“For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to the rain, and look to the day when it is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight.” — George Sheehan
Being in training is physically exhausting. Many days I go to bed so grateful for the opportunity to let my muscles relax for a few hours before my alarm goes off and I get dressed for another day of running and mothering and all that that entails. But it is also mentally exhausting. The focus it takes to maintain my speed during tempo runs or my determination to finish strong during long runs is tiring. I get lost when I look at the calendar to see how many more weeks are left until I can finally sleep in on a Saturday and not worry about getting double-digit mileage in. Thinking about the logistics for marathon morning — what time I have to wake up, how much I should eat and drink, what I should carry with me, how early I should be to the start line — almost makes me hope my alarm just doesn’t go off that morning and I miss the event entirely. (Okay, not really, but you get the point, right?) And let’s not even go to the fatigue that sets in when I think about my goal time and the pace I have to keep up for however long if I want to make it. Wondering and worrying if I’ll be able to do it wears me down.
Breaks are necessary. Not necessarily breaks in training. Breaks in how I think about training. Mental health days for my training brain. I took two months off after the Utah Valley Marathon. Not from training, exactly. I was still running at least 25 miles a week. But from thinking that I was training. Since I didn’t sign up for my next race until last week, I had two months to just enjoy running without worrying (too much) about speed and pacing and distance and how-much-longer-do-I-think-I-can-keep-up-this-schedule and I-have-to-wake-up-at-what-time?? and all of that.
I took that break, and now that I’m back on a training schedule, it seems so much more doable, so much less overwhelming. Eight weeks of training instead of 16. Only five more long runs before race day. More time to be a runner who runs to enjoy the leaves and the rain and the sun and the clouds rather than to enjoy the thrill of pushing myself to my physical limits. I am glad I took that break. And I’m glad I can become that runner again any time I need to — for a few miles, for a few days, or for weeks, months, or years if necessary. Even if all that time, my body is still doing the same thing. Those mental breaks are like wind beneath my running wings, the support that makes running — during training or not — more akin to a bird in flight than a cow slogging through the mud.