At first, you couldn’t get enough of each other. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, there was a bounce in your step. You were running on air.
But as the weeks turned into months, and the months dragged into years, things changed. One day, it hits you: You’ve lost that spark. You’re going through the motions. The thrill, as they say, is gone.
Of course you can. And in this Valentine’s Day month, we have dozens of great ways to help you put the sizzle back in your running.
Remember: Relationships go wrong for lots of reasons. Happens all the time. The good news is: With a smidgen of effort, you can get things back on track. You can fall in love with running all over again, and you can keep the flame burning for years to come.
Most passionate relationships follow a predictable arc, and your relationship with running is no exception. “One model is the ABCDE-you start with Attraction, then Building the relationship, then Continuation,” says Linda De Villers, Ph.D., author of Love Skills. “D and E are the ones we try to avoid: Deterioration and Ending.”
Cathy Hastings, Ph.D., agrees. “It’s a good analogy, because most people who begin running fall in love with it,” says Hastings, a longtime runner and marriage therapist in Lancaster, Pa. “You’re on a high, and it’s really similar to the beginning stages of a personal relationship.”
Then reality sets in. “You feel aches and pains in running just like you do in a relationship,” Hastings says. “There comes a time when people either choose to bail out, or realize that their relationship will take work, so they have to stand back and take stock. You need to decide whether the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Of course, those who see running as strictly a physical thing-who were never interested in a serious relationship at all-will likely bail out. For them, running is just one in a long series of dalliances that started with Little League and will probably end with croquet or shuffleboard. In contrast, we’ll assume that you, as a Runner’s World reader, are interested in commitment. Your challenge, then, is keeping your running fresh.
It’ll take some work, but what long-term relationship doesn’t? Whether you’re talking about running or romance, here’s what you need to keep your love alive:
In any relationship, problems rarely arise without warning. Learn to listen-really listen-to what your body has to say, and you may prevent a full-scale blowup. Watch out for these early indications that trouble is brewing:
Running is wonderful, but if you don’t respect its power, it can lash out in painful ways. Acknowledge the rigors of the sport, as well as your own limits. Translation: Don’t over-reach. If the farthest you’ve ever run is 8 miles, don’t attempt a half-marathon tomorrow. If you’re accustomed to running every other day, don’t go daily all at once. If a bunch of Kenyans move in next door, don’t join them for an “easy 20-miler.” Show running the respect it deserves, and it will treat you right.
Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. “You must be creative enough to break out of ruts,” says De Villers. “If a relationship has become too predictable, that’s where the contempt comes in.” You know all those vacation days you’ve amassed? Why not use one some random weekday, and go for a long, relaxed run? Sleep in a bit and hit your favorite trail or route while everybody else is stuck at work.
If your running has gone blasé, what you need is a little spice. Whisk yourself away for a short running vacation. Or just take a few minutes during the day to fantasize about the run you’ve lined up after work-what you’ll wear, how you’ll look, and how good it will feel.
Too many runners heap on the miles, setting themselves up to see running as nothing more than a number in the logbook. No wonder they fall out of love; what kind of relationship is that? Three “mindful” miles-spent deeply breathing in the sweet spring air, watching a flock of geese winging overhead, marveling at the sheer physics of human locomotion-beats 6 miles of head-down slogging any day.
We don’t mean the touch-your-toes variety. We’re talking here about the give-and-take that’s necessary for any relationship to survive. Ifyour expectations are rigid, sooner or later something will break-most likely your spirit. Not only that, but adhering to your training schedule too obsessively may leave your priorities all out of whack.
Running should bend to accommodate your life-not vice versa. If you’re feeling crummy, be flexible enough to allow yourself a day without running, advises sports psychologist Jerry Lynch, Ph.D., author of Running Within. “If you take that day off, you’ll come back with more enthusiasm and more joy for the next run,” he says.
Sheila Stanley-McIntosh, 40, of Atlanta, had been running for 8 years when she slowly lost interest. (Not quite a 7-year itch, but close enough.) “My canine running partner began to lose her enthusiasm for running, so I shortened my distances for her. Then my weekend group fell apart. Then we bought an old house and had it renovated, so I was managing two homes,” says Stanley-McIntosh. When she tried to run again, she was plagued by a series of injuries. Four months later, healthy and with a new training partner, Stanley-McIntosh finally resumed her running. “Now, when someone asks me why I run,” she says, “I reply, ‘Because I can.'”
Spread the Love
As those great British philosophers Lennon and McCartney once said, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Every relationship is a two-way street, and the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out.
There are plenty of ways to “give something back” to the running community, from volunteering at a local race, to assisting your local high school cross-country coach, to encouraging a sedentary friend to join you for a short weekly jog. You’ll feel better about yourself, and being around new runners will rejuvenate your own love for the sport.
Even an activity as simple as cheering at a race counts. Remember the boost you get from the screaming spectators in the final miles of your races? Here’s your chance to reciprocate. And just try watching a major marathon, such as New York City’s, up close without aching to train for a race of your own.
Speaking of racing: It pays to love your competitors, too. (Well, not literally… that would be another article altogether.) Trouble is, many of us see other runners as adversaries, enemies we must destroy in our dash to the finish line-a mind-set that takes a real psychic toll, says Lynch.
Instead, embrace the competition. See competitors as friends who will help you run your best. “The word compete comes from the Latin word competere, to seek together,” says Lynch, a former top masters racer. “When I competed, I noticed that if I showed up at a race and thought, ‘Wow, look who’s here-he’s such a great runner,’ I did better.”
