After my ultra marathon, I took an (almost) 2 month break from running. I did cycle during that time, but did't run at all. During the first week of February, I was so excited to hit the pavement again. I ran 3 miles, and was surprised that the pain in my left hip-flexor was slightly still there. After my second 3 miles a few days later, I was limping that later that evening. And after my third 3 miles, students were asking me the next day if I was okay.
Coming to terms with the fact that I couldn't even do 3 miles without pain and realizing that I had to back out of the Ragnar Relay was really defeating. My identity is so closely tied to running...and the thought of not getting back out there for those long conversations with my friends was really upsetting. I wouldn't be loosing friendships per say, but I would be loosing quality time with running friends that I enjoyed.
But, did I really ever enjoy my long runs? I have to say - never. After the fact, sure ... if only for the fact that it was done. Like anytime a negative stimulus is removed, you appreciate the fact it is gone. I often dreaded my long runs for a few days before, and was wiped out after. Not just physically exhausted - but physically as well. I have to say, I'm not much of a conversationalist the day of any long run over 14 miles.
At what point does the cost outweigh the benefit? Even if I get myself to a point where I have no injuries and no pain while running (I will get there - I just need a little more time off and possibly some physical therapy) do I want to continue my long runs? No.
In examining what I love about running, and why I want to keep it in my life I have:
- Mood boost
- Reduction in stress
- Fitness level
- Probably more reasons I'm not thinking of right now
But, I get all of that with a 3 mile run! My mood isn't elevated more after a long run that lasts 3-4 hours! In fact, it's the opposite. I'm tired, wiped out, and don't want to do anything. And, as I look toward the future and having a family some day, I can see myself taking 4 hours for a run, heck I could even push a kid in the stroller...but what I cannot imagine is being laid up on the couch the rest of the day, vegging out and not even wanting to interact, cook dinner or do laundry!
And then there's those darn free radicals. When you're taxing your body that much, you do produce free radicals. Free radicals are what cause cellular damage. Cellular damage is what causes cancer. It's one of the reasons distance runners can have compromised immune systems and are supposed to eat anti-oxidant rich foods. Is it really worth the risk? For me, no.
I went to a Sports Medicine doctor earlier this week. He said I need a little more recovery time to heal my chronically inflamed hip-flexors, possible some physical therapy and adoption of a slightly different running style (barefoot). But when I mentioned the above concerns - including cellular damage, he said that I would be hard pressed to find a doctor that agrees that distance running is the key to physical fitness. He said there are more efficient ways to utilize my time and become a more fit, well rounded athlete. And of course this can include running - speed workouts are especially beneficial!
And so, I plan to shift my focus. Running will still be an integral part of my life...it just won't be the all-consuming, time-sinking 'distance' running that I never really liked to begin with. Once I'm fully healed, I plan to start doing speed training, which energizes me and gives me the biggest mood-boost of all, combined with running 3-5 miles more frequently. Signing up for events and races helps hold me accountable and makes me train, so I'll still do that. It's just that for now, they will be the much more manageable 1/2 marathons.