Lost And Found

AJW's TaproomOne of the most rewarding parts about lingering around the edges of the sport of ultrarunning for a while is that I get to have conversations with lots of runners new to the sport who want to know what it’s all about. It seems that not a week goes by these days when I don’t indulge in a discussion or two with a runner eager to learn more and soak in all that this amazing sport has to offer. Sometimes these conversations are straightforward chats about training, nutrition, injuries, and race management, while at other times these talks are more oblique and centered around running, life balance, burnout, and the reasons behind it all. While the former are always fun and informative, it is the latter that I find more inspiring.

Recently, I was having one such conversation with a runner who has been at it for a few years now. He’s finished a dozen or so ultras including two 100 milers. Most recently, he’d finished the Western States 100 in under 24 hours. He called me to ask for a little advice as he had been struggling with motivation, focus, and discipline ever since the race. Knowing that this was a somewhat normal post-race reaction, I asked him a bunch of questions about life stress, general health, and any other external factors that might be impacting his running. Nothing really stood out. I asked him if he’d taken any real time off since the race and he said no since he was training for the Javelina Jundred. By the end of the call, I suggested he take a full week off of all exercise, go for a 30-minute run on the eighth day, and then call me afterward.

Well, he did that, and it wasn’t pretty. First he told me how miserable the week off was and then he told me how slow, fat, and out of shape he felt on his dinky, little 30-minute run. Through a quivering voice on the other end of the phone he then said, desperately, “AJW, you have to help me. This must have happened to you before!”

I sat on the other end of the phone in silence, a longer silence than normal, and then I said, “Yes, it has.”

For the first time in nine years, I told my story…

It was 2008. I had trained aggressively for Western States that year only to be foiled when the race was canceled due to fires. I signed up for the Vermont 100 Mile in exchange and had a great race there. Thinking I could just roll on through the summer after that, I just kept on running, until I couldn’t. One day, around the first of August, I awoke and could barely move. I wasn’t hungry, thirsty, or motivated in any way. I tried to run through it and failed. For a week, I kept trying and then I gave up. I said to myself, Stop this torture and just stop.

Shelly, my lifelong supporter and biggest fan, gave me my marching orders. “Take a month completely off from running. Then, when you feel like running again, take another week off. In fact, don’t run until you can’t stand it anymore.”

So that’s what I did. And it worked. At least it worked for me.

Back to my guy, after I told him my story, he said, “Well, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As of today, he’s two weeks into his ‘detox.’ I hope it’s working. We have a plan to talk again in a month. Until then, I have to say I am thankful and privileged to have found a place in the world where I can be lost and found, again and again, on this twisting road through life. Proud to have a place that gives as much as it takes and gives us all something to aspire to. A place that has timeless lessons for us all, every single day, as long as we keep paying attention.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Lone Pint Brewery Yellow Rose IPALast week, I had the honor of attending Liza Howard’s Band of Runners Camp in Fincastle, Virginia. While there, some of the boys from the Lone Star State offered up a few of their finest IPAs for me to try. Of the lot was a single-hopped beauty from the Lone Pint Brewery in Magnolia, Texas called Yellow Rose IPA. This was simply a delectable beer with a citrusy mouth feel, light touch on the tongue, and just the right amount of haze to make you think maybe one of the guys in the brewery is from Vermont.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you ever been fully lost from your running? As in, lacking all motivation, ability, desire, everything? What happened, if you care to share?
  • And, have you been found again in your running, too?

There are 5 comments

  1. Scotty Kummer

    I got really lost from my running in early 2016. My best friend and training partner died from ALS in late 2015. On top to everything else, as a runner it was really hard to watch another runner go through that. It was also really hard to go back out on the trails we shared together without thinking about him and becoming sad. I had 0 inspiration and drive. in both routine training runs and races I would inevitably slow to a walk and cry. It was a real problem as my life was and is so connected to this sport. I found my way back by cancelling all events and taking all the external pressure off. No running obligations or goals. I would hike and jog just as much as I felt like until at some point near the end of the year I started to enjoy it again. I don’t know if I needed a physical break or just needed to heal, but it was a process I needed to go through because I felt like I was forcing it. I went after it again when I started to love it again. And it all turned out fine.

  2. Joey Schrichte

    I take a month completely off after each 100. Even then it takes another month or so to get back to feeling like I love running again. It blows my mind when people are running the week after a 100. People don’t take into account that the body, mind and soul need time to fully recover from a race. Some of the best running advice I have ever heard was “just because you feel like you’re recovered, doesn’t mean you are.”

  3. John Vanderpot

    In mid-Sept. my child-like energy and enthusiasm suddenly disappeared, and the thought of the coming weekend’s plans brought nothing but a sense of dread, had a chat with an old-timer we got down here, guy’s seen it all, and he asked me when the last time I took a full week off was…turns out, it’s been over 4 yrs., he shook his head and rubbed his temples like I told him I just got fired from my job or something…one of the worst weeks of my life, not a mile, not a push-up, but couldn’t believe the difference!


  4. Run GMD

    Juxtaposing this piece to Joe Uhan’s “The Two Questions” from earlier this week was a valuable experience for me. Each served to better inform my understanding of the other.

    Whenever I have “lost myself” I realize that the framework of my running had become self-defeating. My running had ceased to empower me and had, in fact, enslaved me. Just like nearly every wilderness misadventure, too, I failed to recognize the danger until far too late; I was lost long before I ever recognized it. In these times friends and family are my “map” leading me back to the path. It’s good work that you do, AJW, getting that runner reoriented and on to the “right path”. May we all be so fortunate to have others we can count on when we find ourselves lost.

    1. Pete

      I was just thinking the same thing… This slots in perfectly alongside Joe’s piece, nice timing AJW.

      I’ve had a fair few funky periods in my running, where it just doesn’t seem to mean the same things to me, or have the usual calming/fulfilling effect. Most times it’s been when I’m chasing training plans for the next event, and I haven’t allowed for the lessons from the last event or training cycle to fully sink in.

      I think the overall lesson is : Take your time, running will always be there when you’re ready.

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