First is just the simple fact that work (and work travel) has been taking over my life lately. A couple of my work projects are legitimately high stakes right now (like, people's jobs on the line if I can't make some things work out) so I've been under a lot of pressure. Those things really do have to be my A-#1 priority right now. Unfortunately, the rest of my work hasn't conveniently shrunk to allow me to spend a greater portion of my day on the high stakes stuff, so I've had a lot of very long days. Working a 6-8 hour day in the office and then coming home to work *another* 4-6 hour day in the late afternoon/evening has, sadly, become a thing, as has working on the weekend (sometimes in airports and on planes).
I suspect it's probably not unrelated, but I've also started to feel really burnt out on running. No one is super excited about every run and workout all the time (I don't think??), but usually my bad days are limited to feeling super tired and unmotivated when I get home, forcing myself to put on my shoes and get out the door, and almost always feeling better. Lately it's been so much worse--lots of days when I'll think about the fact that I have a run on my schedule and want to burst into tears. Or I feel tired and sour about going on a run and then it never gets any better. Sometimes getting ready for a track workout and feeling like I'm about to have a panic attack, except it doesn't go away once I've gotten started.
On my normal bad days, I'll often finish a run I didn't feel like doing and go, "Man, I'm really glad I went ahead and did that." Not lately. Instead I'm overwhelmed with everything that's not getting done while I'm running and also get really focused on every teeny, tiny, slight discomfort.
I was supposed to run this 5K on March 3rd. It was in downtown San Francisco, so I was just going to get up early, jog down there, run the race, and then jog home. Starting the night before, though, I was feeling completely crushed by the thought. I didn't want to get up early on Saturday. I wanted to sleep in. I was supposed to do two miles at 10K pace and the last mile at sub-5K pace and the thought made me want to throw up. I spent all night having nightmares about the race, or thinking I'd already run it, and then waking up and feeling completely demoralized by the fact that it wasn't over and all the discomfort and misery was still to come.
Plus, when my alarm went off at 5am, it was pitch black out, pouring rain, and howling wind. I kept trying to make myself get up and get ready but every time I tried I felt so demoralized. Don actually woke up and when he asked me if I was still going to go I completely burst into tears & spent like an hour sobbing on him about how I didn't want to go.
Which....actually seemed like a pretty good indicator that I should NOT go to this very low-stakes, no-big-deal, local YMCA fun run on which nothing depended. So I went back to sleep and I think it was the right call.
This past, Saturday instead of getting up & wringing my hands for three hours about how I was "supposed" to go run, I made myself some lapsang souchon in the press pot & sat on the couch listening to "Reply All" & browsing desk lamps on the internet. I can't remember the last time I did something so frivolous & it was the *best*. (And then later I actually did get out & run four easy miles, because it was gorgeous out.)
Even after that, though, I just couldn't get excited about the other races I had on the calendar. I'd missed so many workouts due to work and just didn't feel like I was in very good shape at all, and if you know you're not in good shape, it's sort of like, what even is the point in racing? If you want to do a hard workout, go do it in the park at not the ass crack of dawn.
And, to complete the cycle, without a race that I cared a lot about, it's been much tougher to muster the motivation for runs and workouts.
For a short period of time, with work and house stuff the way it's all been lately, a part of me was definitely going, "Look, you're trying to do 47 things exceptionally well and the result is half-assing about 21 one of them and dropping the others altogether. It's time to make some hard choices."
And, I have, in some ways. I basically stopped going to karate. I stopped socializing (almost) altogether. I let some stuff that usually brings me joy (but takes a lot of time and work, like blogging and doing book reviews) super slide.
But it still felt like I just did not have the time to do well the things I really, really needed to be doing well, and one of the biggest chunks of usable time left in my life seemed to be running. And so a part of me went, "Look, maybe this just isn't the time. Running isn't going anywhere. Maybe we need to pull the plug on this for a while."
Which was a horrible thought, but at the same time, a little bit alluring. There is real appeal to knowing that when I come home exhausted with a bunch of stuff I need to get done, I can not worry about having to force myself out on a run I don't want to do.
At the same time, though, I am very wary of my life just turning into all-work-all-the-time, which may be a lifestyle that works for some people but it's not really something I've ever been that into.
The worst of that has passed (for now). I HAVE been getting in runs and workouts sometimes, just not with the frequency that I used to. And I even went to that St. Patrick's Day 10K and ran a respectable race! (Thanks bt!)
For St. Pat's I also made a Guinness stout cake and it was SO GOOD.
