I think I figured out why I've been in a running funk lately.
It all started when I decided that I wanted to qualify for the National Half-Marathon. Ever since, I've made it my goal that I HAVE to hit that 31 minute 5k qualifying time.
The problem is, a 31 minute 5k time was not my goal. Matter of fact, as soon as I found about about the National Half, I replaced my 32:30 5k goal with 31, and instead of being happy with my 31:46 time that blew MY goal out of the water, I was disappointed. I pretty much missed the excitement that comes with a PR. Same with the most recent 31:20.
Problem 2 is that I replaced my usual goals, which I am usually happy to meet in a roundabout way, with a HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO. Take the Flying Pig 10k, for example. My goal was an 11:30 pace, which would have been 1:11:18. Instead, it was 1:11:44. I was still ecstatic. A handful of seconds didn't matter, I was right in my goal range. I took away that goal range with my eye on that 31, so that it didn't matter that I ran at a pace barely over a 10-minute-mile, which used to be an amazing feat. Anything over was NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
And that's why, for the majority of the race yesterday, I Did. Not. Have. Fun. I usually smile for cameras at races; last night, I couldn't do it. I told myself I was focused. Really, I was a little bit miserable. It wasn't torture exactly, but it wasn't fun. And that's because I was pushing myself for a time that yes, I know I can hit, but I also know that to hit it I have to pretty much be running at my 100% best that I can possibly do. That's too much pressure.
So today, I decided to nix that goal and remember why running is fun. If I forget that, I'll quit and never do it again. I ran 6 miles on the bike trail and ran at a comfy pace. It was a workout, but it wasn't at the level where I feel like I HAVE to be faster and push myself to near-keeling-over levels.
I noticed a vast difference. I didn't feel the need to check my watch every 2 minutes. (I did check to see my time at every mile, but more as an informational thing.) I didn't feel the need to continuously skip songs on my ipod, looking for something faster or more motivational or more angry. I managed to zone out and forget that I was running. I didn't have to tell myself silly things like, "If you run faster, this will be over sooner!" I noticed people and dogs and trees and leaves and I smiled and waved at people, and I noticed the people who were apparently using so much energy that they didn't have any left to smile and wave back at me.
And as a result, I feel great. That run was FUN. And you know what, my time wasn't too shabby at all - 1:05:15. (10:52 pace.) My first mile was 10:37 so I was fairly steady. No walking at all.
And I need to recognize myself a little here, because I've missed some details lately in my strongerbetterfaster quest. It wasn't that long ago - maybe 6 months or so - that I ran my first 10 minute mile, and that was because I forced myself to do it on the treadmill. When I first started running, a 13 minute mile was a comfy pace. At the beginning of the year, I could not run 5 miles at a 12 minute mile pace. A 10 minute mile used to seem seriously fast. And now...look at me. :)
I am well aware that there are people out there who don't run and then train for 3 months and run a 5k faster than I've ever ran one. I am well aware that a 10 minute mile is slow to some. I am also well aware that some people are born with natural athletic ability and a long, lean, willowy runner's build and I do not have much of either. Until I was 27, I had never ran a mile in my life - when we had to run one in gym class, I'd walk most of it. What I have to do is run for me, and stop comparing other people's times to know if I'm fast or slow or if I'm really ok. What I really have to do, and what we all have to do regardless of athleticism or speed or shape or size, is get out there and do it and enjoy it. The speed will come in time - I know this because it has.
So this is a reminder to myself: no more forcing goals upon myself that aren't mine. No more trying to force myself to go so fast that I'm not having fun and am making my body do more than it's ready to do and hurt in ways that aren't pleasant. I have enough stress in my life that running needs to be my NON stressful thing. If I qualify for some race, awesome. If not, there are plenty of other ones that I can enter anyway.
Two other things I want to do to remind myself that running is fun: run in the Run Like Hell, in costume, with other people in costume, and laugh at everyone's costumes and enjoy it and forget about the time. Also, I'm trying to volunteer for Girls on the Run as a running buddy for an elementary-aged girl running in a 5k - to run with her and cheer her on. I'm enormously excited about these two things. Will keep you all posted.