When I first signed up for the Eugene marathon I had planned on building a base so that upping the mileage in January didn’t come as a shock to my body. I made it a personal benchmark to be able to comfortably go on a 10-12 mile long run every 1-2 weeks come August.
However, these past 3 weeks I’ve been out of commission with pneumonia. The first two weeks I spent on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother, and I took the third one off from running because I still couldn’t laugh without inducing a coughing fit. Going on a run probably wouldn’t have been the best idea.
Throughout the three weeks, I had been going through running-withdrawals. You runners know what I’m talking about—it’s torture, isn’t it? You’ve got to turn down your running buddies texting you about meeting up for a run; the weather always seems to be ironically at its best when you’re actually taking time off (whether the time off is voluntary or not). Basically, you can’t wait for that first run back.
But here’s the thing about that first run back: it usually is way more challenging then you’d expect. It’s never how I imagine it to be. During my time spent pining for exercise the idealized first run usually looks something like this: the weather is great, I’m finally back out there, running feels just as comfortable as
it did the last time. But who are we kidding?
After a couple weeks off, the first run actually looks more like this: I feel extremely out of shape, breathing has never been more uncomfortable, and I’m itching all over and wondering if during my time off I’ve actually become allergic to running. (But I’m not—I looked it up, the all-over itch that runners sometimes feel on a first run back is caused by blood vessels reopening after shrinking during their hiatus from exercise. Not an allergy).
Despite the irritation, or rather, because of the difficulty of a first run back, I am always more motivated than ever to get back into the shape I was before. Once you’ve been at a certain level of fitness, each time you fall from it you feel like you need to get back to that level. Or maybe you don’t feel that way, but I sure do.
The only exception for me is that I will never be motivated again to be in the kind of shape I was when I ran collegiately, and because of that, I am destined to never feel like I’m in “really good shape” for the rest of my life. But I’ve more than come to terms with that now, and I enjoy the freer range of food options I allow myself because of it.
I have a confession to make though, and I think a lot of you might relate to me on this. Unless it happens at a time when I am seriously training for an upcoming race, when something keeps me from running for a while, even if it’s just for a day, my initial reaction is, “sweet, at least I don’t have to run.”
What? I don’t want to run even though I’ve just told you how I’ve been craving it the last 3 weeks? You’re probably thinking that I’m obviously a fraud of a running columnist, but hear me out. I think that this readiness to jump at the perfect excuse not to run is because, though I love running so much, it truly is a love/hate relationship. It can change from monthly to daily on whether the love is outweighing the hate or vice versa.
For instance, certain afternoons in class my eyes can’t help drifting out the window as I’m longing for a run. On other days, (particularly in the mornings) I am convinced that lacing up my Nikes and going running is the very last item on the list of things I want to do that day. The key is knowing when to give yourself a break and when to get out the door anyways, but that’s a topic for another day.
I think that the first run back is a prime example of the love/hate aspect of running. As impatiently as I’ve awaited that run, it inevitably feels less-than-awesome and during the run itself there are distinct points where I am wishing I was elsewhere. And, despite the discomfort, that unpleasant first run just makes me want to run more. Running sounds like a high school couple’s hormonal relationship, which is actually a rather fitting description considering that endorphins are hormones too.
So if running is love/hate, what makes us as runners still get out there even when we’re feeling heavy on the hate? Most runners I’ve talked with would say that it’s a part of them. They feel that they have to run. Not merely in order to stay in shape, nor only when they have a specific goal to work towards, but just to run for the sake of running itself. I’d say that in the love/hate relationship that is running, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Until next time, I’ll see you on the trails!