Tuesday, December 2, 2014

To race or not to race?

"What are your plans for next year?" That question loomed large in my head back when I was feeling slumpy. Of course, in my circle of friends, that means, "What races are you planning to do next year?" I've been thinking about it for a while. I guess my first reaction was, maybe none? Yes, with a question mark. Then I figured that could have been the slump talking, so I sat with it for a while, and now I'm thinking, maybe none.

Racing over the last few years has been a great experience for me. I've accomplished some of the big things I always wanted to do but thought would take much longer - doing an Ironman (and another and another), qualifying for Boston, running Boston. Hello?! I thought I would have to at least reach senior citizen status to have a Boston qualifying time within reach. I've become a better and more efficient runner than I ever thought possible, and I'm not even being conceited. I just kind of thought I sucked. On occasion, someone will ask me how I've managed to improve as much as I have over the years. Really it's a multi-step plan. First, you have to start running and doing races, and then you have to keep it up, no matter what. Then (and this part is key) you have to be a raging alcoholic - like, genetically - and you have to pursue that into the depths of hell. On your slow return from rock bottom, channel all of your obsessive energy and early sobriety angst into your training. Boom - instantly improved running. But whatever, I guess some people aren't willing to work for their PRs. I like to go above and beyond. What can I say? Incidentally, it also helps significantly to get a coach, if possible, after sobering up to rein in your crazy. 

In all seriousness though, I never considered not running. Even in the darkest times, I ran. I ran hungover, I ran drunk, but I ran. The longest I went without was when I was in treatment, which was difficult. It struck me that a lot of people there had a strange assortment of personal items with them, having either packed in a rock bottom haze or had their things packed by a family member who wasn't greatly concerned if their loved one had matching outfits or underwear. I packed myself, and I didn't bring much, but I had running shoes and clothes . . . I'm just saying. I tried to run at first, but we weren't allowed to go outside of a one-block radius. A couple of times I ran around and around and around in circles until it added up to about 3 miles, but the block was so small it was dizzying, the confused staring made me feel awkward, and doing laundry was . . . problematic, so eventually I decided to give it up for the duration of my stay. 

When I got home from treatment, I couldn't wait to get back on my treadmill. My first day back, I ran, and it felt great. It was easy and comfortable. I felt strong and healthy. It wasn't because I was training for something or trying to get anywhere. It was running for the sake of running, for the joy of it, for how it made me feel in the moment. Getting home was great, seeing my family was great, but it was also all a bit scary and stifling, as human interaction can be. The eggshells we were all walking on took time to break down into a new comfort level. But when I laced up and started running that day, I felt free.

I had to decide where to go from there, and I wanted to go everywhere - so many races, so little time. I wanted to push myself to accomplish new challenges and new distances. I wanted to keep chasing and catching that feeling of freedom, to ease the discomfort of learning to live in recovery. I wanted to be the healthiest, fittest, sober-est person in recovery. Because I live in extremes. Since that time, the longest break I've taken from training is . . . not at all. Skipped workouts are not a thing that exists in my world - not even when I had shingles, and I promise you that was a shitty, shitty, painful mistake. And that's not dedication or badassedness or smart, frankly. It's a glaring character defect. Sometimes (a lot of the times) I have trouble recognizing when it's in my best interest to take it down a notch.

Three and a half years and a lot of races later, I'm back to the same question. Where do I go from here? What are my plans for next year? Over and over, I come back with the same answer. I've found myself too many times this year dragging ass out of bed on a long training day and asking myself, "Why am I doing this?" I don't need to do it for fitness. I don't need it to get the meditative and therapeutic benefits I get from running. Those things are critical to maintaining my wellness, but I can get all that from shorter workouts. Long days are about racing, and while I love racing, it's not something I feel compelled to do right now. There was a purpose in racing for me. I never felt like it was a waste of time. I like to set a goal and achieve it. I like to test and push my own limits. In my recovery, I've appreciated the motivation and structure and sense of accomplishment that training and racing has given me, but I feel like the time has come to take a step back. 

There have been reservations in my mind because I think in all or nothings. No racing? But there are so many other races I want to do; I might be able to get a little faster; I haven't even tried an ultra yet! But I'm guessing those races will still be out there in 2016, and some of them will even be willing to take my registration fee. In the meantime, I might get to sleep a little later on weekends, have more adventures with my family before my children realize I'm not cool, spend more time supporting my family and friends at their races, and even learn to be still and not do anything. And of course stepping back from racing doesn't mean I won't be running. I'll just be enjoying the journey for a while. The destination will sort itself out.   


  1. wendy

    you don't have to prove anything to anyone, including yourself. you are a great person and have overcome your demons. don't be afraid to relax and enjoy the spoils of what you've earned in life. you can run just for fun and to stay in shape.

  2. Wendy

    You don't have anything to prove to anyone, including yourself. You are a great person. If you want to relax on the racing, you have earned it. Running casually for exercise will help keep you even keeled and focused. Kudos to you for staying away from alcohol. I have been sober 12.5 yrs and I am not sure I'd be here today if I hadn't quit. It is so nice to get up early on a Sat or Sun with a clear head. I have learned to face life head on, with no reservations and it seems you have as well. Have a great Holliday season.

    your friend, Mark Phlebs

  3. It's funny, but I don't like racing much. I like setting a goal for training, but the actual race? I get tied up in knots for the ones I have big goals for. I've actually started to run a few races without looking at my watch to try to change my mindset and just enjoy the run. But I also want to get over my racing fears and push myself rather than stay in my "safe and comfortable" zones.

    Another blogger friend who is a cyclist and in recovery said (paraphrasing) that he gauges how much his fitness is adding to vs getting in the way of life. He said that alcohol took away from things whereas the right level of exercise makes him a better person. But I guess for us addicts, fining the line of too much and just enough can be tricky.

    At any rate, you seem to be aware that you can sometimes use running as a punishment and if you're not enjoying training, then it does become a form of punishment. I hope you can find the right balance and be joyful in your running :)