An Experiment of One

After dealing with a recurring illness last winter and again in the spring, I started making some tweaks to my health focus– I worked with a nutritionist to adjust my dietary habits and strengthen my immune system, in addition to building more rest days into my schedule and trying to get more sleep in general.

With the changes I made, I was feeling better and staying healthy … right up until I hit around 11-12 miles in my recent training runs. It was deja vu: I ran my November half-marathon while sick as a dog and taking antibiotics that were making me incredibly nauseous, and just pushed my way through it while feeling awful. Then I ran my April half-marathon while on antibiotics as well, and had such a hard time recovering from that one that I ended up taking off most of May and June, and didn’t finish my last round of antibiotics until early July.

This time, when I got sick again at the beginning of October — after running two 10-milers a week apart — I threw in the towel. On the day I was scheduled to run 11 miles (training for the Runner’s World Half-Marathon), I talked about my doubts with my running buddies, weighing the pros and cons of continuing to push myself. I made it to just past four miles when I stopped, looked at them and said, “I’m turning back. This is dumb.”

There’s perseverance, and then there’s blind stubbornness. I finally reached the point at which I was no longer willing to continue pushing my body while it was trying to handle an illness, and I wasn’t willing to run another half-marathon that left me feeling awful.

In my search for improved health, there are still a couple things I haven’t really, significantly and consistently changed:

  • I still don’t get as much sleep as I should;
  • I haven’t cut back on running; if anything, I dialed it up in an attempt to “make up” for the time I “lost” when I was sick earlier in the season.

A while ago, my nutritionist tentatively suggested to me that maybe, just maybe, distance running wasn’t the best thing for me– that my body was just going to keep breaking down if I continued pushing for those distances. She suggested limiting myself to short runs and branching out into other activities. I scoffed at that– I mean, if distance running was so hard, wouldn’t tons of people be having these experiences? Road running has been one of the fastest-growing pastimes in the US for the past few years, but I’m not hearing stories like this from anyone else. I scoffed, also, because I simply did not want to hear what she was saying; I’ve been addicted to running and, in my mind, that meant distance. I love the euphoria of running, the challenge of pushing myself to go further, the energy of the crowds at big races and, most importantly, training with my running crew, which is specifically focused on training for half- and full-marathon distances. What would I do if I wasn’t distance training?

But whether or not I wanted to hear it then, I’ve come to realize that, if nothing else, it’s worth trying a change to see if it makes a difference. I am an experiment of one; if I’m willing to tweak my dietary habits (first with eating Primal, then with the Whole30), why not my fitness habits?

After deciding to sit out the Runner’s World Half, and spending a couple weeks thinking about it and sharing my thoughts with a few close people, I’ve decided that I’m taking twelve months “off” from distance running. I’m not giving up on running; but, for the next year, I plan to run a little less frequently, and overall less distance. My current basic outline is a couple runs during the week, maybe 2-3 miles each, and a run over the weekend of anywhere from 3-6 miles at maximum. If I feel like a short run, I’ll take a shorter run.

I’m planning to work more cross-training into my winter plans, including logging some time on my bike on the indoor trainer, and working on overall strength with body-weight exercises (my favorite program is You Are Your Own Gym). I’ve signed up for a weekly yoga class; I haven’t done yoga regularly in a while, and I’m missing it.

I had some moments during the Runner’s World Half where I was actually a little choked-up– especially when the runners started pouring across that start line, and I saw my happy, excited friends (and then lost them in the crowd) and again, as they triumphantly crossed the finish line. But I’m already finding ways to combat that sense of loss; I took my bike with me to Bethlehem, met up with another cycling friend whose wife was also running, and the two of us zipped around the course to pop up at various places and cheer for folks, then we sped off to the finish line to cheer for them as they crossed that line. We had fun riding together, and I got to cheer for both my friends and for a whole bunch of random strangers who were out there, kicking their own butts up and down the hills of Bethlehem.

Not to mention, all the time that would have been eaten up with long-distance runs (and post-run naps) can now be used for other fun activities, like hiking and whatever else I can think of. (Perhaps even sleeping in late!)

I’m not planning to spend a lot more time sitting on my butt (unless there’s a yoga pose that calls for that); the goal is to get less high-impact activity and a wider variety of it, and to get significantly more sleep.

And I think the sleep part needs to start right now!