So what are we left with? The initial thrill of the beginning runner inevitably fades. You can’t stay gaga forever. The good news is that beneath the infatuation is something even better, more mature, and ultimately more rewarding-a love that will sustain you for years to come.
Lynch gives the example of the hungry young runner living from one PR to the next. That’s fine, Lynch says, except that PRs are pretty ephemeral things. You can’t rely on them forever to keep you motivated.
“You earn a PR and you’re excited-but it lasts about 2 weeks, and that’s it,” Lynch says. “The joy of the process, on the other hand, lasts forever.
“By age 45, I was burned out on competition. I was afraid I was going to stop running. But when I made a switch to non-racing, it was just the opposite: My running became even more enjoyable, because the rewards were much more internal.
“Today when I go out for my run, the reward is right there. It’s immediate.”
What a lovely thought.
Ask Dr. Love
Expert advice for the lovelorn runner.Q: I’ve been with the same shoe model for years. Lately I’ve caught myself flirting with a new, flashier shoe. I make up excuses to go to the shoe store just to see it. I haven’t even tried it on, but still I feel terrible. What should I do?
A: There’s nothing wrong with looking. You’re only human, after all. But there must be a reason you’ve stuck with one model all this time. It sounds like a rewarding relationship so far. Ask yourself, “Am I really looking for a new shoe? Or am I looking for something more?”
Q: I fantasize about spending the weekend with my bicycle, but could I live with the guilt?
A: Go ahead-and don’t feel guilty! Cross-training is a great way to stay motivated and to develop muscles that running may neglect. Cycling in particular is a terrific low-impact activity. Plus, a bike makes it easy to scout out new running routes.
Q: How will I know when I’ve found the right shoe for me?
A: Trust us, you just will. It’ll feel like the two of you were made for each other. Your heel will fit snugly, your forefoot won’t feel pinched, and your longest toe will lie about a thumb’s width from the tip of the shoe.
Love Between the Covers
Nothing will stir your passion for the sport like a good running book. Here are some of our favorites at Runner’s World:
The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life, by Amby Burfoot
Breaking Through the Wall: A Marathoner’s Story, by Dolores E. Cross
Cold Clear Day: The Athletic Biography of Buddy Edelen, by Frank J. Murphy
Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.
Running & Being: The Total Experience, by George A. Sheehan, M.D.
The Quotable Runner, by Mark Will-Weber
Here are six spots guaranteed to get you in the mood. For running, that is:
1. Burlington, Vermont
This cozy town, home of the University of Vermont, is filled with outdoorsy types and pleasant eccentricities. Quiet back roads are a stone’s throw away, as are the Green Mountains. The Adirondack Mountains frame dazzling sunsets behind Lake Champlain, which itself boasts miles of lakeside running trails. And of course, if you visit in the fall, the foliage is amazing. For more info, visit www.burlingtonvt.com or contact the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce at (802) 863-3489.
2. Marin County, Caliornia
Hundreds of miles of trails are set against a backdrop of thick forests, sand dunes, and coastal hills. “It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to run,” says Runner’s World On the Road columnist Doug Rennie, who has run in a lot of beautiful places. For more info, check out www.visitormags.com/marin or contact the Tamalpa Runners (www.tamalparunners.org, or 415-721-3791).
3. San Luis Obispo, California
Another of Rennie’s faves. Surrounded by the Santa Lucia Mountains, this “serene and totally isolated” college town offers easy access to beach and trail running galore. Contact the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce (805-781-2777 or www.visitslo.com) for a visitors kit.
4. Victoria, British Columbia
With scads of runs starting from the heart of downtown and both mountain and ocean views, this tidy city of 76,000 is a runner’s dream. And its blend of historic English charm and raw, Pacific Northwest beauty is unbeatable. Call (250) 953-2033 for a Greater Victoria Official Vacation Planner kit.
5. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Cars aren’t allowed on this Lake Huron island, which may explain why the air smells so sweet. (Then again, maybe it’s the island’s famous fudge shops.) Tucked between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, Mackinac is 80 percent state park. For more information, visit http://www.mackinac.com; or contact the Chamber of Commerce at www.mackinacisland.org or (800) 454-5227.
6. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This town isn’t just for skiers. Host to one of the most scenic marathons around, Steamboat Springs offers jaw-dropping beauty year-round-and a race series that runs from May through September. “Trail running and watching the sun rise behind Mt. Werner is nothing short of a spiritual journey,” says Emily Conjura, a local race director. For more info, visit www.steamboat-chamber.com or call (970) 879-0880.
Are You Addicted to Love?
Even the sweetest relationship can go sour if you overdo it. Time apart, after all, is just as important as time together. Trouble is, we often don’t realize we’re overdoing it until it’s too late.
“There are positive addictions and there are negative addictions,” says Steve Edwards, Ph.D., professor of sports psychology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. “Running for the sake of its health benefits is good, but if it becomes so compelling that you can’t get away from it, it’s not healthy anymore.”
Some signs your relationship may be heading south:
- You run when you’re hurt or tired.
- You run to avoid dealing with a problem at work or at home.
- Your running interferes with your ability to perform regular daily activities.
- Someone close to you-a family member, for example-thinks your running is becoming a problem.
“The trick,” says Edwards, “is to avoid these extremes and create a balance with your running.”