For the past seven years, I have called myself a runner. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but I can't really remember not being a runner. I've been blessed to have avoided any major injury along the way, but I've also experienced my fair share of burnout and fatigue from years of long distance racing.
For the last three years, I have called myself an ultrarunner. I started this blog to document my journey to ultras and everything that happened along the way. I ate, slept, and breathed ultrarunning, and began defining myself by the distances I could run. I felt invigorated by the simple pleasure of running dozens of miles at once in the woods. Ultrarunning brought me a new challenge and sense of pride that I'd never experienced, and I basked in the glory of finishing each long race.
After DNF'ing at mile 39 at the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June, I took some time off from running to relieve the familiar feeling of training burnout. Over the past six months, I've slowly but surely pieced my shattered ego back together by racing 5ks and 10ks, and placing in nearly every race. I waited to feel the surge of desire that would ultimately spring me back into long distance racing. And I'm still waiting.
The funny part about not running long distances is how happy and relaxed I've been, despite dealing with many life stressors over the last several months, including buying and moving into a new home, and switching teams and territories at work. For the last several years, I turned to long running as a way to deal with a lot of things, including anxiety and depression after my brother passed away in 2008. But long running also allowed me realize my goals and build confidence, helping me develop into a more outgoing and fearless individual. The longer I ran, the more confident I became in myself. I feared that when I stopped running long, the old anxieties and fears that I struggled with would creep their way back into my life.
But as the weeks go by, I find myself running less frequent, shorter distances than in the past few years. And though those old fears and anxieties still creep in from time to time, instead of running back-to-back long runs each weekend, I find myself reveling in the pleasures of being still—reading more, sleeping more, and spending more time with my family. And when I want to run, 3 or 4 times a week, I'll lace up my shoes and head to the trails only a quarter mile from my front door.
The best part is, my fitness hasn't plummeted as I expected, and I haven't lost my identity as a runner. I'm seconds away from a new personal record in the 5k, and taking my sweet time to get there. The thought of a spring marathon has crossed my mind a few times, but no race has actually inspired me enough to pull the trigger on a race registration. This leaves me with a blank slate for 2016 and I'm pretty pumped about that.
Which brings me to the thing I'm most excited about right now. Since moving to my new house, I've been running on all the local trails in my neighborhood, and wondering why there was no trail running group to join. So, I started one myself! The Pennypack Trail Runners had our first run last Saturday, December 5th, and it was a huge success! I am so excited that 11 other runners came out to join me for a run around some of my favorite trails. We meet every Saturday at Pennypack Park, and venture into the trails of Pennypack and Lorimer Parks for 3-6 mile runs. If you're interested in finding out more, click on our Facebook page to see upcoming runs.
Finally, if you're feeling like you NEED to sign up for a marathon, ultra, or Ironman right now, when it seems like everyone and their mother is doing it, take a moment to reflect on whether you have the real time or desire to put in the training necessary to do your best on race day. The races will always be there for the taking, when you're mentally and physically prepared. I'm definitely not trying to discourage or discount long running, because I know I'll be back there someday soon when I'm ready. But take it from me, it's pretty amazing on the other side, embracing the beauty of the short run.