When Not to Fight

This is me throwing in the towel. It’s me waving the white flag. At this point, keeping the fight going to try to be ready my main running goal for the year—to run a fast Leadville 100 Mile—in two and a half months isn’t worth it. And it’s hurting me as a person.

Sure, I put in plenty of time and effort over the winter and early spring from which I’d hoped to ramp up into heavy training this spring, but those are sunk costs. They don’t matter in the moment, nor in the future. What matters more is taking care of myself as a person. At the moment, I’m frayed mentally, emotionally, and physically. I accept this. I am fragile. I am human. I am a person, not just a runner.

For the past month, I’ve kept what was once “hope” alive that I’d overcome a collection of personal impediments—personal, professional, locational, and physical—-and that my daily runs would eventually improve such that I got some training mojo back. It never happened. And what was once “hope” transformed into whatever the opposite of hope is. Dread? Despair, perhaps?

Regardless of the label, heading out for a run everyday with this want/need/hope of turning the corner to strong training without that ever coming became its own negative-feedback loop. Drained runs led to more negativity and stress leading to more bad runs. Knowing that my personal situation won’t change for the positive over the next month only further cultivated a sense of hopelessness. I don’t need that. I don’t want that. I won’t have that. I’m throwing off my self-imposed yoke. I am no longer training for the Leadville 100. **Exhale** Ahhh. That feels good.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll likely continue to run everyday, but for myself, because I want to, without any purpose. It’s my hope that the dread, the hopelessness, the frustration will quickly fade into the past and that my running will once again be my own in the moment.

Somehow, I also feel confident that I can keep some running dreams alive and stoke new ones during this time. On the 0.1% that I make it off the Hardrock 100 Mile waitlist, you bet I’ll smile my way around those San Juan Mountains in less than perfect shape. Likewise, I’ve got a multitude of big dreams around my home in Utah’s canyon county that I expect to keep percolating all summer and remain a possibility for next winter no matter what my summer (and my summer’s training) look like. Heck, there’s still a chance that I’ll pin on a number to run from Leadville to Winfield and back in late August,* but that’s off my mind for the time being.

Now, that’s not to say I’ll move forward while creating a veil of ignorance behind me. There are plenty of great lessons and reminders in my past month or two and, over the coming months, I’ll keep pondering what I could have done differently to set myself up for success. I’m not sure how valuable it is to share some of my initial thoughts, as they’re specific to me, but they include: continuous life on the road is incompatible with focused training, major rehab (currently need for my Achilles) ain’t happening on the road, I must actively manage all work stress and avoid existential work stress while training for a focus race, and I should skip the 100-mile training race when I’m likely to need training momentum to get me through tough times. I’ve applied some of these lessons in the past and hope to keep all in mind in the future, as I learn and grow from my experiences.

Often a big running goal fosters excitement, drive, and purpose in me. Not this time, in this situation. It’s time to rid myself of that negativity-inducing goal, focus on the fun in my runs, and wait for that next spark to rekindle a big running dream.

Happy trails,

* Just last month, I wrote about the positives of a casual 100 miler, and I can still see myself running plenty of casual 100s in the future. In fact, I’ve got a whole list of them in my head… but that wasn’t my intent when I signed up for Leadville this year.

Call for Comments

  • When have you decided running or running goals were negatively affecting you or getting in the way of life?
  • How have you changed your running or your life to minimize those negative effects or make your life and running more compatible?

There are 16 comments

  1. Drew

    An interesting article, especially since I had a similar situation recently and made (with hindsight) the wrong decision.

    After pulling out of my first 100 miler two years ago with sickness at 69 mile and missing last year due to injury, I was determined to toe the start line this year, despite achilles issues in both ankles for the latter part of last year. Instead of doing the obvious and pulling out, I cancelled all my warm-up races in January, February and March, spend months (and a lot of money) on a physio, and spent the last two months doing a lot of low impact cross-training in the gym.

    I toe’d the start line and pretty soon realised my mistake. Yes, my ankles were holding together (ironically they caused no issues on the day) but the lack of impact training – I’d deliberately avoided it to protect my achilles – began to tell after twenty or so miles. At mile forty-five my right leg started collapsing at the knee, and within half a mile I had collapsed two or three times and decided to turn around and walk back to the forty-four mile aid station.

    Should I have run the race? No, I don’t think so, but I was so obsessed with two years of not having done it (and a big 100 miler weight around my neck) I ignored all the obvious indicators and did it anyway.

    Many people said “Well, you did forty-six miles, a lot more than many people could do” but you have to also factor in the negative impact on your mind and confidence. Psychologically, it would have been less damaging to not do the race, acknowledge I wasn’t ready, and plan to do it the following year.

    It’s a person choice I guess, and sometimes difficult to know what the best option is. But I wish I’d done what Bryon had done and left it for another year.

    1. Burke

      I have heard the old “You made it further than most people ever run…” That may be true, but it is little consolation to the runner who ran 40 miles of a 100 mile event.

