace is that I learned a lot about my body and what it can do. I have gone through all these races, many of them very difficult, with no injuries. I think that says a lot about how I run, that I know how to be conservative and not give every race everything in the end. Am I winning the race? No. So it’s not going to matter what my finish time is and I shouldn't damage myself getting there. If you have one race you really want to get after, give that ONE what you have. But you can’t do that and excel at all the rest. You need to pick your race and make that “the one.” I decided I didn’t have one this year. I just wanted to finish all of them, and I did that. I didn’t hurt myself and I am grateful and I’m LUCKY. Not everyone gets out of this without repercussions.
What I did get, the price, was less love for the sport. To always feel like you have to go out there, for whatever that next race is, can be exhausting before you’ve even put your running shoes on. Even the easiest distances took longer than they should have, and I found myself finishing my 2019 marathon nearly an HOUR after my marathon the year before. It wasn’t an easy race but it still wrecked me more than it should. And all that time on the roads and trails was time away from my family. How can I justify missing that time if I feel I can’t at least give the race my best?
I was fortunate to have a lot of support out there. My family came out to Silver Falls and found me around mile 10 running under a waterfall and they were there to watch me cross the finish line of a half marathon the weekend after my tiring full 26.2 miler. I had a lot of great friends out there this year too, cheering me on from the furthest sidelines or through the training and races themselves. I wouldn’t give back any of those races, because there was so much beauty and struggle and learning in there.. And if I didn’t feel that, what good would it do me now to find regret? I had fun doing every single one of those 27 races, even though there was a lot of pain as well. The thing about running that many people who don’t run can never really get is that the grit it takes to run through the pain makes you feel so strong in the end.
I’ve promised my husband no “big” races in 2020. I will do half marathons because they are the perfect distance to feel challenged but to not take over your life training for. Balance. It’s all about balance in life, family, and running too. And I want to find that love for running again. It's out there somewhere, on the course.