The Lows of Running

Recently, I came through a month-long running lull, a “low” if you will.  Nothing was physically wrong with me and I didn’t even perform that poorly, in fact, I had some great runs.  I just had a bad attitude and I really had no idea why.  I’ve experienced these lows in the past and sometimes they have claimed victory over me to the point that I didn’t go on a planned run for no other reason than I didn’t feel like it.  Of course, in my mind, I made excuses as to why I could justify skipping the run.  However, that’s all they were, excuses, or as I like to refer to them, pure BS.

I’m sure many runners out there have experienced these lows and I was curious how they come about and if they are avoidable.  Is it just human nature to start questioning doing something that you don’t “have” to do?  I mean really, how many people do you know that don’t run and they seem perfectly happy, right?  They don’t have this desire and need to take a perfectly good hour or more out of their day and go do something that doesn’t come naturally to them.  Why can’t I just be like that?  Am I really going to run 30 miles a week for the rest of my life?  These are all questions I start asking myself when I’m in a low.

The questions have no purpose other than to give me some kind of justification for not running.  I’ve spent a lot of runs lately trying to get to the bottom of these lows and developing strategies to avoid them.  I tried to tap into that place that I’m in now, where every run is a blessing and I can’t wait to get to the next one.  These strategies might not apply to every runner because your mental state of mind is very unique.  So the first step into mental recovery is to recognize what is causing the mental breakdown.

The first thing I came to realize is that I needed to do some  serious analyzing and the place I do this best is on a run.  I recommend a long, slow run and just let go of all other issues and focus on the last few runs and try to remember when was your last great run.  Then work forward from there.  Did something happen in your life?  Did you have a bad day at work?  In my case, it almost always hinges on how well I’m eating.  I have to admit I have a little obsession with how well I’m eating and if I’m not eating well, there are a lot of bad results.  This last low was probably set in motion by events surrounding Halloween, which included a trip home and lots of chocolate.

I had spent over a month focusing on eating well and getting to a certain “goal” weight.  I had come within 2.5 pounds of my goal and it had been very hard work.  All of a sudden, 2.5 pounds seemed like 25 pounds.  I have no idea why.  Maybe it was all the candy surrounding me that I was forcing myself not to eat.  Maybe it was a fear of reaching my goal weight and not knowing what I would do once  I reached it (I’ve yo yoed several times in my life).  Something just happened and I seemed to give up.  I gained about 8 pounds in a couple of weeks and was a real wreck mentally.  Instead of isolating the mental mess to the dinner table, it seeped into other aspects of my life including my running.  Suddenly it wasn’t as fun and the questions and justifications started weighing in on me.  Fortunately, I’ve gone through this same situation seemingly thousands of times before in my life and started applying my experience and was able to snap out of the drudgery.

Second, tap into your running community.  No matter how big or small it is, your running community is a key to re-discovering the love of running.  They know what you’re going through and they can help you.  If there is one thing I like as much as running, it’s talking about running and listening to others talk about it.  A race report from a friend, a funny story about one of their runs or even some tips shared back and forth through a running forum may be just the thing you need to get your mental state of mind back in check.  So often people like me, who run alone and don’t have a running spouse, shut out our running friends.  Often not on purpose, it just happens.  You get busy with life and suddenly you’re on an island where you’re the only runner and that is when you start questioning if all the hassles of running everyday are worth the efforts.  Well, they are and you need someone to remind you of that.

Third, get out of that routine.  I have a very set routine to my running schedule.  I’ve employed it for a couple of years and it can become quite repetitive.  I try to spice it up occasionally, but generally it’s the same week in and week out.  I became very aware of this when I started having issues with my Garmin Forerunner, which tracks my runs.  I realized that I probably could live  without the info because I do the same runs day in and day out and I could just fix the issues on the online calendar I keep.  It struck me that I might be bored with the routine.  So I told myself to just ignore the routine for a bit, which was hard for me because there is certain comfort in the routine.  I know what to expect, my family knows what to expect.  I did some different length runs and even ran on the treadmill once.  I ran without my Forerunner and just ran for the joy of running.  The little tweak of variety was a huge key in my mental recovery.

Finally, there is no better way to re-discover your love of running than to share your love of running with new runners.  This happened to me quite by accident because I had a friend that was wanting to start running again and she came to me for advice.  I’m not sure she was quite ready for the deluge of information I poured on her, but it was all quite therapeutic for me.   Knowing that someone else is just starting to experience that same love you have for this sport has great healing qualities.  So seek out new runners, at running clubs or try to convince someone who asks you about running to give it a try.  There’s no enthusiasm quite like fresh enthusiasm and a great way to experience it time and time again is to inspire and help others.

The reasons for dipping into a running low are numerous, but if you employ one of or all of the above tactics, I’m sure you will find the love of running come gushing back.  Before you know it, you’ll be itching to get back onto the road and running as much as possible.  Let me know if you have other tactics you use to break out your lows.  It doesn’t even have to be a running low…everyone that tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise experiences these lows and I’d love to hear how you manage them!

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