This past July, I completed my first 100 miler at the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, on the hottest weekend of the year in New England. I honestly had a blast, and even enjoyed the heat. I felt strong during the day, kept well hydrated and ran over 80 miles with some of my best friends. I slowed as the sun went down, but then picked up my crew who pulled me through to the end. We leap-frogged with other teammates, commiserating with and encouraging each other. I spent the final eight miles watching the sunrise and savoring the experience alongside two close friends. I wanted this race to feel like a celebration of my running community, and it turned out to be exactly that. For me, it was the most perfect experience I could have asked for.
I’m a mid-packer at best, peaked at 65 miles/week, took plenty of rest days and did not encounter any injuries during training. I work as a nurse in our local emergency room, so I was careful to back off from mileage if I was having a tough week with work. My training was fun for the most part, peaking with all-day adventures in the White Mountains. Even looking back on it now with some perspective, I don’t see any signs of overtraining.
Yet, three months out from the race I’m rarely averaging more than three miles or a couple runs a week. I’m not injured. I don’t feel excess fatigue. I just don’t want to run.
Following the race, I gave myself the requisite couple weeks of downtime, and instead of jumping back into training or running when I thought I should, I decided to let my body and mind get back there naturally.
My ultra running friends seemed to flow back into running and training effortlessly. As I watched their mileage creep up, I felt a twinge of guilt. Am I being lazy? Should I be getting back out there and running 5x/week? Am I going to lose all my fitness?
My coworkers would ask me how running was going post-race, and their jaw would almost drop when I told them I wasn’t. I had become “that crazy runner” and they were surprised to learn that I didn’t continue running long miles. If I stop running long distances, if I don’t ever have the desire to run another ultra, who am I?
I tried to get back into it, but there were still clues telling me to continue my break. I would go out for a run, and by less than two miles in, I would feel overwhelming anxiety settle in. When I had a run on my schedule, I would start feeling a sense of dread early in the day.
It quickly became clear to me that while I felt physically recovered within a month or two at most, there was another element at play. The mental and emotional toll that a hundred can take on a runner is so individual. Regardless of your personal goal for 100 miles, you often spend months to a year mentally preparing and focusing on training plans. Every waking moment of my day, aside from focused time at work, was filled with thoughts of Vermont. Starting with whether or not I was ready to train, then to how I was going to fit training around my work schedule and my dog’s needs, and on to logistics for the big day. My vacation time was centered around my peak mileage weeks and the race. I had zero time for much else. It’s no wonder that I needed a break.
So, instead of forcing myself back on a training plan, I decided to welcome the break. I started looking back to my life before running took over — how had I filled my time? What did I want to accomplish? What did I unintentionally ‘lose’ in the process of training? What else drives me?
I know that time in the mountains feeds my soul, so I’ve spent time hiking with my dog and my friends. I’ve found my way back to a yoga practice, baking and outdoor photography. I’ve even started learning bass guitar! I’m exploring things that I didn’t have time or energy for while training. I’m even running short distances — but only if I want to, which means it’s usually in the woods and with friends. I’m still finding joy in the trails, but it does not look the way it did this past spring or last year. Instead, I’m focusing on balancing trail running with the rest of life — and I am 100% OK with it.
I am still a runner. That will never leave me. Nothing I do now will take away the races I have completed. I also would not change a thing about my training, and do not regret my 100 mile race even slightly. Ultrarunning has brought so much joy, freedom and friendship into my life. It has shown me strength and grace. But even positive things sometimes require moderation.
Since I started distance running a handful of years ago, the question has always been “what’s next?” Both from others and myself. The next longest distance. The next gnarly course with increasing elevation. But at this moment, the answer is: a hiatus. For how long? Who knows. What I do know is that I trust my body and my mind to know when it’s time. I know it will, because it has already started. I’m getting excited for a winter filled with summits and short, snowy runs. I’m just not ready to train. And until that happens, I’m going to embrace the rest of what makes me happy.
Feature Photo: Liz Collins
Love the honesty and the journey to fill up with other things that fill the soul! Thanks for sharing ;). (I haven’t run an ultra for 5+ years, after pushing myself too hard at MMT…while I still ran, I shifted my activity to more hiking related goals, like the Colorado Trail and finding 40 14ers with my pup!)
*finishing (one day Iearn to edit before I hit submit!)
I resonate so much with this article. I haven’t run a 100 miler but after almost every “A” race for me I have the same sort of response. It seems to take forever just to stop crying every day, let alone find myself again. Will your write a follow-up article if running does come back? I’m very curious and hope the best for you.
This. This is what I’ve been feeling, although due to a different catalyst. Thank you for helping me accept that this is an ok place to be.
Hey Elizabeth! Aisling shared your post on FB – you won’t remember me, but when I met you, I was about 4 years into my running habit, and your mom was my junior year English teacher. You were much smaller. 🙂 Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished as a runner so far, and don’t sweat the breaks. Running (if you’re lucky) is a life-long pursuit, and in such a long game, you need time off to replenish and reframe. I’ve now been a runner for over 30 years (yikes!) and while I’ve never felt the urge to do any distance beyond half marathons, I’ve had years where I’ve done 4-5 of those in a year, and been training constantly, and years where I’ve barely run, period. Sometimes life (work changes, childbirth, etc) has gotten in the way, sometimes I just wasn’t feeling it. But I can always start again, and that’s the beauty of it. Enjoy your slow time…running will be there for you when you’re ready!
I enjoyed reading your story. It’s crazy. The year I did my first 100, everyone asked which race I was doing the next year. I said, “Nothing. I am taking the year off, and will continue the following year.” I like to take breaks too. With a family at home, it is tough to commit so much time running.
I am glad you found what you love. Nothing can beat the mountains 🙂
Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing! ???? I’m so happy we finished that race together and I’m happy your general journey in this life continues to take its shape!
Liz, thanks for sharing. I, too, have found post-first-100 feelings and motivations to be very complex, and it’s way cool that you’re letting yourself make peace with whatever comes! So admirable and difficult to do.
Thank you. I’ve never heard anyone voice this experience as you have, and it makes me feel less like a crazy person. Over a year after my 100 mile race and I am still struggling to reframe my goals and purpose after training so hard for so long.
This was me after my first (and only) 100! Nobody believed me when I said I was one and done for that distance. I still love running, especially trail running, but it’s taken me a year to get in the mood to train for anything. I’m going for my first marathon instead of another ultra; my coach believes in the value of “playtime” miles too, which helps me stay structured but still get a break from the discipline.
Thank you for putting into words and putting into perspective what so many of us are thinking and feeling but are not able to express so eloquently.
Great article, I totally feel you. I take December completely off from running each year to re-connect with other things I like in my life as well as take a step back from the whole thing. It’s a grind what we put ourselves through, even though we all love it to death. Thanks for sharing!
I needed to read this!! I relate so hard as I have been struggling to get back into running after running my first full marathon. I thought my lack of wanting to go right back into training made me “not a runner” anymore, also feeling the dread of a scheduled long run. Thank you for making me feel human and that I still am a runner even if I just need a break for awhile.
I would love a follow up to this!