That said, burnout is a real thing. So when I opened Mario Frailoli's weekly Morning Shakeout this past Tuesday, his opening paragraphs really spoke to me:
- One of the beautiful things about running is that even after you’ve been at it a while—22 years and counting in my case—you can always learn something about yourself. Sometimes these lessons are profound, other times they’re more practical. And every once in a while, they’re a bit of both. Recently I’ve come to realize that as an athlete, I can only keep the proverbial water running at full blast for 8-12 weeks at a time before I need to dial it back for an extended period to refill the tank. And that is exactly where I’m at right now.
After taking down a longstanding personal best at CIM last fall, which came at the end of 12 weeks of very focused training following a two-week vacation and a couple months of futzing around on the trails, I didn’t run for most of the next week, then ran a week of easy, unfocused mileage, reintroduced a baby workout in the third week, and then was more or less back down to business four weeks post-marathon. It wasn’t an unreasonable progression in terms of volume or intensity, my body felt recovered, my mind was fresh, and I was chomping at the bit to focus on the 5K through mid-April.
And here I am, beginning the 13th week of the training block, and if I’m being honest, the water pressure is pretty low. It’s not hard for me to get out the door to run every day but getting out the door to train hard the last several weeks has been a different story. Yes, there are times you have to work through the drudgery, as the legendary Ed Whitlock liked to call it, but there also comes a point when it’s best just to surrender to it. So that’s what I’ve decided to do: Scrap the planned workouts, abandon any sort of plan altogether, and just run with no real objective for a while other than to enjoy the miles—a refilling of my tank, if you will. I still plan to race at the Carlsbad 5000 and BAA 5K in the coming weeks, and while I might not be as fit or as sharp as I had hoped to be for those events, I’ll give it what I’ve got on the day.
The lesson here: Keep an eye on your training tank and recognize when the pressure is low. Note its capacity—I’ve learned that mine is 8-12 weeks—and understand that it may change over time. And finally, when you come to realize that the tank is empty, take the necessary time to refill it.
This message couldn't have been more timely for me. As "serious" "competitive" (though recreational) runners, we get really good at powering through pain, discomfort, exhaustion, soreness, and days when we just plain don't feel like it because that's what's necessary if you've got your eye on a big goal. Unfortunately I think that ability also tends to up the risk that we can end up like the boiling frog--IF the exhaustion and lack of motivation happens to gradually get worse and worse, we might not notice it because "everyone has rough days," until one day you're curled up in the corner having a panic attack about a workout and still telling yourself, "Ugh, just put your shoes on and get out there, suck it up, you'll feel better, it'll be worth it on race day, if it were easy everyone would do it" when really the intelligent thing to do is can the workout, take a bubble bath, & go to bed.
For a friend's birthday recently, we enjoyed an evening at Manresa, a three-star Michelin spot in the South Bay (and actually, the first three-star I've been to).
A beautiful 0 ABV beverage called a "Garden & Tonic" (made with green pea shrub!) to start.
I don't remember what all this was but it was DELICIOUS.
Those little motivational tricks? They're worth learning for when your overall motivation is in good shape but you just happen to be having a crappy day and know you really WILL feel better either once you start doing it or after you get it done. But it's also important to be paying enough attention to your overall water tank levels to realize when it's a crappy day on top of real burnout; in those cases I think "powering through" can cause you to miss some red flags that should maybe be addressed.
It brought to mind something I read in an advice column once about how "relationships take work." Like sure, someone has to pay the bills and do the dishes and clean the cat box and decide where you will put your money, and all relationships certainly go through rougher and smoother times. But when you're in a healthy relationship, in spite of all the unglamorous day-to-day stuff, it should still be pretty easy most of the time for everyone to just relax and enjoy the relationship. When you find yourself, in a relationship, doing a LOT of REALLY HARD, UNPLEASANT WORK, a LOT of the time, that's not what people are talking about when they say "relationships take work." That's a red flag.
So, I'm trying to heed the signs and do what makes sense to take care of myself right now. If I have a run on the schedule & feel like, "Eh, I can do this and it's not awful," then I'll try to do it. If it feels like too much, I'll try to do a shorter run. If the thought gives me a panic attack or makes me want to curl up in the corner, I'm not going to try to force myself to suffer through it.
I probably won't run Stow Lake because I only really want to do it if I feel like I'm in really good shape & ready to have a great race. I probably WILL still run Hellyer 5K since I'm already signed up, but approach it more like Mario--I might not be as fit as I'd like to be, but I'll give it what I've got on the day & be happy with whatever happens as long as I know I did my best (because an hour+ of driving to just jog a 5K seems ludicrous).
So, yeah. I'm not quitting running and I'm not quitting blogging. But the running will probably be less intense for a while, and you might have to listen to me talk about other stuff that's preoccupying my brain space other than running right now. Just FYI. :)