I believe every runner that consistently trains for long stretches reaches a point (or several points) when he or she questions the merit of the activity. For the 99.99(9?)% of us that run regularly but don't run well enough to make a decent living doing it, the financial odometer of such an acitivity is always in the red. Yes, you can argue that long-term savings in health care costs and improvements in quality of life are financially quantifiable, but those things can (and should) be achieved in a variety of ways. Most runners typically do one thing and one thing only... run. We lose sleep, stink up our clothes at work, take time away from our loved ones, subject ourselves to all types of weather, subject our bodies to all kinds of weird diets and food restrictions, and push through sickness and stress and fatigue and injury. And if we take any time off in favor of some of these things we normally sacrifice? The guilt comes. And it comes at us hard.
Sometimes I have a tough time trying to reconcile my running with the rest of my life. My work, personal life, social life, and travel schedule have not been and will not be conducive to high-mileage training, and yet I've put in triple-digit weeks before and planned a ramp-up phase to do so again. The time and energy crunch for such training is often completely draining, and this drain takes away from everything else at times. The drain I can deal with though. What I really hate dealing with is the emotional roller coaster I ride -- the stress over an upcoming workout, the uncertainty over an upcoming race, and of course, the guilt over a workout missed or run given up. Regardless, I've pushed through, mostly because the results have been there. I've put in the training and received the benefits. Despite all the shit, it's been worth it because I've been succeeding.
The last few weeks... well, really, since Boston... I've struggled with fatigue. No surprise, I know. Patience, patience, patience. But 8-plus weeks of low mileage and very sparse workouts/races later and the quads still ache like an old man before a four-day rainstorm. I started to think I had exercise-induced anemia and then someone who actually had that before told me I was imagining things. It's probably a combination of Boston, lack of sleep, and a diet that a 22-year-old can get away with but not a 29-year-old. Now, the time and energy and stress of this hobby have started to tip the scales from "worth it" to "not worth it", and I've questioned the validity of continuing to push toward goals that are ultimately arbitrary.
So, what to do? With my training floundering and a summer full of non-running-related activities awaiting, what course of action do I take?
I thought I'd let Thursday's race in Hollis help me decide.
Still feeling stale but rested from lower mileage, I drove to Hollis with the idea of just racing and not time-trialing the extremely fast downhill course. Therefore, I made a point to not wear my watch for the race. Despite the rain, the weather was favorable (cooler temps) and the competition would drag me along for sure. My PR at Westfield 2+ months ago would be nearly impossible to catch, or so I thought, so I set a goal of 14:30 and hoped to have enough residual fitness to do a controlled fall towards the finish quickly enough to achieve it.
After hamming it up with newly-wifed DV and making a gentlemen's arrangement with him to try to beat him, the field packed in behind the narrow start line. It was much tighter than most race starts, and when the race took off I was actually surprised that no one ate it. The leaders initially darted down the wrong way at the start but immediately recorrected (note to the Hollis 5k directors: the course may seem obvious to you, but when one is sprinting out of the gate to get positioning, the race route is not as obvious. Put a big arrow down on the road next time.) The three BAA speedsteers (Ritchie, Ashe and Harvey) immediately set the tone, with a few other guys I didn't recognize out front and Sean Duncan hanging off the back. The pace was a bit of shock to the system at first and it took a couple of minutes for my breathing to regulate, but by the mile marker I had gained my composure and convinced myself that the low-level fatigue I was experiencing was already there. There was no clock at the mile but it seemed to come quickly, which was a good sign I suppose.
The second mile drops more precipitously so I tried to stay relatively even and use the elevation drop to stay close to the lead pack. Ritchie put a move on the lead pack and started to stretch it out a bit. Duncan started to come back and the sound of footsteps behind me started to fade. At two miles the clock read 9:10, which was a bit of a surprise to me because I still felt pretty good, and just after that I caught up to Duncan. I gave him a "c'mon, let's go!", which in retrospect is a bit douchey although I meant well. Few people like someone passing them to give encouragement, so I need to learn to shut my mouth. The markers of "0.75 to go", "0.50 to go" and "0.25 to go" were a nice touch and a big help mentally. There was a decent gap between myself and Harvey (similar to Westfield) and Duncan and fallen behind me considerably, so instead of bearing down the last minute I settled into a less intense threshold of pain. This mindset burned me at Sea Dogs with Louis and it's been to my detriment at other times as well, so I need to learn to get up and go harder near the finish.
Regardless, I took the tight corner right before the finish and found that I had squeaked in under my Westfield time.... 14:16. Huh. Wouldn't ya know, eh? Maybe my own claims of my demise were premature. Perhaps the fitness hasn't fallen all that far at all, and with more honest attention to healthier eating habits and better sleep the fatigue will hopefully go away and I can actually enjoy training again.
So, I guess I won't take the summer off. I won't set any mileage records or turn any heads with workouts, but I'm going to make a decent effort to get faster and do better at some of the usual summer events. Is it possible to happily balance the running life and the rest of life? Let's see if I can finally figure that out. Fingers crossed.