What Not Running Taught Me About Running with Coach Tyler Sprague

For many of us, running is tightly interwoven with our identities. Without it, it can be easy to lose our sense of self and everything else may feel like it’s starting to come apart at the seams. Even the routine of running, the rhythm of the day, and the exertion that helps us fall asleep at night can come to be habit forming. This enmeshment often goes unnoticed, until we no longer can or choose to run. This year has not exactly been my best, running-wise. Between moving to a new place in the middle of the country with a lot less trails, hills, and community, battling endless dark, wintry days, a mystifyingly lackluster training block that culminated in my goal race being cancelled, and of course the ubiquitous lockdowns, it just felt like nothing was going my way. With 2020 races falling like dominoes, the landscape of our sport was changing before my eyes. Eventually, all these factors converged and it became too much; I lost the will to run. I didn’t want to log in to Strava, I didn’t want to see people running (happily) on Instagram, and I certainly didn’t feel like lacing up my shoes for the sake of checking a box on my training log.

What I Learned

  • When I finally threw in the towel, it felt like a crushing but inevitable defeat of my willpower by larger conspiring forces. Don’t let it get to that point! If you start to notice a lack of mojo in your running or life, commit to an honest assessment of how you spend your time, and evaluate if you’re still getting out what you put in. Our hobbies and passions should feel rewarding; we don’t have to be slaves to them!
  • It’s okay to give running a rest if you’re not enjoying it anymore, even if everyone else seems to be having fun and their training is going well. Don’t feel guilty that you’re not. We all feel like this at times and it’s natural to experience fluctuations in interest and energy. Just don’t keep banging your proverbial head against the wall. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.
  • A reset can be a net benefit for you and the health of your relationship to the sport. The lost fitness or time will be marginal and the boost to emotional wellbeing and motivation and drive will pay dividends down the road in terms of longevity and positive attitude. Sowing a small concession now can mean reaping a large reward later! It’s important to stay grateful and remeber why you run in the first place, which leads me to the next point:
  • Running is not all all about competition and racing; it’s typically a deeply personal, solo endeavor for most. If you feel inspired to virtually race and connect with the larger online community, by all means do, but don’t feel pressured to. I was not. FKTs and the like can be great, especially as many of us found ourselves in or near peak condition when races started dropping like flies, but it’s also okay to acknowledge that you’ve lost your appetite!
  • Time not running can be spent doing other things. You may find or rediscover a long-lost friend; for me it was drawing. I used to love art, but over the years, serious training left me chronically fatigued and chipped away at my other hobbies. I was reminded that it takes diligence to keep them alive and juggle with one so physically demanding as running.
  • Allowing your energy to be fully restored can also be great for hormonal health and balancing biorhythms and cycles like sleep or meal times. The longer days right now lend themselves to excellent naps! Outdoor movement and other activities like cycling, climbing, or swimming are always fun and can help diversify our time and exercise; this hedges bets against future burnout and is one of the most significant benefits of cross training. If you do decide to let running take a backseat to the rest of life for awhile, you may be surprised to find how much time in the day there actually is for family, kids, cooking, or nurturing other pursuits and passions.
  • If and when you do run, it can be for different reasons than usual. I’m normally a pretty solitary runner, but have experimented of late with more social runs. This can place you in settings or with people you wouldn’t normally run with due to differences in fitness or training plans not synching up. Maybe you have “non-runner” friends who are interested in trying it out, or maybe people in your local running community or family that look up to you. Do it for them.

The Path Forward

I don’t want to make it sound like I hung up my shoes and got real cozy with the couch; I didn’t. All told, I ended up putting down structured training for about 4 weeks. I still ran, between 22-35 miles per week, although it didn’t feel like it with how many rest days I allowed myself. At first, it felt like I was allowing my work ethic and moral fiber to decay, but soon I settled into my new gentle, organic flow. Most days I still ran or did some calisthenics outside, but if I hadn’t gotten around to it yet by the time dinner rolled around, I didn’t stress or try to cram a run in. With a relaxed grip on the need to run daily, I stopped considering my weekly mileage, with very little thought to forward progress, Strava, or fitness; just my holistic wellness.

Having the time and space to stop being so wrapped up in one thing and let life happen was such a gift that I’m so glad I was able to give myself. Now, I am renewed and feeling like I’m in a much better place with a newfound appreciation for what running does for me, and also what I should not expect it to do for me. It is not a measure of your self worth or a tool for comparison to others; it is a cherished gift! If you find yourself in a similar straits, ease back, look around, take a moment and a few breaths, and ask yourself — just maybe, would you like to not run today?

Tyler Sprague is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Tyler, check out his coaching page.

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Photo: @runnerteri