The VOICES started with one mile and, without warning, they quickly spiraled my life into the chaos of 5k’s, Marathons and Ultra Marathons. Along the way there were some once unthinkable spinoffs. Fundraising, BQ’s, Medals, Trophies, Cash Prizes, Buckles, Running Clubs, Free Shoes, Free Gear, Free Product, Magazine Articles, Podcasts, Videos, Coaches, Coaching, Blogging, Shirt and Merchandise Sales, Unique Friendships, Race Directing, Nutritionists and more fundraising. All of this from running ONE mile? I’m pretty sure it was just a dream.
Where have the VOICES gone? It’s been a while since I’ve heard them calling, taunting, pushing me to the next level. They have abandoned me and took my mojo with them. They no longer care. They no longer need me. They have left me without explanation. No, that’s not exactly true. The truth, as always, is much simpler. They haven’t left me. They are still there, partying, pushing, pulling, begging, double-dog daring me to chase a big goal. The truth is that I haven’t been listening, the truth is that I have tuned them out and drowning their noise in a sea of excuses and, ultimately, lies that make myself feel better.
So, none of that crap was entirely true but it seemed like a great way to dramatize the situation. The VOICES were there long before I began running in 2006 and they remain firmly in control today. When I talk about the voices in my head it’s a positive thing. There is something that drives each one of us to work a little harder, stay focused, keep the faith and stay the course. This something inside of me is what I refer to as the VOICES. Others may view the voices in their head as the anchor that holds them back, but I have found that by throwing a label that usually has a pejorative connotation on something that I see as good – it keeps me from embracing the overwhelming desire we all have to throw in the towel when life gets bumpy and removes the crutch of self-doubt that gets in the way of success.
The plain and simple fact is that I have lost interest in the daily grind to be competitive in the recreational hobby of running races. I still love to run. I still love to compete. I just don’t love to do the work necessary to compete at running. I know that I was never competitive outside of the local Ladies Auxiliary Pie Auction and 100 Mile Fun Run, but it was always a good time to show up and go as hard as I could to see how I stacked up with the other weekend warriors. Collecting medals, buckles and occasional trophy is great for the ego but don’t mean much in the scope of life. It took me a while to figure out that running is just something I do to fill in the gaps between real life events but I’m glad I did.
People ask me, “What changed?” and I really don’t have a solid answer. I still get the craving to throw on a doo-rag and run through the woods, yelling “WOOO” as I go through an aid station on the way to picking off the runner in front of me. I still celebrate as I watch my friends bust out a PR or see a runner that I coach cross the finish line of a goal race. I still love running. I still love racing. I just don’t love the idea of putting in the long hours it takes or the effort it takes to do my very best in every race. I could use the old cop out that things have changed in the running community since I started but… well, things have changed, a lot, for the better.
Races are much more inclusive of everybody these days. Marathons aren’t just about chasing a BQ anymore – they are about pursuing a goal and enjoying the accomplishment. 5k’s aren’t always about running until you puke or cross the finish line. Or both. They are open to runners, joggers, walkers and baby strollers. Trail races have become a normal part of any runner’s world. Even the once “impossible” 100-mile races aren’t looked at as the ultimate distance and the curtain has been opened to reveal that 100 miles, while difficult, is easy to cover if you put in the work and resolve to finish. Road Ultras are more prevalent than ever giving more opportunity for runners to test their mental toughness. There will always be a certain element of mystery to any new distance, but social media has proven time and again that anybody can do this stuff if they want to do the work.
None of this stuff is bad. It’s all good. There are some arguments to be made about etiquette and reducing the number of competitive runners in big races but, honestly, those same old complaints where there 10 years ago. There has always been an element of runners who take this hobby way too seriously and act like divas at every event. I’m okay with that. It’s their life, their money, their time and I don’t have to live with their egos. I am free to run as fast or slow as I choose, spend as much time at the aid station or porta potty as I need, wear the race shirt during the race or not.
So… what HAS changed in the past 3-4 years? My choices and priorities. It’s really that easy. I have a 3-year-old daughter so that’s an easy math equation. My boys are getting older, one in high school and one in elementary school, and they have become increasingly busy with extracurricular activities. I spend all my free time during the late summer and fall organizing a youth football league and coaching my son’s team. The last few years have been filled with coaching little league baseball, basketball and football year-round. I even had an awesome experience as a soccer coach a couple of years ago. Throw in summer basketball, fall basketball, track meets and other school functions for my oldest and life got a little busy. Of course, there is always time for more so when the opportunity to coach a semi-pro football team popped up… yep, I was on it. Did I mention the part about coaching runners in my spare time? Probably. Doesn’t really matter.
All this stuff is fun, but I still had to work a day job – the crusher of dreams for most runners- but even that still left time for homework, family dinner, bath time, story time, playing in the yard, swimming in the pool and other family activities. What it didn’t leave time for was – running, lifting weights and chasing goals. Well, it just fooled me into thinking there wasn’t time. The time was still there as it always was. I used to wake up at 2 a.m. for a 20-mile run before work on a Tuesday morning – that time was still available I just didn’t have the desire to sacrifice.
Obviously, none of this nonsense matters but just the act of writing about it helps me understand why I have placed the running VOICES on a back burner for a while. I have been running consistently in 2018 and have a nice little streak going and things are falling into place but I’m not sure where its heading or if it will rekindle the passion to chase big goals anytime soon. What I do know is this – I love to run. I used to tell people that I was a runner. These days – I realize that running is a part of who I am but it’s really such a small part that I struggle to understand why I had placed so much emphasis on that part of my life once. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever run a marathon or 100 milers again. Today the answer is a very easy and loud “NO” but tomorrow, next week, next month or next year it may change, and the VOICES will be front and center. When that happens, I’ll give my coach a call and we will hit it with a plan that will push me to my perceived limits over and over until the goal is a reality.
Until then – I’ll just enjoy the miles as they come. Life is good, and the VOICES are still jabbering – just in a different way.