What I learned about running by not running

I’ve been an avid marathon runner for over 15 years. I’m a runner at heart. I run not just to stay fit and healthy, but because it’s my therapy, my sanity, my social life and in short, it’s just part of my life. Like all relationships, it’s been a little rocky and nothing is perfect all of the time.

After the Ventura marathon last year, when my cranky right hip just wouldn’t stop whining, I felt like it was time to take a “a break.” I knew I wasn’t breaking up with running, but it was certainly time for a pause. Today’s post is my running confessional about what I learned about my sport and my body during our time apart. It’s also about how I’m getting back into it now and my running goals moving forward.

Running Cover

Why running and “were on break!”

I won’t use age as an excuse because I don’t think that was the problem. 2015 was just a tough year for me personally and every time I felt like I was “back on track” some crappy life event would throw me off. I ran two marathons and neither of them was anything to brag about. I trained just about all 52 weeks of the year and I have nothing to really show for it because of the unplanned pauses that messed up my training and performance gains.  In short, I was running a lot, but I was not running smart. And that is kind of a stupid thing to do.

I kind of want to use the analogy of walking the wrong way on the escalator. Like you’re charging in one direction but the escalator is like “lady, you’re doing it wrong.” And then I tend to be really stubborn, so I just keep charging. That is a lot of wasted energy that will ultimately lead to burn out or injury, and I think I ended up with a little bit of both.

After my sub-par performance in Ventura I seriously thought I was going to take no time off and turn around and try again at CIM in Sacramento less than 3 months later. This is one of those things that is just crazy about people like me. Not in a zillion years would I tell a client to do that. After a bad race and pretty much 12 months of sub-par running to skip recovery and try again? See what I mean by wrong way on the escalator?

Luckily, my mind and my body caught up with each other before a 3rd crappy marathon went down last year. The well needed rest was imminent and in early October, I made the decision to take the rest of the year off running.

My last race before I decided to take a break.
My last race before I decided to take a break.

The hugest AH-HA! From not running for 8 weeks.

Whaaaaattt?! 8 WEEKS OF NO RUNNING? That’s a crazy thing to say to a lady like me who has run 25-40 miles a week for the past 15+ years with only a few marathon recovery breaks, a stress fracture recovery and a little bout of runner burnout. It’s kinda scary. What will I do with all my time, will I get stir crazy? What about all the food I love to eat, am I going to get fat? What about all my runner friends, will I lose them or die of runner envy? Will people think less of me for “quitting?” Those are legitimate fears that gave me serious anxiety.

I’ll cut to the chase here, none of those things happened. And the relief of knowing that brings me to a level of comfort I didn’t know existed. I’m not sure what I was running from or towards for the past 15 years, but I never knew I could learn so much by simply sitting still. Here are the short answers to these big looming anxieties that I had.

What did I do with all my time? Did I go stir crazy?

I won’t lie, this was an adjustment. I went from about 12 hours a week of exercise to about 4-5. That’s a lot of waking hours to do something productive with, or not. This break for me was timed with the holidays, so that worked out very well. I didn’t fall behind in anything and I got plenty of rest to recover from the typical holiday stress and made it through the season in good health. I also learned how butt kicking and effective short HIIT style workouts are. My cross training and weight days will never be the same.

Nope. I did not get bored or stir-crazy. Not once.
Nope. I did not get bored or stir-crazy. Not once.

What about all the food I eat? Did I get fat?

Hands down the HUGEST awareness of all. I’ve always said “I have to run, I eat so much.” I know this is obvious now, but it’s not until you physically experience it that you learn to trust your body and respect how smart it really is. Here’s the news flash: when you don’t run, you’re not as hungry. Ha!

I absolutely LOVE my new appetite. I am no longer food obsessed. When you run 30 miles a week, it’s a constant “what am I going to eat to prepare for my run? How will I recover?” Plus, you’re just hungry all-the-time. I am fully loving not having to think about food as much – it’s been the most freeing thing about this break.

I stopped running and I did not get fat. Yay!
I stopped running and I did not get fat. Yay!

