For the past three months or so, I’ve been having a tough time with my running. Not much feels natural and nothing feels easy, and my Garmin has morphed into an evil force that laughs at me every time think I might actually be moving well. I was sick of battling it out with myself, so I hired a friend of mine, Brianna Boehmer, to lay out a training plan and supervise this train wreck I was trying to plow through.
I entered a four-mile race on the 4th of July, and had an awful race. I started out at a pace (8:50 or so) that should be challenging but sustainable for me. But it was ridiculously hard, and I slowed and slowed. Four miles felt as long as fourteen. I finished with a 9:21 average split, which is slower than I used to run 12 miles as I ramped up for half-marathons. (Again, a note about splits: not my favorite thing to put up, because they may seem slow or fast to you and we all run our own races, but I gotta have something to anchor this story.)
What little enthusiasm I had for our beloved sport got sucked out of me during that race. I had no desire to run, let alone add 2.2 more miles to a race I had already committed to: the ZOOMA 10k in Colorado Springs. Two really fun runs with a neighborhood posse brought a smile back to my (grimacing) face, but still: the 10k loomed.
When I talked with Bri, I told her about how my only good recent runs were the ones with my friends. How my (highly inaccurate, I’m sure) Garmin was still really getting me down. How my legs felt heavy and unresponsive. How I didn’t want to get in a race and then see bad numbers and have them vomit, so to speak, on me mentally.
So we decided I’d run naked. No Timex, no Garmin, no expectations except to find my running groove before it wandered too far away.
Back to race day. When I heard the tinkle of the Garmins around me at mile 1, I couldn’t believe we were already one down. (By this point, I would’ve checked my data at least 10 times.) Around mile 3, I asked a woman next to me how it was going. “I’m running faster than I should be, but I feel good,” she said. I spied a Garmin on her wrist, and I had stop myself a couple times from asking how fast she actually was running. Towards the end of the race, when I heard one volunteer say we had 1.5 miles left, and then about five minutes (I think) later, I heard another one say the same thing, I wanted my own accurate data.
But other than those two times, I was so happy to have a bare wrist. As I ran along shady paths and next to Pikes Peak, I reminded myself, I am here now. Enjoy this mile, this day, this rhythm. Don’t worry about the next mile. When we hit a not-insignificant hill, I adopted a mantra SBS talked about the day before, and I told myself, I feel great. I feel great. Okay, so I didn’t feel great, but I also didn’t walk, and, more importantly, I didn’t have the Garmin going na-na-boo-boo’ing at me.
I often say, when I’m talking running with another mother runner, that my life is hard enough; I don’t need to stress myself out with my running performance. We all know running is hard, but there’s such a thing as too hard. For me, when the numbers start to dominate all the other benefits–stress relief, mental clarity, time with friends, recalibration of my soul and spirit–then running is too hard. I end up injured and being bitter towards one of the few activities that brings me both joy and strength.
It took me 6.2 miles of running naked to remember that.
I thought this entry would have an unbelievably perfect ending. When I came down a huge hill to the finish line, my naked eyes saw the race clock: 53:xx. I couldn’t believe it: I ran sub-9 splits without obsessing over every step and checking my Garmin 620 times? Impossible.
Yep, it actually was impossible. Turns out, the clock was for the half-marathoners, who started five minutes after the 10K’ers. So I didn’t run sub-9 splits. More like 9:28 splits. Probably my slowest 10K ever, which, I’ll admit isn’t the easiest thing to type. But I am here now.
The run felt easy, and it felt natural. Most importantly, it felt hard in the good, familiar way. I’m not sure if I have my groove totally back, but at least I know it’s running at a pace at which I can catch it.