My summer running season began the second I crossed the finish line at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon this May. After three hours and twenty-six minutes of giving everything I had to give, I was a wreck but fortunately not wrecked. I’ve learned the hard way that I have a bad habit of pushing myself one run too far and paying for it with an injury. I planned, even before the race, to take time off for recovery. I would let my body tell me when it was time to come back. But my mind had a different idea.
Now, ten weeks later, I’m still having trouble getting back into my groove. My performance is ok and I’m not hurt, but dragging myself out of bed to go for my morning run is a big change from waking up ready to seize the day. Some mornings I turn off my alarm and convince myself to make it up later in the week. When I don’t run, I get stuck in traffic, doubling my commute. After a long drive to work with no run to loosen up, I start the day stiff and get home even stiffer.
In retrospect, I spent over a year preparing for my race. I ran M2B in 2016 and crashed hard at mile 19. I was hoping to BQ and ended up missing the cut off by over twenty minutes. I vowed to return in 2017 and make my time. I turned my failure into motivation and a twenty-minute improvement became a gigantic goal. I lit a fire that continued to burn through my recovery, base building, training, and the race. When I finished, successfully, my year of motivation and hard work ended, instantly. I was left asking, “now what?”
My first week back was a smooth one since I put together my initial recovery plan before the marathon. The day after the race, I forced myself to walk. Just a mile or two at first, and eventually three miles by the end of the week. The movement helped untie the knots I felt through most of my body. One week later, I attempted a five-mile run and survived.
In June, I focused on consistency regardless of pace or distance. I built my weekly volume to 25 miles and ran, with a little walking, three to five days a week. I tried a ten-miler but dialed back when I felt soreness deep in my quads. July was solid. I attempted to return to a routine. I ran consistently, hit my weekly mileage targets (40-45), and resumed my Saturday long runs. My final long run of the month was fourteen miles, pushing my weekly total to forty-seven. By the numbers, I was ready to begin a new training cycle.
At the same time, I was still suffering from a general lack of motivation. I expected some post-marathon blahs, but I was still having trouble getting up in the mornings and not looking forward to my runs. Usually, if I stay consistent and push through, my enthusiasm returns. But after eight weeks, nothing had clicked and I knew that I needed more work on my mental recovery. I kept to a schedule, continued grinding out my runs, and hoped that through daily repetition I would return to form.
I tried mixing up my runs. A work trip to North Carolina helped, especially since I stayed next to the American Tobacco Trail. Two mornings spent in the woods cleared my head and gave me a massive hit of fresh air. When I returned to Los Angeles, I made sure to spend time running in our woods, Griffith Park, a much drier and browner experience. And I took to the Palos Verdes Bluffs for some of my long runs.
Last weekend, I ran “The Hills Are Alive,” 10K trail race. I planned it to bookend to my summer recovery. What’s nice about the race is that it is a fun run with no timing chips. With a dusty, hilly course, there’s not much of a chance to PR and a very friendly atmosphere. I ran well enough to top my time from last year and to feel optimistic for the fall season.
This week, I began training for the Manhattan Beach 10K and Palos Verdes Half Marathon. I ran my first speed workout: 5×1 minute repeats in the middle of a nine-mile run. I had not run repeats or a tempo run since May and I was not looking forward to the workout. I survived. In fact, it felt good to wake up my fast-running muscles. Later that day, I realized I was back to normal. The summer grind added up to slow and steady progress. Coming back was not sexy- it took consistency, dedication and a lot of sweat. Now I’m ready for the fall. Time to focus on training and to set new goals.