Did I lose my runner friends? Did I die of runner envy?

No and yes. My runner friends are wonderful people and we are all still friends. I do miss the group at November Project on Wednesdays and will look forward to seeing them again soon. I do miss long runs with Kate and the occasional speed workout with a runner buddy. But now I’m enjoying my morning motivation walks with a different group of friends, the social piece is still here.

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Runner friends are still  friends, we just did yoga and brunch instead of run.

Did I die of envy? Uggg….a little each day. Seriously, this was the hardest part. The Carlsbad marathon just passed and I’ve run that race more years than I haven’t so that was tough to see and know that I missed. And this is why I know I love the sport and will be back. Maybe not as hard and diligent as I was, but I will run races again, and that I’m a incredibly excited about!

Did people judge me for “quitting?”

I sure hope not and I don’t think they did. At least not to my face. And truly dedicated runners know that it’s actually harder to stop than it is to keep going, which sounds so counter intuitive.  I won’t ever know the answer to this, I just have to trust that I know I did what I needed to do. And I’m glad I did 🙂

How I’m transitioning back into running now.

This is the fun part! Which is kind of crazy because anybody who has started or re-started running knows, that it is actually very painful. It’s hard. And you lose your running endurance and speed SO fast that it can be quite literally shocking when you start over.

Now, I know it all comes back, but that transition process can be so difficult, some never do it or prolong restarting longer than they need to. I was also terribly concerned because I’m so competitive with myself. Starting from scratch out of the gate, there would be no way I could be at my paces and that is practically demoralizing. So how in the heck is this fun for me now?

The Gals Who Run Beginner/Basic Run Program!

Now, I know I’m a little biased because I wrote this training plan and Sheri and I teamed up to write all the daily coaching tips for it. But even with that, I can honestly, and whole-heartedly recommend this program to anybody who is taking their first few steps at running or looking at lace up again after a planned or unplanned break. You can read all the details about the beginner run program here, but let me give you the basics.

It’s a 5 week walk to run (in my case now) or run to run faster (if you’re already running 30 minutes consistently) program. You start with a 9 minute easy interval and a 1 minute work interval and you do that two times. Then three. Then you go to 8 minutes of easy and 2 minutes of work two times and then three. Eventually, you end up with 9 minutes of work and only a 1 minute recovery interval and it happens over the course of 35 days. I LOVE THIS PLAN!

I just finished 5/5 x 2 and I’m walking at a brisk pace and then running at like 7:30/7:15. So even though I’m averaging a 10 minute pace right about now, I get to feel so fast on the work intervals. And that is protecting my fragile runner ego and encouraging my hopeful runner spirit.

Being patient with yourself as your runner legs return is much easier said than done and that is why I’m absolutely loving this plan right now. We’ve have had people use this same plan to quite literally, run their first or fastest mile ever with outrageous success. This is one of the most versatile running plans I’ve worked with.

beginner run program cover
Versatile running plan for anybody looking to start or restart a running routine.

My future running goals.

I want to finish this beginner run program, which should be around the 2nd week of February and I should be up to running 4-5 solid miles in about 40 minutes by then. As far as races, I think this St. Patricks Day 10K will be the first time a pin a bib to myself. I’d like to find a June half marathon and I really do have my eye on the Berlin Marathon this year. But I’m taking this one step at a time, quite literally, for the first time in ages. And I’m really enjoying this relaxed approach to a sport that I love so much and has brought me so much joy over the years.

Can you relate? Have you ever had to take a break from something you loved because you knew it was the right thing to do? 

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16 thoughts on “What I learned about running by not running

  1. Oy I’m coming back now from not running, and it is HARD not to beat myself up for not being able to run as far or as fast. Which makes sense, I wasn’t running. But man trying to run 5 miles and not think about how I was training for an ultra less than a year ago? Tough!

    1. Oh Mary — trust me, I know! I’ve been there. I run now my 5 min intervals at my old half marathon race pace. But we can’t let that stop us from getting back out there 😉 Muscle has memory and past success is the best indicator of future success. We just need to be as patient with ourselves as we would tell our best friends to be! Sounds so easy, right? Hang in there Mary…it will be worth it!

