I really haven't trained with any direction since last October, when I finished my eighth marathon. This summer, I worked back up to an 11-mile long run and ran a couple of 5Ks for fun - and I didn't feel any urgency to do more. Some months I focused on yoga. Some weeks were busy with wedding planning. Sometimes I just enjoyed not having to slip-slide on icy sidewalks for hours on a Saturday morning or hit the roads at 5:30 a.m. (or earlier) to beat the heat. I took a couple of weeks in the fall completely off from running, and then remembered that I liked leisurely leaf-watching strolls just as much as a run.
Chilly and gray November is a strange time for that motivation to return, but for whatever the reason, here it is. (Maybe because it's too cold for leisurely strolls and I still can barely stand the treadmill!) I've built back up to running around 20 miles per week, and that usually looks like three to four weekday runs of three to five miles plus one weekend run that's ideally a little longer.
If you've stuck around Miles and Laurel through marathon training cycles, you know I love thinking about how lessons learned in running apply to life. Here are the reminders I've picked up this fall:
#1 There are no shortcuts.
Of course it's possible to regain fitness and endurance, but the process sure is gradual. I can't jump back into track workouts and even try to hit the splits I was running back in marathon training or head out for a 16-miler on a whim to see how it goes. The best way to build running endurance is pretty simple. You have to run, and then, a little bit at a time, run a little farther. And if you push and rush that process, your body will fuss, rebel and protest. You have to be patient.
#2 Celebrate successes.
In the midst of all that patience, I do believe firmly in assessments. To be sure, I'm not breaking any personal records, and the days when I used to jot down "easy 18 miles" in my training log feel very (and sometimes very, very) far away. But right now I measure progress in other ways. Sometimes progress means not needing to walk at the top of a hill that had tuckered me out the week before. Sometimes progress is feeling excited to go for a run, instead of assuming it will be a slog. Whenever you can, notice it and be kind to yourself about it instead of lamenting how far other benchmarks may feel. Sometimes on a run (I'm not kidding) I say a tiny "good job" out loud to myself.
Think about what motivates you (or stifles your motivation), then give yourself chances to thrive and have success. For me, it's harder to motivate myself to get out in the dark morning or evening, so I try to run at lunch, even if it means a shorter run than I'd normally be able to do after work. If running in the dark is my only option, I make sure to have my reflective gear and blinky lights. Find what running clothing works best for you, and then have those pieces close by: a hat if it's rainy, your favorite layers for a chilly run. If I'm running inside, I like putting new songs on my iPod. It's motivating for me to see parts of the Twin Cities I don't normally visit outside of running, so last weekend, I picked a route that sent me into a park I haven't been to in ages. It was more fun because of that.
#4 Think about goals.
This can be very firm or very loose, and it depends on what kind of goal you need. Sometimes in my training I've done well with keeping my eye on a very specific goal: an event, finish time, or goal pace. Sometimes (i.e. in all of 2013) I've done better with more flexibility. I'm thinking about long-term goals, but right now, my goal is simply to be consistent: first three runs each week, now four. That helps keep me on track. I'm working my way back to longer long runs, a little bit at a time. That's what works for me right now.
What works for you? What keeps you motivated? What have you learned this fall, and what personal successes have you noticed lately?