When did you first become a runner, in your teens, maybe your 20s or even your 40s? At the time age was irrelevant, because you were new to the sport and excited by your progress, first came the fitness, then the muscles got stronger followed by an increase in speed and the ability to maintain this for a reasonable distance.
This was when things got serious, and the focus was on getting faster over your chosen distances, and for several years this happened, as you enjoyed the excitement of racing against others and endeavouring to improve your position in the pack. This improvement in performance can have plateaus along the way, where times remain constant for a while, and then some change in training or mindset allows a few seconds to come off, and we advance a few places closer to the front, which in turn gives us a great sense of achievement and the incentive to look for more effective ways to build on this result.
Now at some stage in our running career, life can get in the way, be it a new job, raising a family, or even the unthinkable, a running injury, all of which can result in a reduction in training, or even abandoning running for a while. Even if we substitute with gym classes or workouts or some other form of exercise program, if the layoff is for a reasonable time we will not retain running fitness, so when we return to our sport of choice we will inevitably have to rebuild. As we start to get back to racing again we may realise we cannot achieve the levels attained earlier and we have to accept that we are now slower than before. At this point it is time for a reality check and some definite reassessment of our future focus, sure we could get all upset and quit but there are so many more options available to us.
The first stage in our transformation is acceptance, not an easy task, followed by taking that ego, you know the one that says we’re not good enough, and kicking it out the window, and when we feel we have taken care of that, then we can really sit down and look at our options and these are many and varied. If your running has been over distances up to half marathons then the switch could be to regular 5km runs such as parkrun where you run for a time and you are graded in 5 year age groups or you could make the move to the marathon where the focus is on stamina and just finishing gives you hero status. For those who have already been running marathons then the alternative could be ultras with a need for mental strength and endurance or you could go all the way and take on some trail ultras where even if you come in last, people will be there cheering for you just because you made it to the finish line no matter how long it takes you. Though in my case I have to make sure I can beat the race cut off time and fortunately I haven’t lost yet.
So once you have stopped judging your performance, and comparing yourself to others, you can make time a lower priority, and start aiming at personal achievements that make you feel good and reinforce your love of running for the fun of it, running for the adventure, running for the challenge, and hanging out with those wonderful crazy people who don’t care what kind of car you drive or house you live in because there is no distinction between those at the front of the pack and those at the back, all are accepted as equal because they are runners. I have had an experience of this in the past where I ran one of my early marathons and later was talking to the winner who finished in around 2:16, when he asked how I had gone I answered that I had run a personal best of 3:19, at which point he took my hand and shook it and said, man you must be so proud. A classic example of the humility of runners who want to see everyone perform to their own ability. It’s who we are.