  2. I am going through a running break due to a painful right heel. Tried to cut runs shorter but with sprints but that just seemed to add to the problem. Feeling hopeless and in a panic stage as this was my mental cleanse. I am doing aerobics and walks to keep moving but it just isn’t the same. Really hoping to mend soon. I feel like I am losing me and gaining a pudgy/unhappy replacement.

    1. Oh I can SO RELATE Wendy! HIIT workouts saved me! I downloaded a tabata ap and just did a ton of high intensity body work and spin class and somehow, didn’t gain a pound even with the holidays. I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling, but you can get through this! Us runners always do 😉 Keep me posted!

  3. I just did the Carlsbad Half. It was my first half in a few years. After gaining a lot of weight, after various injuries, last January, I started running again. I was running so slowly and never able to run for any distance beyond a quarter mile, without walking. I ran this half until mile 6, without stopping. The wheels fell off the bus about mile 8, it was my slowest half to date, and I practically crawled over the finish line, but I did it! I think what I’ve learned, is that I am still successful as a runner, even if I’m not pr’ing every race. I don’t have to pressure myself to measure up to my peers. It’s progress, not perfection. I’m now training for La Jolla and I’m going to blow this one out, though. 🙂

    1. Laura — that’s an awesome story and such a good place to be in as a runner. Letting go of the pressure to be “your best” and just enjoying the process and ability to run is so hard. I know. I’m so glad you’re putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the ride! Keep me posted on La Jolla Half! Maybe I’ll get out there for that one too. It’s been YEARS since I’ve done it…hummm….thank you for the reminder actually 😉

    1. Awesome Smitha — trust how smart your body is and how much it will appreciate the break. You’ve CERTAINLY earned one 😉 And HIIT workouts will be your savior after your initial marathon recover 🙂 I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    1. Honestly, it sounds so silly, but this was such a shock to me. I really thought I just LOVED to eat that much. I had no idea I just NEEDED to eat that much 😉 I’m glad to hear you had a similar experience! Happy return to running Lora!

  4. I remember talking about this post back when that photo was taken. Glad to see it come to fruition! I have all of those exact same fears and it’s really nice to know that they’re just fears — not facts. I will NOT get fat if I stop running. I will NOT lose my runner friends. So if god forbid I do need to stop running anytime soon, I will survive and if I am anything like you, my body will be bangin’! 🙂 Love you!!!!

    1. I know right? Even though I’ve been “running” for over 3 weeks now, it took me a while to sit down and cough this one up 😉 And yes, I promise. You will not get fat and it’s soooo nice to not have to plan meals all day long! Phew! xo

  5. I loved reading this story. I’ve had to take a long, long time off from running due to an undiagnosed injury. I’ve finally been treating it, but am antsy about getting back. Definitely checking out your plan for when I do get back to it!

    1. I’m so glad you can relate! We tend to spend a lot of time talking about all the great parts of running and wild achievements. But there is this side of running — ha ha 😉 I’m so glad to hear you’re addressing your injury, you will heal so much faster and come back stronger! Definitely check out the program when you’re ready to get ready again. It’s been my savior! Hang in there, your runner legs will be back soon enough 🙂

  6. This is a good post, and timely for me. I took 12 years off, and after the last 540 days devoted to ridding myself of injuries and other naggerts, I’m finally in a place I can start training with a purpose. PATIENCE!!!!!!, those 6 minute miles are still a long way off; Triathlons even farther! I tell my clients the same thing as you, and like you I many times don’t heed my own advice. Thanks for knocking some sense in me, and Thank God for muscle memory!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Oh I’m so proud of you!! I know how hard it is to rest and recover and how exciting you get to get back at it now with a strong body! That muscle memory is a savior to us all — right? So glad you took the time to write this comment, it made my day! Happy training to you, I’ll look forward to hearing about your future fitness successes!! Cheers!

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