by Sam Lev
I’ve been running and racing consistently since I was 13. Even when I decided as a sophomore that collegiate racing was not for me, I continued to train and race as though I was on a team. It’s part of my DNA. For me, running has never been “exercise”. Good physical fitness is a fortunate byproduct of having running goals based on time, place, and effort. And because I can never stay still for long, I’ve always had a goal to strive toward.
This winter, though, I was in a slump. I’ve been through slumps before; usually I can pull myself out through group training, selecting future races to hold me accountable to my training, and realizing that when you’re in the muck, sometimes you just have to be patient and train through it. I have to give a big shout out to RET and all my friends in the Roanoke running community here: You folks keep me motivated, and keep me on my toes. The support of the runners in this city is second to none.
Anyway, back to the slump. I usually love winter running. I love the quiet trails, the long leafless views, and I hate sweating in the summer humidity. I love winter running so much that I plan all of my marathon and ultramarathons in the spring so I get my hard training done in January-March. But this year was different. I was coming off an injury and a couple disappointing fall races, so I was looking to the winter as a time to get back on the horse, get fit, and start racing well again. For some reason, though, the motivation never came. Physically, I felt fine. No injuries, plenty of time in my life to run. But when I stepped out the door for a good track session or a 7 mile run, I would bail and end up with 3-4 miles easy, then back home with no good excuse. I lost my footspeed and felt my endurance slowly draining, setting me further back from my goal of spring 5k racing.
I couldn’t identify what was happening. I wasn’t overworked, over raced, or overtrained, I wasn’t overly stressed, and I certainly didn’t have any physical injuries. I just didn’t feel like training. Heck, I didn’t even feel like running. It look me a long time to realize this though. It was a couple months of ducking workouts and cutting runs short until I finally decided to take a long look at what was happening. I wasn’t getting any faster, I wasn’t really trying that hard, and that was a frustrating double-whammy.
I came to the decision to take a little time off, maybe I just needed a short mental break. So I took a week completely off of running. This isn’t unpresented. High school and collegiate training often has 1-2 week breaks between seasons to help reset. One week, then two weeks passed. I told myself it was time to get back to training, so I planned to run early one morning. When I woke up, it was raining. Usually this doesn’t bother me, but on this day it was a non-starter. That day, after some soul searching, I decided that I wouldn’t try to run until I truly felt motivated.
Flash forward to today. It’s been 7 weeks since I first took time off, and I’ve been back running for a week. 6 weeks is three times longer than I’ve ever been away from running, including injuries. In that time, I’ve been doing two things I never thought I’d do: played basketball and lifted weights. I’m awful at both, but enjoying the journey. Physically, I feel great. And as the weather has warmed, as the flowers start to bloom, I’ve started to get the itch to start running again. I’m looking at races in the summer, and for the first time in months I’m fired up. I’m scared of the fitness I’ve lost, that I’ve built up over 18 years of consistent racing and training, but I’m confident that I’ll find it again quickly.
It’s pretty easy to call this a burnout. But this is a concept that’s new to me, and I’m still grappling with what exactly it means, why it happened, and what will happen on the other side. I have to admit, though, that I’m not sad it happened. I vow to be more perceptive about my training and notice when I need a reset or a motivator. I’ll look more closely at my goals and the specific steps I take to meet them. But importantly, I won’t be afraid to take a break and try new things. I think I’m just a little late in the start of my career as a professional basketball player.