As a runner, you are constantly defined by your efforts and results. One of the more addictive qualities of training is that you can trace your improvement along a pretty linear path. Especially when you're first starting out, it seems that a greater effort will always yield a greater result. This simple logic holds true, sometimes for years on end, but there comes a point where it can become counterproductive. Sometimes it seems that you're pouring forth more effort than you have before yet you're stuck treading water trying to keep your head above it.
But how do you break out of the cycle?
To not try is simply not in the nature of those of us who have lived our lives a hundred miles at a time. Thinking we can simply will our way back to where we want to be is a maddening path to take, yet it seems to be the only one us Monday morning masochists seem to know. Often, we find a certain comfort in the effort despite the result (Well, no one can say I didn't try, right?) Looking back now though, I find this approach to be ultimately misguided and unsustainable.
With running, or really any endeavor, you're constantly moving in a cycle of disappointment and rededication. Over the years, you have no choice but to up the ante if you want to see anything come of it. It can become an all or nothing sort of affair-either get fast again or lose your mind trying. It can seem downright hopeless at times, but there are a few things that I believe can be incredibly valuable when trying to cross these bridges.
A GOOD COACH
When you're stuck banging your head against a wall, the outside perspective of a coach can be a godsend. Runners can be incredibly insecure about things like taking a day off or skipping a workout, so having someone else there to help you make that call is crucial. It always amazed me during my brief time in coaching how many athletes would come into the office and describe their scenario knowing full well that the answer was to step back for a moment. Most of the time these were incredibly cut and dry situations, yet they needed someone else to pull that trigger. Instead of blindly thinking that doing more is always the answer, ask yourself this: What is the best thing I can do for my running today?
There is no such thing as quitting in running. You may think there is, but something will always pull you back. Try not to look at it as so do or die. We're all on the verge of our next comeback, be it the conference meet or a local fun run. Don't think for a second that you're going to get over an injury or that somehow you've turned a corner. Even if you manage to find your stride again, your next setback is lurking around the bend. All you can do is be mindful of this and appreciate the times when things look as if they'll never stop going your way. The game is less about not getting hurt and more about properly managing yourself when you do.
Know that at your lowest moments, there's someone around that's probably been through something similar if not worse. When you think you'll never see the light again, look around the locker room and take confidence in the fact that almost everyone in there has been through disappointment and has come out of it just fine. In fact, they're probably eager to share their experiences and help you find ways to better approach your recovery. Don't be afraid to learn from those around you.
Have faith in your abilities. Talent does not go away. Also, don't forget that you are more than just a runner. Having some balance in your life is just as important as being a dedicated athlete. Experiencing a bit of the real world can be a nice way to take your mind off of things and make you appreciate your time out on the trail all the more.