The completion of my first half-marathon last fall is an achievement for which I am extremely proud. But from the moment I crossed the finish line, I have been positively stumped in determining the next goal for me and my running.
Unless someone is just incredibly gifted genetically, anyone that has trained for a half-marathon will attest to the time commitment one must make to get there, supported by organization, discipline, a goal and a plan. And sometimes the plan can appear so daunting, just getting started can be a challenge.
It is bad enough that we just wrapped up the winter-that-never-ends (here in Ottawa), during which time I did not see a sidewalk in what seemed like forever, so I hibernated in my cocoon of pillows and blankets while clearing the PVR or watching Netflix. Then the guilt of not running set in.
But with spring’s recent arrival, I got my first run of the season out of the way a few days ago (better late than never, I guess) and I was pleasantly surprised. The full routine of stretching I started doing in recent weeks, in anticipation of that first run, really helped as nothing hurt for this first 2 ½ km run, but clearly cardio capacity needs to be rebuilt.
I was happy to be out there, finally out in the fresh air and sunshine, already in shorts and t-shirt, bypassing the running jacket and running pants due to my late start. It was a wonderful day, but throughout the run I kept asking myself the question I had been asking myself since last fall: what is my goal?
Throughout my running life, I always had that one race ahead of me, or a tangible goal whether it was to run a longer distance, to beat my personal best time or to recover from an injury in time for the next big race. Running without a set goal seemed foreign to me.
Even among my group of friends who are runners, the goal always seemed to serve as an ice breaker in conversations: “What are your plans for your next race?” Or if someone was sidelined by injury, “When do you hope to be back in training for that next race?” Or travel-loving runners talking about the next destination race and figuring out the logistics of accommodations, meal planning and the completion of their pre-run rituals.
Without a doubt, running races is a big part of the process and helps many of us remain focused and on-target for a distance or a time, but at the moment, I do not foresee training for another half-marathon, at least not this year. It is a huge time commitment, not only for running itself, but in stretching at every opportunity I could get, engaging in a variety of cross-training activities, eating the right foods, ensuring I got the right amount of sleep, and taking plenty of Epsom salts baths to take the edge off the intense training. But would I do it again? I probably would. Just maybe not this year.
Should I train for a shorter distance, a 5K or 10K race? That would be far more realistic, but I have been in a bit of an introverted mood these days and the “first-world problems” of running do not entirely appeal to me at this particular moment: The prospect of driving downtown in heavy traffic on race day; competing for parking spots; accepting that I will be running in whatever weather will be delivered that day; and running behind certain etiquette-lacking novice runners who suddenly stop to take a selfie or a phone call with no advance notice. I think mentally, I am still in my pillow fort on the couch.
What I learned from my intense training last year is that I genuinely love the sport. I found my sweet spot in the 10 to 12 km distance, a run I can complete in about an hour, depending on the day. At that distance, I feel challenged, but not to the point of bleeding nipples or losing toenails. At that distance, I can carry just enough water without having to plan the logistics of filling my water bottle or finding a strategically placed tree or bush for bladder management purposes. At 10 to 12 km, I get a little hungry along the way, but not to the point that I have to carry a snack with me. As long as I have food waiting for me at the finish line, I will be fine.
Last year’s training taught me a lot about how my body reacts to running, and when running crosses over from fun to “work”. Perhaps that is the goal this year, running without a goal and for the pure fun of it. If I can be disciplined enough to post a weekly blog for the fun of it, why can’t I do that with my running too?
I love the rituals of running; I love the fresh air and sunshine; I love the sensation of the running motion to my favourite playlists; I love the energy that my favourite playlists provide; I love the solitude of being alone with my thoughts for an hour that is truly my own; I also love the health benefits and the fact that with consistent running, my clothes fit better.
I loved to hear the birds singing, seemingly cheering my arrival at the finish line at my favourite park, and the peace and serenity of watching the sailboats go by while I cool down and stretch. There are plenty of incentives to enjoying a great run.
It sounds perfect and so many of my weekend runs last year were just that… perfect! Could I recapture the magic of last year’s runs without a set goal? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of not having that pressure or the stress generated by a late start, an injury, getting sidetracked by the office or a prolonged period of bad weather.
I believe the answer was right in front of me: to be out there because I want to be, not because I have to be, and to savour every moment, every sight, every sound and every sensation, without pressure.
Is that not what enjoying a sport is all about?
Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.net. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,