Project: Road Runner to Trail Runner
There’s something that’s been on my mind for ages — and I mean ages. Long enough for me to be sure it’s not pandemic craziness. Join me on this journey as I take on a new running goal!
I’m late to the goal-setting game this year, but let’s be flexible, friends. There’s zero judgment on my part if you’re in the same boat and also not sure what your running goals should look like. They are going to look all kinds of different this year, while we’re still navigating all the uncertainty that’s taking a lot longer than anyone thought possible.
The pandemic changed things, which is somewhat stating the obvious. For me, it changed running, too. I was on a path that I thought was pretty clearly laid out, but 2020 had other plans entirely.
Let’s go back to 2019, which now seems like another lifetime or a parallel universe. I was having my best running year to date. In the space of just a few months, I set PRs in the 5K, 10K and half marathon. I was training with consistency, having a great time, and seeing the results. It was fun, rewarding, every bit worth the sweat and the hard workouts. When COVID hit, I was training for the Eugene half marathon — a famously fast course — and felt confident that I could go for another PR.
The race was scheduled for April 2020; we all know what happened next.
When I got the news of the race cancellation, at first I felt disappointment at the missed opportunity. Pretty soon that turned into relief that I could drop the hard workouts. At the time, I was dealing with some gut issues affecting my energy levels and fueling, so I took the opportunity to step off the gas and dial back my training a little.
What started as just the physical restriction on racing eventually became a big mindset shift.
Over the summer of 2020, I took an extremely relaxed approach to running. I have always been someone who trains hardest and most consistently with a race on the calendar, and I'm naturally competitive, but without a goal race I felt lost. I completed a couple of virtual races, but I couldn’t find the drive to run hard when ultimately there was nothing on the line; no one to run with or race. The last virtual half marathon I signed up for is still uncompleted because I forgot to run it. The medal is still in its wrapper, only to be opened the next time I run 13.1 again.
Other than an uncharacteristic lack of commitment to training, what little running I did was actually good. Great, even. I took some time to rest, cross train, and heal a nagging hamstring injury. On the weekends I often drove to a trailhead far away, since there was nothing else going on. When I took stock of what I was doing, I realized how much I was enjoying it. Just going for a run without pressure. Picking my favorite routes or exploring new places. No plan, no workout, no set pacing. It’s natural to go through cycles of competing, goal-setting, and purely running for fun, but I was experiencing the latter for the first time.
I'm still having a lot of fun, but by now my consistency is back. I’m running 3-4 times every week like I used to, but I’m also still cross training more, mostly running by feel, and not worrying about the pace or the mileage too much. But the voice of my inner overachiever has been getting a little naggy lately about goal setting — or lack thereof.
So this is where I found myself this past weekend, pondering the future of running for me, and the direction I want to take.
As races are slowly beginning to offer in-person options again, I still haven't rediscovered the drive to get into a full training program, the structured workouts, the singular goal of a target time. But I keep coming back to the idea of wanting to run more trails. With the exception of a couple of the most epic destination races, or my first marathon, my most memorable running experiences have all been on trails, in nature. Trails intimidate me a little, but they inspire me a lot.
Why not now?
And so, my new goal is set.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not done with road racing. For one, the 10K and I have a lot of unfinished business. I also recognize that trail running is hard, and to get strong I'm going to be running some tough workouts. But there will be no set training plan for now, no 'SMART' goal just yet. I'm starting with the simple goal of running trails every week. What excites me and inspires me is the prospect of conquering mountains and going on adventures... all in good time.
Join me here in this blog and on this journey as I navigate trail running, strength training, staying healthy, and probably a fair bit of mud.
I’ll also write about good training habits, essential running self-care, and why women are natural born runners.
If you need help with your post-pandemic running goals, accountability, inspiration, or education about running healthy and strong, check out my running programs. Follow my trail running journey and find friendly running chat and support in my Facebook community for women who run.