When running is not racing

“I didn’t run a marathon this year.” Sometimes I catch myself saying this whenever I’m browsing through race photos on Instagram. Despite the grueling ultra-marathon training I did at the beginning of 2019, it didn’t feel like I’ve been running this year. Because I wasn’t racing.

In fact, I did run three marathons this year. Twice in March while training for the Texel Ultra, and one during the Texel Ultra in April. I just don’t have the medals to show for it (does Garmin records count?). I did not finish (DNF) Texel so it didn’t feel like a running achievement.

I guess that’s how social media changes our perspective on things. We search for validity in likes and comments. We conveniently forget that hard work (in this case training for a 60km) is already an achievement in itself. Instead we depend on others to give us the recognition that we deserve just because we don’t have a regular entry for #medalmonday.

Short distances are not for me. I did the Zevenheuvelen as an entry to races and the Bruggenloop (never again) as training for the Rotterdam Marathon, but I’ve never run 5k’s or 10k’s, not even a half marathon. I don’t collect medals and I’m more of the “go big or go home” person. I don’t like the stress of driving to the race location, arranging logistics on race day, and fighting for space on the road with thousands of runners just for a piece of metal that I might actually throw away later on. Now that I’m a mother, logging training hours  means precious moments away from my child, so I want to make every minute count.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking down on short distance races. I just think that there are more to gain training for longer distances like marathons and ultra-marathons. More than the satisfaction of finishing, it’s really the journey that matters.

For an average runner (excluding fanatics chasing the under the 3-hour dream) a 10-mile or a half marathon race would perhaps require two months of training. A marathon however requires an entire shift of lifestyle especially for a mother who also had to juggle family, work and social life. Marathons require at least 12 weeks, sometimes even up to 4-5 months of training. It just not about the running. It demands time, dedication and discipline, in training hours and in other areas of your life including diet, sleep and stress management. You take one out of that equation and you’re sure to ruin your marathon goals.

That’s what I miss about my marathon trainings, the baby-like schedule, like clockwork week in, week out.  When I stopped in May, I threw the routine out the window, including proper diet and enough sleep. But it was summer and I was happy letting go of my rigid routine for binge eating on Dunkin Donuts, lazy days on the couch, bit more beer and wine than allowed and lots of playtime under the sun with my daughter.

That’s not saying I let go completely. I laced up my running shoes during a weekend trip in Mechelen, did a slow 5k on a mountain in Norway and while on a business trip in Riga. And you know what? That’s where I found the most joy in running, enjoying the pace rather than chasing it.

Because honestly, no matter how good it feels, marathon training is hard work. It’s a never ending struggle of going after our best performance. It demands so much that it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re actually doing it.

I’m slowly easing back to a marathon training routine, running at least twice a week. I’m building it up to 3x per week, alternating with Yoga and Pilates for strength training. I haven’t sign up for a race but that’s quite the easy part. For now, I’m running, and I’m training without the pressure of racing. And I hope to be reaping all the benefits without the stress of chasing after my best performance (or a post for #medalmonday). At least not yet.