Metaphorically speaking, of course. Technically, I never fell completely off, but lately I've been pushing my limits--maybe I'm still dangling from the stirrup? Whatever it was, I probably needed to get back track, and SOON, before I lost my nerve!
What I'm talking about is the recovery from the Frostbite Festival 10 mile race. There's this period after a race that you pushed farther than previous. We needed to adjust our training to allow ourselves to recover from the race without completely falling off course. We hadn't experienced this need to recover before, mentally or physically.
Physically, I wasn't too bad. I was very tired that day after the race, and I suffered some stomach issues that I still don't know if it was race-related, something I ate, or maybe that stomach flu going around. I had little aches and pains here and there, a little overall fatigue, but mostly, I felt good. It felt good to reach a new milestone--literally.
Mentally, it was a little different story. Up until that day, we had been preparing for a race, that one, and the others that preceded it. We had discussed taking a little "break" through the remainder of December. Still running, but not training like we have been. This was a hard mental adjustment. First, I was totally fine with taking time off of training, however, I started feeling like a big slacker. For months, I was focused on a goal, and I'm a very goal oriented person. Now our next goal was so far away and we're taking time off of focused training, I didn't know how to handle it in my head.
With it still being very dark, cold and icy conditions, I ran a few evenings on the treadmill. It was horribly boring as usual, but it didn't seem any harder than usual. Within the two weeks following the race, I had only logged in about 15 treadmill miles! Not acceptable, but I told myself that I would focus on training for the half marathon after the holidays were over. As each day passed, the idea of not running got easier and easier. I skipped treadmill workouts or cut them short with very little guilt.
When it came time to the first weekend run with Shane, we decided on five miles. It's amazing how quickly that little voice in my head gains new strength when I haven't been training. Before the run even began, I was concerned about how I would do or feel during the run. My insecurities crept up on me. When we started our run, I could feel that the ease that I had before the Frostbite Festival was not there. My legs felt a little weird, and my breathing and the sound of my feet on the pavement were nearly unfamiliar to me.
I was feeling a little strain on my legs and lungs when the GPS alarm let us know that we hit a mile. I was afraid to ask Shane what our pace was. If we were slower, then I would be shocked at how my body was reacting. If we were fast, I would start freaking out about burning out too soon. It was a no-win situation in my head. Finally, I asked. We ran the first mile in 9:16. My head immediately started throwing doubts at me. It told me that I couldn't sustain it. It told me I couldn't do it. It told me I would never make it. I pushed forward anyways, but intentionally slowed the pace. I should have never asked. I would have been better not knowing. Ignorance is bliss, they say.
About half way in the run, Shane asked me how I was doing. I told him I was okay, but I was battling my head demons and feeling overall fatigue. My legs felt like I was wearing ankle weights! It had been a while since I'd had a bad run, I nearly forgot what it was like. I had really enjoyed almost every single outdoor run in the weeks prior to the Frostbite Festival. So, Shane and I started talking. The conversation helped the little voice in my head shut up.
I realize that I talk a lot about the voices in my head. When I talk about it, I'm not literally hearing a voice telling me these things. When I write about the voice, it is representing my self-doubt that I have struggled with most of my life. There were very few things in life that I felt that I could do no wrong. Almost everything else, I told myself, I couldn't be good enough. I commonly used that to force myself to step up. However, I also used it avoid failure by not trying something in the first place. I'm not crazy (most of the time), I assure you. We all have those little voices in our heads, it's part of our conscience and our thought processes. I just choose to give it a very distinct voice when I write about it.
If I didn't think about it too much, the run got much easier. My legs didn't feel as heavy, and my breathing was smoothing out. Before I knew it, we were near the end of our run. We went a little past five miles and slowed to a walk. It felt good to slow down, but it also felt good to run again.
I realize there is a balance that can be achieved. I can allow myself time off of training, but I need to keep moving somehow in the meantime. In these darkest days of the year, I will have forgiveness of my horrible (non) training schedule. It's okay. I'm not training for Olympic time trials, I'm just enjoying the run. It's much better that way.