Sometimes the thing you love becomes the thing you hate.
It’s like, you’re crazy passionate about writing or yoga or social media marketing (or whatever your “thing” is) and then, seemingly all of the sudden, you love it less than you used to. It’s less exciting, less fun, less of something you’re dying to do and more of something you’re now just going through the motions of doing while kind of resenting. Basically, you’re in a slump, and you’re wondering how it happened and how the eff you’re going to be able to claw your way out.
Now, this is the part where I tell you that I’m finally resurfacing from a five-week running slump that was truly the worst I’ve had in the two and a half years since I first laced up my shoes and attempted to slog my way down the block.
I’ve had dips before, sure, but nothing like this. This slump was dark, you guys. There were moments (which were less momentary and more multi-day in length) where I was positive I would never enjoy running again. You name a slump symptom, and I had it. Physical and mental exhaustion? Check. Anger and frustration? Check. Boredom, blah-dom, and a general “who gives a shit” attitude that made it impossible to put one foot in front of the other? Check, check, and check.
I remember one run – a basic, easy 45-minute run – where I stopped about halfway through. I just… stopped. I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, and decided I was going to call a taxi to come and take me home because I just couldn’t fucking do it for one more second. And, if I’m being honest, the only reason I didn’t do exactly that is that I don’t run with my phone. No phone, no taxi. But otherwise? I would have sat my ass down and paid a stranger to drive me the 1.5 miles back to my apartment.
And, you know, it’s not like anything happened. I didn’t have some big dramatic incident that put me off running – it was more that, one day, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this sport anymore. My legs were absolutely exhausted, but it was more than that – my goals just seemed insanely arbitrary, and I couldn’t connect with why I was doing any of it anymore.
The hardest part was that I knew, even during the worst of it, that those weren’t my real feelings. Intellectually, I remembered my love of running, I just couldn’t bring it to the surface, couldn’t actually feel it, no matter how hard I tried. Somehow, the thing I loved had become the thing I hated, and I was terrified that the scales would never tip back in the other direction.
But thankfully (seriously so much gratitude omfgggg), the scales did tip back, and here’s what I’ve managed to pull out of this experience as a little roadmap for myself in case this ever happens again:
6 Ways To Pull Yourself Out of a Slump
1. Take a break
I mean, of course, right? If you’re completely burnt out, you need to back off. So, I talked to my coach, I hid my running shoes for five days, and tried not to think about all of the fitness I might be losing. After those five days, I felt a tiny spark of wanting to run again (yay!), but during that first run back I still felt shitty (booo). It felt like I was running through quicksand, both mentally and physically, and I realized that the break hadn’t been long enough. Or, rather, that I needed a different kind of break – one that fell in between structured training and complete rest.
2. Get back to basics
Taking a complete time-out didn’t really help (although I’ve done that in the past and it’s been the exact and only cure I needed), so I decided not to take a break from running, just a break from training. Because, as anyone who has ever trained for a race (of any distance) can tell you: they aren’t the same thing. So, away went my heart rate monitor and fancy Garmin watch. Bye bye to track workouts and tempo runs. I went back to what I loved when I first fell in love with running – just trotting along by the beach, at whatever pace felt good, listening to mind-candy audiobooks and not giving a shit about anything. As soon as I took the pressure off and gave myself permission to do only the parts of the sport I truly wanted to do, I started feeling better.
3. Do something complementary
One of my favorite things about running is that it connects me with my body and makes me feel all kinds of hippie-juju-goodness. It’s that intoxicating feeling of pushing yourself to your edge, but running isn’t the only way to get it. So, as I scaled back on the miles, I ramped up the yoga. Is yoga the same as running? Of course not. But it’s a great complement, and it’s one of my favorite ways to stay active and build strength while doing something that’s different from the original source of my burn-out.
4. Approach your thing from a new direction
When I’m training, all of my focus is on me and my running. During my slump, I realized how much of the running world had been blocked out by my go-go-go training blinders – volunteering at races, watching running-related documentaries, reading inspiring memoirs by other runners, etc. – and I started to purposefully interact with the thing I love in a new way by doing things like this. Sometimes, a fresh perspective is all you need.
5. Share your passion with others
In order to get into a slump in the first place, you have to do your thing long enough to get worn down. And, it’s often easy to overlook this, but all throughout that time leading up to your burn-out, you were learning stuff. Become more of a veteran at your “thing.” And that stuff you learned? It could be super helpful for other people. So, while I was wandering aimlessly through slump-town, I tried to focus on what I had learned in the past year and how I might be able to share it with other runners. For example, I worked hard on adding new content to my beginner’s half marathon training program, which re-opens in January, and I also had fun putting together this little Runner’s Gift Guide for you:
1. Runner’s World subscription // 2. Race Medal Holder // 3. Running Undies with Cheeky Sayings, 3-pack from Oiselle // 4. Handana (for wiping sweat and whatever else) // 5. Podium Pajamas from Oiselle (super soft & perfect for pre-race slumber!)
6. Take back your identity
The absolute worst part of being in the running slump was that, for five weeks, I didn’t feel like myself. So much of who I am has become intertwined with running that without it, I felt lost. Now, don’t get me wrong, running is (and probably always will be) an important part of how I spend my time, how I push myself, and how I process my feelings, but this slump taught me that even though running is something I do, it isn’t who I am. I am more than my ability (or inability) to run. As much as I love running, the thing that finally pulled me out of the slump was fully accepting that even without running, I’m still me. And that, actually, I could benefit from putting a little more focus on the other things I love – regardless of my slump-status or my weekly mileage total.
And that’s my point – we are so much more than the sum of our parts. We’re more than where we work, what we eat, and how we spend our time. All of those things can change, in a second, and if this running slump taught me anything it’s that the more attached you are to something, and the tighter you wrap your little death-griping hands around it, the more you’ll live in fear of losing it. And that’s no way to live at all.
So that’s my next hurdle, I think: overcoming the fear of not being able to run. Because I’m a runner, yes, but I’m also so much more.