After 20 years of running ultras, I have come to really appreciate the rhythmic nature of the seasons of my training year. While each year is slightly different based on recovery times, event locations, and work/family issues, in general I have spent the last 20 years going through much of the same rhythm. That is, the first six months of the year are spent building up, breaking down, and peaking to a goal race while the second six months of the year have been spent recovering, re-building, and just running.
And, it’s this last part that has been particularly gratifying this year. You see, being the focused type that I am, much of my running from January to June follows a prescribed plan. There are speed workouts and hill repeats, long runs and tempo runs, all designed to get me to the point that I want to be come race day. Sure, there are opportunities for spontaneity within the structured program but, for the most part, the training drives my running, informs how I feel, and provides focus and structure to my life. I absolutely love the challenge of facing up to a tough training cycle, don’t get me wrong. But, I also revel in the time when I don’t have to.
As I reflect and recover in the second half of my training year, my runs take on a decidedly different tenor. I head out the door with no preconceived route in mind. At times, I don’t even bring my Garmin! My running often takes me to unexpected places and impels me to run with groups and friends I might not otherwise seek out in the heart of my build-up cycle. On many occasions I’ll cut a run short or perhaps even decide to bail on a run altogether and read a book or take a nap or drink a beer instead. It’s like I have had my dinner and my dessert and I pretty much have the rest of the night to do whatever I want.
And, it is in this time of year that many of my runs bring unexpected results I didn’t even seek. It seems to me that when I run unencumbered, when I am out on the trail with just my head and my heart, some interesting answers begin to emerge, aspects of my life take shape, and my temperament is honed more fully. In the absence of any real tangible goal it seems that the simple act of running creates its own sets of goals and allows me to freely choose a path or a direction completely on its own terms.
Obviously, to those of us who get out there every day, running provides inherent benefits that are physical, emotional, and psychological. But what I realize, in the midst of this time of year when I am just running, is that its greatest gift of all might just be it. Sometimes just the process of doing the thing that you love, without constraints or limits, succeeds in actually making it the thing you love even more. And, I have to believe, if we truly listen to what’s important and pay attention to the power of that love, the rest just takes care of itself.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
As the sessionable IPA movement continues to gain momentum, a great IPA from Berkshire Brewing Company in South Deerfield, Massachusetts impresses me with its staying power. Berkshire’s Lost Sailor IPA, now distributed in cans, is a British style IPA (as in, it’s malty tasting up front and hoppy on the backside) that weighs in at 5.5% and 40 IBUs. A West Coast IPA this is not but if you’re looking for a smooth drinking all-day beer with a deep traditional flavor, grab yourself a couple of these!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What does your down-time running look like? Do you sometimes substitute a nap or a beer for your run, like AJW?
- How do you know how much down time to take after a goal race? When and how does your body and mind tell you it’s time to train again?