Running Should Not Be a Source of Stress: Why I’m Pulling the Plug on My Fall Ultra

I have a hard time backing out of something I’ve decided to do. As far as I can recall, I’ve only once missed a race that I signed up to run. It was the 2011 Manchester Half Marathon, and I opted to skip it because I strained my back a week or so beforehand while picking something up off of the floor. I was virtually immobilized for a few days, so it was a valid excuse I suppose.

For the past few weeks I’ve been stressed out about my training. I had registered to run the Vermont 50K at the end of this month, and it was the only race on my Fall schedule. My experience training for my Spring marathon this year wasn’t all that great, and I thought that training for another ultra might make for nice change and a different kind of challenge (I’ve completed one 50K previously, but I didn’t really approach it as a race). It hasn’t turned out that way.

The past six months have been crazy for me. Since leaving my old job in May I’ve been traveling around New England almost non-stop. I think there’s only been a single 2-week stretch since May that I haven’t been on a trip of some sort. As a result, my training has been erratic. Very erratic. Some weeks I’ll nail the workouts that Caleb sends and hit 40 miles or more, other weeks I may not even break 10-15.

The month of August was a perfect example of my training life of late. I had a great week of training at the beginning of August, but then had a bit of quad/knee pain followed by a lingering bout with a GI bug. At the same time I was setting up my new office and trying to figure out how to structure my new job. My running momentum was shot. This past weekend I was camping up in the North country of NH with my family, and we’ve been transitioning my youngest son into preschool (it has not been easy!). Now only about 3.5 weeks out from the race I find myself having not run longer than 14 miles in a single run since my May marathon. I’ve managed a max of only 10 miles on trails, and it kicked my butt (road fitness and trail fitness are not the same!).

Needless to say, I’m feeling woefully undertrained to handle a trail 50K. I know that I could run the race and probably complete it, but it would probably wind up being a death-march at the end if I tried to race it (which, knowing me, is what most likely would happen). It would probably also take me a month or so to fully recover (about 4 weeks is my typical post-marathon recovery period). I have a lot of friends who are going to be at the VT50, and it would be great to hang out, but I’m also craving some semblance of stability and routine at home and another weekend away isn’t going to help with that (I turned down a chance to run Reach the Beach this year for the same reason – too many weekends away from home lately).

One of the reasons I decided to leave my old job was to eliminate all of the unnecessary stress that came along with it. With that accomplished, the last thing I want is for running to become a new source of stress. I don’t want to feel like I’ve let myself down by not being able to get a workout in. I don’t want to feel like I should struggle to fit in a long run while away on vacation with my family. I want to run because it helps me to burn off stress, not create it.

I emailed Caleb with my thoughts about dropping the race, and his response was:

“I think you should run what you will have the most fun running. Here’s the thing: Running should be fun, not a chore. Choose what excites you, and we’ll put together the best training possible for it.”

Wise advice, and it’s why I respect Caleb as a coach. My wife had been telling me the same thing for a few weeks, but we all know that advice from a spouse requires independent confirmation.

I want running to be fun, and cramming workouts into an already crazy schedule has not been fun. What’s more, running long has felt like a chore. I don’t get excited about running 15+ miles alone on Sundays (dread is a better word…), and that should tell me something. I need some down time with my family on weekends, and focusing on shorter races for the time being would allow that. I still want to work hard, but I’ll trade hill repeats or a track workout for a 20 mile run any day.

So, I’ve decided to pull the plug and back out of the VT50K. Just writing that last sentence has a calming effect, though I do still feel a bit guilty about it, like I’ve let myself down. Maybe I’ll try again when I know I can do the training required to respect the race, we’ll see.

As a fallback, I may run the Manchester Half Marathon instead – I’m plenty trained for a half on the hills and I might actually be able to pull out a decent race. A few 5K’s might also be in order. But, more than anything I just want to run for fun and for fitness, and to settle comfortably into my new life.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Robert Osfield says:

    It sounds like the stress about doing “required” training is the problem, and from personal experience this can be quite unconnected to the amount of training you need to do and still have an enjoyable race.

