I took 7 days off when I had knee surgery . . . but it really wasn't much of a break. I actually started back on the ellipse machine two days after surgery. I did have to take about six months off in 2006 when I tore / irritated my upper hamstring where it attaches to the hip. That really was six months off . . . no running at all.
Excepting these two, I have been running . . . a lot! For the last two years I've been averaging a marathon (or longer) a month or more. There are a ton of people that run more and run longer . . . but for me this is a lot.
Believe me, I'm not a gifted athlete! Those of you that know me know that is absolutely the truth. At my best, I was a mid-pack runner. But what I lack in ability I make up for in focus and persistence. Once I start something I will not quit.
While I might not be a gifted runner, I've always totally enjoyed my running. And I've enjoyed the friends I've made while running. But I'm tired. Mentally tired, I believe.
My times have been getting slower and slower. And I don't believe it is as physical as it is mental. Walking has become too easy to do! As I've started running ultramarathons, I have to wal more . . . especially up hills. But most ultra runners do this! It's a fact of life for these races. To finish a 50k or longer you have to slow down. Plus, most ultras are run on trails where the terrain is more severe (roads are graded but trails just follow the land!). But once you start walking, it becomes mentally easier to walk. So I believe I now walk more then I should. More then I physically have to. I've lost the mental toughness to run through the tiredness and pain.
So I'm getting more and more use to walking and going slow. And as I do this more often, my physical conditioning declines.
Plus, I don't really train! Essentially, one race is my training for the next one! In the last couple of months I started trying to run "pickups" or "intervals" one day a week . . . and I believe it has helped a tad! Maybe if I ran a 5k I could go a little faster! But it is not translating into faster marathons and ultras. I'm stuck in a downward spiral where my times get slower and slower. I've become a "blip bird." (for the uninformed a blip bird is a bird that flies with ever increasing velocity in every decreasing almost concentric circles until it finally goes "blip" right up it's own ass!)
But who cares what my speed it? Who cares if my marathons take longer? As long as I'm having fun it doesn't matter. But recently I have not been having as much fun! There are these pesky things created by race directors called "cut-off times" and they are now a source of concern at almost every race. I don't blame race director at all . . . they have to balance their runners' experiences with those of their volunteers. And to ask a volunteer to hang around an extra hour for just a very few runners hardly makes sense.
Most of the large marathons are fairly generous with their cut-off times. Most allow and even encourage walkers, so their cut-off times are 7-8 hours. But to be honest I really don't like these "big event" race. And I love running trails in the woods. But these trail runs are the runs where cut-off times are usually shorter!!
So . . . what are my options? Here are some I've been considering . . .
- TAKE 3-6 MONTHS OFF. Limit long runs to 8-10 miles max. Maybe focus more on building speed. Run a few 5ks. Then, build back my distance. This seems to be a fairly good option.
- FORGET ORGANIZED RUNNING EVENTS and just run on my own. Set up my own aid. Run where I want, and when I want. From pure running perspective, this is a really good option but what I give up is running with other runners. True, at the back of the pack I usually run alone, but before the race it's a lot of fun talking with folks . . . and seeing runners pass back by me on "out-and-back" courses. Plus, I know it is crazy, but I still like the medals and shirts!
- JUST RUN "BIG EVENT" RACES WITH GENEROUS "CUT_OFF" TIMES. By definition, there are always a lot of people there. And usually there are good shirts and medals. But these races are almost always on roads, and I really HATE crowds. Don't know why, but I always have. Plus, these are expensive options . . . travel, hotels, entry fees . . . it just costs a lot more and that is an issue.
- GET A REAL "TRAINER" TO HELP ME DEVELOP A PLAN. Rather that just take 3-6 months off, I believe a well-developed training plan could help me add speed without stopping my long runs and then building back. But following a "plan" doesn't sound like a lot of fun . . . and "fun" is why I run. Plus, I really hate long-runs training runs by myself. I usually don't push myself very hard. But still this is a fairly good option. Maybe if I was running faster and not having to focus on "cut-offs" the fun would return!
Next weekend I have the Umstead Trail Marathon. Last year, I had to totally bust my ass to make the cut-off time and I was the last official finisher. This year . . . I'm slower. But we'll see. Even if I make the cut-off for this one, I need a new plan. I'm not just going to magically speed up.