  2. Sarah Lavender Smith

    Excellent essay, Bryon! Life has many phases, and I bet you’ll find a block of months in the coming year(s) when training for Leadville feels the way it should. You’re being smart to pull the plug. When life/work is stressful, running should be a stress-reliever and not add to stress. Take care & thanks for candidly sharing a situation to which many readers no doubt relate.

  3. Jacob W.

    This is a fantastic article, Bryon! I tend to feel the same way you do about training when life is stressful. For me, if life is stressing me out, I don’t enjoy training. The added stress of training in addition to whatever else is going on makes me feel even more drained and the process keeps repeating itself. I applaud you for stepping back and doing what is necessary to allow yourself to enjoy running again. Trust that everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to, in life and in training goals.

  4. Michael Wardian

    Bryon, look forward to seeing you and if you want to do a causal 100 let me know…I am always game for a run..wink. cheers, Mike

  5. Gediminas

    So true, especially lessons learned, as it 100% fit for me :) but I am still playing “va bank” and hope that roads will end and I will have at least 1hour more to sleep :)

    Injured, no joy of running, feeling like crap, but training a bit and definitely going for LUT!

  6. Becky B

    Great article, Bryon! Reading this really made me feel better about my own decision to step away from the rigid and formal training routine I paid for to get me across the finish line at Leadville this August. Although I noticed small improvements in my training runs over time, I also noticed that my day to day life was less enjoyable as the training progressed. I felt like I was running for my trainer and for the potential of earning a buckle, but I was no longer running for me or the simple pleasure of running. I became focused on the data from each run rather than the intrinsic benefits of running that I used to appreciate. I no longer felt the fun in running. It wasn’t a stress reliever anymore; it was just causing more stress. I am a firm believer that life is short and we only get one, so why not let go of the things that make us unhappy. So, that being said, I made the tough decision to step away from my training plan and run for “me” again. I am still planning to toe the start line at Leadville in August (as it may be the only opportunity I get), but I will run it for the experience and pleasure of being a part of something amazing and not solely for the buckle. If I do actually officially finish I will be beyond elated, but if I DNF I will go home with a happy heart filled with memories made from an experience of a lifetime.

    Thanks again for sharing your perspective, it has really helped me.

  7. Clint

    Wonderful essay, Bryon. I love the pure honesty. You touched on a question that so many of us over-achevier type personalities struggle with, when to throw in the towel and ease up?
    I appreciated your candidness and look forward to seeing what you decide to train for in the future. Cheers!

  8. Kyle Pietari

    Knowing when to let go of an ambitious goal and consciousness of the sunk cost phenomenon take some high level self-awareness. Kudos, Bryon. Let me know if you do decide to toe the line at Leadville. Regardless, there are always future race seasons!


  9. Mike in Everwet

    Any thought about working with a coach? Let them manage training plans and flag recovery so you can focus on what you want to spend energy on. It would be weird to not have points in training where you’re asking why am I knocking myself out as injuries, work schedules and life issues take place. All that saps energy when a run to clear your mind should be a good thing. ;-)

    1. Bryon Powell

      Not really. It’s mostly that my life situation at the moment doesn’t fit with a particular goal. Trying to push toward that goal isn’t a pleasant goal. I’d rather take care of what I need to in life with some fun running on the side and challenge myself with running when I’ve made space for it.

  10. Kim Herring

    This was a powerful essay, Byron, and one that I needed to read.

    I spent last year training hard for my first 50 miler. I ran JFK in November and planned to take a short break, and then roll that momentum into strong winter training for the Chuckanut 50k. I live in Washington, and this winter was particularly harsh, and I could not escape the funk I fell into over the holidays.

    The stress that I put on myself regarding my running goals was creating a volatile loop when I was unable to run because of personal issues that involved depression and anxiety. It was a self-created paradox and I needed to slam on the brakes in order to regain control of my life.

    My goal for Chuckanut was to run it well. I wanted more than to just finish. When I fell behind in training, I decided to take care of my psyche above my running goal. I felt a huge relief when I decided that I was no longer training for the race, but horrendous guilt at not running it. When the day came and went, I had a swell of anxiety about it, but in hindsight, it was the right choice. I’m now gearing up for a bigger goal. I’m a bit slower and admittedly heavier than I’d like to be going in, but my mind is strong and healthy.

    Thanks again for sharing. It’s nice to know that the emotional roller coaster I just rode was occupied by at least one other park goer. ;)

  11. Catherine Greer

    Great article, Byron. I am having kind of the opposite experience, where training for Leadville is a happy and energizing thing that makes the rest of my (stressful) life more manageable. Last year, however, I had a different issue with my Leadville training: it kind of became my emotional avoidance tactic. At the point where training was over (i.e., race day) and there was no more training to hide behind, this turned out to be a debilitating problem. I wrote about this; if you’re interested: https://ultrarunning.com/featured/the-terror/
    I hope you decide to do Leadville as a fun run. :)

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