    From a physical standpoint I believe you’ll be able to run the 50k no problems even with you up/down training. The only thing you’d need to adjust is your expectations, so run the race nice an easy, go out to enjoy the atmosphere, just let the race take care of itself.

    I say this as I’ve been dogged by injury this year and unable to training consistently. I pulled out of a 53mile ultra back in April due to injury concerns, and couldn’t train for my next race properly – less than 6 miles a week in the month running up to it, but I completed the mountainous 30 miler in hot conditions without problems and really enjoyed it. The key was just letting going about stress about whether I was ready or not and just running conservatively on the day.

    My next test came last month when I ran a 43 mile ultra, again because of trying to fix an injury I could do a normal training round, instead had to cramp training into the four weeks before the race. I ramped up my training and in the last twelve days put in two 15 milers and then did a very short one week taper. In theory I wasn’t at all prepared to run a tough 43 mile ultra but in the end ran a great race felt strong right to the end, finishing an hour quicker than I had thought likely.

    The problem isn’t physical, it’s about letting go of the worry about ticking off specific training runs. Just make sure the prep you do for the day is sound and your expectations measured. I found that doing so one can still perform well and enjoy the race. It also means going forward if my training doesn’t go to plan I no longer fret about it, sure it might mean I’ll run a bit slower than I could have, but it’s still great countryside to be out on, in a race with great atmosphere what’s to loose? ;-)

    • Pete Larson says:

      I need to work on that, I have trouble running races for fun. Too competitive with myself!
      Sent from my iPad

      • Robert Osfield says:

        Might I suggest you could use situations like this as an opportunity to “train” yourself to not be competitive in every event you enter. If you can make this step then you’ll be able to enjoy events simply for being part of it’ being with others that love what you love doing.

        Sure you can rationalise away not being prepared enough, and its the sensible thing to do blah blah. You can even point to specific training runs not going well as an indicator.

        Race day is different, your body prepares itself for these big runs, something that doesn’t happen during training. Your energy levels and perception of pain is hugely affected by adrenalin on race day. All you need to do is not get stressed, just trust in your body, when you get a wave of nerves enjoy it – it’s just your body getting ready for the big. Interpreting nerves as excitement rather than anxiety is key to avoiding you getting stuck in a negative spiral, and can instead be used as a positive.

        I am not talking about mind over mater games, its about the interaction of hormones and mental state. Both ebb and flow through the days and weeks, none more so than in the run up to a big event.

        You can do it, and you will enjoy it if you do. The only bit missing is making the decision to do your best to enjoy it. Good luck.

        • Pete Larson says:

          I don’t disagree, but a big part of this decision for me is simply that another weekend away is not very appealing right now, it’s not just the lack of training. I did get a taste of what you are talking about when I paced at the VT100 this summer. Was supposed to do 30 miles there but my runner dropped after 7. I wasn’t in it for myself and was totally relaxed and having a blast. Actually, my previous 50K was also very much like that – ran half of it with Christopher McDougall and we went out nice and easy. Wasn’t till the second half that I actually started to race it.

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  2. Rachel Piotraschke says:

    Ahhhh I just came to the same (painful but at the same time hugely relieving) conclusion! I’m swapping out a 50k for a 25k distance (same race). Bonus is that now I get to start at 10 AM instead of 7 AM :) I decided a week ago and it’s like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. You’re right, running is supposed to be fun!! Good on ya for making what I know can be a really tough decision.

  3. Good choice, Peter. Sometimes you have to take a step back and realize what’s important. While it’s kind of neat to see folks like Anton Kupricka who live a running lifestyle, it’s just not practical for most of us (especially if you have a family).

    5K’s are where the fun is, if you ask me (of course, that’s all I’ve ever really trained for–especially in my competitive days).

  4. kellydomara says:

    Running should SOMETIMES be a source of stress.

    But, yeah, when you really don’t want to do a race, you probably aren’t going to do that well anyway. If you’re questioning the point before you even start, then you’ve really already answered the question, right?

