Several years ago, I read a really fabulous essay in some long-lost running book about how one woman’s relationship to running shifted and changed through the decades of her life. In high school, running was a source of excitement for her. After college, it was a source of intense focus and competition (this particular woman was an Olympic-trials qualifier in the marathon). In her 30s and early 40s, running became a peaceful escape from the chaos of motherhood. The specifics changed, but the relationship was a constant.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that essay recently, as my own relationship with running is morphing into something more relaxed than it had been even a few months ago. When I started this blog in 2009, I was training for the National Half-Marathon, and used long, hard runs to regain a sense of control over my life and confidence in myself after moving to a new city and forging a new career path. Running was my release—from family emergencies, from a fear that my choice to become a freelance writer wouldn’t amount to anything—and I used each workout to remind me that I was fierce and strong. It was a different type of running from the long-distance escapes from loneliness and fear of deployment I’d experienced in Florida, which was different from the phases of my life and my running that came before it.
I assumed that when I recovered from the various injuries that have stumped my running progress over the past couple years, I would be ready to go full-bore again, training for a warm-up half marathon, busting my half-marathon PR a few months later and finally tackling a marathon finish a little closer to four hours than my previous attempts. And in fact, my knee feels 100 percent again, with my ACL reconstruction surgery a year behind me (happy birthday, little ACL!).
But instead, I kind of stopped caring as much about my pace and weekly mileage, and instead started focusing on other goals—the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim earlier this year, ski-patrol ski-and-toboggan training now. I’m still running, but my relationship to running is different.
Rather than using my runs to test my limits and build my strength, I’m using them to help my body recover and my mind relax. My regular workout: A five-mile run on the beach. No pace goals, no intervals—just a simple, relaxed five-mile run on the beach. The sand isn’t always packed, and sometimes, when I glance down at my Garmin, I see that my slog through the deep sand is clocking in at 10:30-minute-mile pace—and I don’t care. When I start, my quads and glutes are usually still screaming from whatever skiing I most recently did. By the time I finish, my muscles and mind are both happy and chilled out.
When I’m in Silver Spring, I use my group runs to chat and catch up with the friends I don’t see quite as much, not to push myself my trying to keep up with runner-friends who are faster than me.
So right now, running is less of a challenging but fulfilling teacher and more a kind, compassionate friend, the “come as you are” of my current workout rotation.
Once the ski season’s done, I’m sure that relationship will shift again. But for now, I’m taking a lot of comfort in the knowledge that I have a friend who will always be there for me, and somehow is always able to provide exactly what I need.
How has your relationship with running shifted through the years?