I've set a lot of goals for myself during my running career: finish a half-marathon, finish a marathon, run 100 miles in a month. But one goal that's remained consistent year after year and race after race is to get faster.
It's a pretty common goal among runners at any level. Once you've gotten passed the initial "I'm going to finish" hump, the reasonable next step is to get faster. Throughout the past eight years, I've been able to see this particular goal through pretty well. I've slowly but surely seen my pace per mile go lower and lower. I've finished races in times that, while they're not breaking any records by any stretch of the imagination, are faster than I thought possible when I could barely finish my first 5K.
I finally hit my stride about a year ago. I was training for my third marathon and running almost six days a week. If I wasn't at work, eating, or sleeping, I was running. My training was benefiting from it immensely. I was faster, I felt stronger, and ultimately, I hit my marathon time goal. But all of that has changed this year. Although I still run and still find joy in my sport, my pace simply is not what it once was. Race times that I easily hit a year ago are likely out of reach now. And yet, somehow, I'm OK with it. In fact, I've come to realize that my training times are a lot different this year because my life is a lot different this year.
I've accepted that physically, I've pushed my body so much over the past few years that it's perfectly reasonable and natural to hit a plateau. In fact, it's expected! Now, I'm using my training time to experiment with new workouts entirely. I may be less consistent with my weekly runs, but I'm still pushing my body with at-home workouts, by stretching and Spinning. I'm training smarter, I'm avoiding injury, and I'm having fun. I'm seeing my hard work pay off in different — yet equally rewarding — ways.
Ultimately, just as I'm a different athlete from who I was when I even began running, I'm a different person now. After reflecting upon my headspace during my entire previous year of training, I realized I wasn't allowing myself to focus on anything but running. Any difficult times at work or in my personal life were simply ignored and replaced with a run.
Today, running never takes the place of anything in my life. It's simply a part of it. From the way I feel in a new pair of running sneakers — I'm personally eyeing the new UA HOVR™ Phantom/SE HL Iridescent Shoes ($150) to take my training up a notch — to the sheer enjoyment I get from a casual run in my neighborhood spent looking at the local murals, my current training looks a lot different these days. It may not be very fast, but it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Because really, being fast doesn't seem as important when I'm running toward so many goals ahead of me.