Labor Day weekend is traditionally one of my favorite weekends of the year. My weekend is typically spent with family, friends, and the inevitable consumption of barbecued meat. As a runner, I am usually entering peak marathon training and I can typically feel the first hints of Fall (my favorite season) in the air when I answer the 4am wake up call that accompanies my 20-23 mile long run.
Over the last two years, I have noticed a difference in my enjoyment of Labor Day weekend. My enjoyment of the time spent with my family, friends, and consuming various barbecued meats remains intact, but my enjoyment of reaching peak marathon training and enjoying the fruits of the prior sixth months of hard work has diminished. Last year, with my wife’s encouragement, I completed my 20+ mile run and continued to push forward toward my goal of running my favorite fall marathon in St. George, Utah. This year, I couldn’t bring myself to answer the alarm clark for my long run.
I think my lack of resolve to answer the alarm for my long run stems from two things. First, I had not seen my wife and daughter for the four days leading up to my scheduled run. They had left earlier in the week to help prepare for the family reunion that was scheduled for the weekend. Although I was able to catch up with my wife on Friday night, I arrived after my daughter went to bed and I wanted to play with her more than I wanted to go out and run.
Second, I have been battling a major case of burnout for the past two years. I have often found myself becoming jealous of the runners that I meet that are just getting into the sport. Their enthusiasm for each and every workout is immeasurable. They are excited by the possibility of setting a new PR nearly every time they race. I have spent extra time running with some of these runners over the past year; unfortunately, their enthusiasm has not been contagious.
Steve Prefontaine once said, “you have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”
Just like Pre, I have given myself a thousand reasons to keep running over the years and it has always come down to sense of achievement and, for me, weight management. While sense of achievement and weight management are still important to me, I am feeling pulled to accomplish these objectives in another way. To be clear, I am not going to give up running. I still plan to run 15-20 miles a week. I will be diversifying how I stay fit. I’m currently still trying to decide how I am going to diversify my fitness. Yoga? Crossfit? A personal trainer? I don’t know yet. I am even considering an at-home program like T25 or PiYo.
I have had mixed feelings while I have been considered taking a more balanced approach to my fitness. I have moments where I feel like a quitter because I don’t have the drive to push myself to run 40-50 miles a week. I want to be out running with my friends on Saturday morning, but I also want to be home with my daughter. A good friend of mine that I ran with in high school told me a few years ago, “I am taking this year off from marathons. I want to be a normal person for bit. Ya know, not have to decide where my Friday night dinner with my husband is going to be based on how the meal will effect my long run in the morning; being able to stay up later than 9:30pm or 10:00pm on Friday night; having french toast with my kids. That sort of thing.” I can definitely relate to her desire to feel “normal” for a bit.
My decision to move forward with ending my current marathon season early was finally made when I stumbled across this quote by Amby Burfoot (the winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon). He said, “In running, as in life, moderation is truly the key… at times, you will have fun by pushing yourself to achieve the most you can do. At other times, however, you’ll be satisfied by doing a little, not a lot, and keeping things in their proper perspective.” These words had resonated enough for me to underline them when I originally read them, and they resonate even more with me now.
Re-reading this quote brought back the memory of when I heard Amby Burfoot speak during the Runner’s World panel at the 2011 Boston Marathon expo. At the time, I didn’t feel like what he was saying applied to me. I do now. As he spoke to a room full of seasoned athletes that were about to run the biggest marathon of their lives, he talked about how to make running a lifelong passion. He recalled 120 mile training weeks while preparing for the Boston Marathon. He also recalled many years where he couldn’t bring himself to run more than 25 miles a week. He finished by encouraging those of us in the audience to remember, that we won’t always be able or motivated to push ourselves to train as hard as we need to to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The goal of our running should be to make it a lifelong pursuit by adapting to what your body or the circumstances in our lives allow.
This current state of burnout reminds me of the 1960’s song by The Byrd’s “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).” I’ve gone through many seasons in my running career. Seasons where nothing else mattered but my training and seasons where nothing mattered except how much food I could consume in one sitting, and still run three to five miles the next day. The current season of my life and running career seems to be about finding the balance between my passion for my family and my passion for running. I recently came across the quote, “as you get older, you have to learn how to be yourself all over again.” As I move into my mid-thirties, I definitely feel like this is the case.
I know that running will be a lifelong pursuit for me. I hope that by listening to what my body and mind are telling me I will be able to become a stronger runner. Few things in my life have brought me more happiness, confidence, self-satisfaction, and perspective than the sport of running. I look forward to seeing where this passion takes me in the future and to seeing what adding some variety to my overall fitness will do for my current state of burn out. For now I need to…
Thank you to everyone who reads this blog for following along on my journey. The months ahead should be a lot of fun.