    • Pete Larson says:

      I agree, there’s the good stress of having worked hard enough to reach a goal in a race and then needing to go and finish it off.
      Sent from my iPad

  5. CoreySingletary says:

    Well, they say discretion is the better part of valor. And having experienced the undertraining-induced death march at the end of a couple 50k trail races myself (some might say all my 50ks) I can appreciate your decision. Perhaps volunteering at an aid station might be a fun way to spend the day that you had already blocked off anyway?

  6. Stephanie Michaels says:

    Thanks for posting! I am in a very similar situation with my fall marathon and I keep bouncing back and forth between “just do it and finish” and “Go down and get your $100 race shirt and go home”.

    I gave up my plan a few weeks back and now I am just running what I feel each day and seeing where it goes.

  7. A wise decision in my book. At the end of the day, for me, it’s about running for the right reasons.

  8. Andrew Ward says:

    In the race that is life, the last thing one needs to be stressed about is a race that will make no difference at the finish!

    Andrew.

  9. Something similar happened to me in my spring marathon training. I pressed on regardless though, had a miserable time and pulled out after 16 miles with a tweaked hamstring (which was fine after a couple weeks rest).

    It’s important to differentiate between short term stress because you are committed to training goals you are still motivated for and more general feedback that really it’s time re-evaluate. I think I learned that lesson earlier this year.

  10. Robert Osfield says:

    Here’s a blog entry from a Scottish Ultra legend that has had to deal with cancer this year, if it doesn’t inspire you to do amazing things with little training then I don’t know what will :-)

    http://fionarenniewhw.blogspot

  11. bdizzlefizzle says:

    Good call, Pete. I’m struggling to make the call on a half in October as I recover from a tendinitis-induced 3 week break. I think I should scratch, but am guilty and feel a bit of failure around the idea. In the doc waiting room right now with 7 weeks to go. We’ll see what the next step is, but you’ve given me a bit of comfort in the idea of scratching.

  12. Ryan Zerbe says:

    “My wife had been telling me the same thing for a few weeks, but we all know that advice from a spouse requires independent confirmation.”

    I get in trouble for this like every other day.

  13. I couldn’t agree more, Pete, and this post really resonated with me. After finishing a 70.3 in July, running for fun and fitness is all I really want to do (actually, I want to swim more than run!). I’m sure the bug will return, but for now, just some low pressure running is exactly what’s needed. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Andrew Bentley says:

    Sounds like the right choice for sure. Competing in an event that is at the upper end of your comfort zone whilst stressed, tired and under trained is a sure fire way of getting yourself ill / injured

  15. Harold Shaw says:

    Pete it is the right decision for you and that is what counts. At some point reality comes into play and how we are really running versus how we believe that we have been running are sometimes very different.
    You always can do that one in the future, get back to having fun with your running and it will also show up in your personal and new professional life.
    You will be smiling more and really isn’t that what life is really all about?

  16. Smart move! You could always run the Mt. Pisgah 23K trail race in a couple of weeks as a compromise!

  17. Eric Winslow says:

    This is why I’m choosing to not go for another marathon. The training that is necessary starts to tilt over to the not-fun side of the balance. At this point, getting ready to do a half-marathon fairly well is easy and fun. Here’s to shorter races!

  18. Brad Patterson says:

    Seems like a very wise decision to me, Pete. The stress is totally not worth it — Coach Caleb is quite Yoda-like in his advice.

  19. Brian Martin says:

    Good call Pete, it’s got to be fun right.

  20. Hell yeah. What do you need to prove?

  21. Ian Carrico says:

    Really appreciate your transparency here. It is a breath of fresh air in a world that sometimes pressures you into thinking you’re “less than” if you don’t follow through with a training plan or race. They don’t do it on purpose, but the filter of our mind (or mine anyways) translates it that way. I have struggled with bowing out or keep going with injuries that have popped up. It’s so hard when you read about so many that keep going. Thanks for being a voice in the wilderness. What a blessing. God bless.

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