I was talking to my friend Pat the other day about why I stopped running seriously almost a decade ago. I told him, “the moment I crossed the finish line of my last marathon (the 2011 Houston Marathon), I knew I was done. People didn’t believe me when I told them afterwards, but in my heart I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.” I had just finished my fastest marathon yet, set a personal best of 2:48, I was running more miles than I ever had, but inside I was toast, mentally and physically.
Up until that point I was a dedicated runner: multiple races per year; four marathons all under three hours, each one faster than the last; logging up to 80 miles per week; proud member of a running group; influential blogger ;). And then, literally overnight, I just stopped. Running had been an integral part of my life and identity for the previous six years, and suddenly it was over and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t even blog a race report!
My friends and family said, “oh, you’ll just take some time off and then come back to it.” But I knew they were wrong. I just nodded and said quietly, “I don’t think so.” My Achilles tendon was shredded, my mental state in shambles. I knew the effort it took to get where I was running-wise was not sustainable, and I knew to get faster I would need to give even more. I set a personal best in that Houston Marathon, and it felt like a failure because I didn’t meet my goal. I needed to reassess why I was running, and in that reassessment, I decided I had to quit.
I had to quit because it was the best of all my options. I could keep running and try to get faster, but I didn’t want to keep chasing the fool’s gold of faster times. Each PR I achieved, I’d immediately create a new goal, hardly even appreciating my last one. Each goal I failed to achieve, I felt unsuccessful. Also, getting faster would be HARD. Training already consumed my life. It had affected my sleep, my work, my family-time, my health. I just couldn’t keep making those sacrifices.
I also didn’t want to keep running at a reduced level of competitiveness. I could have backed off, eased my training, gotten slower, but once you’ve reached a certain level, your ego and pride is kind of tied up into that status, and it’s difficult to give that up. I probably would have slowed down for a while, only to ramp training back up again trying to recover lost glory. That would have just made everything harder. It’s easier to maintain fitness than to regain it. Often, you never regain it.
Finally, my last option, to quit. I had achieved a certain level of personal running success, I could be proud of my times, I even won a few races. I still had the friends I made, I could let my body and mind heal, and spend time with my family. I was never a professional, I was 39 years old and probably would only get slower. Looking at it now, it seems like a no-brainer.
So I don’t think quitting was the wrong decision, and I don’t think dedicating six years to the pursuit was wrong either. I’m glad I ran, and I don’t regret quitting. In fact, I often like to think back on certain races, or even training runs, and remember what it was like. I think fondly of those times and it puts a smile on my face.
Sometimes I miss the discipline, the camaraderie, the focused dedication of striving for a goal. I miss being in incredible shape, the feeling of red-lining at the top of your capacity, of puking at the end of a race because you gave it everything. I miss ending 20-mile long runs with ease, of meeting friends in freezing rain at 6am on a Tuesday. It’s not often in life you get to stoke that sort of passion.
Since I quit I’ve never really been tempted to run at that level again. I moved away from the running group, joined soccer, tennis, and basketball teams. I jog fairly regularly, and occasionally I put in a solid month or two of runs and I think, “I’m going to train hard again, set a goal, get fast.” But then I usually either get injured, life gets in the way, or I just lose motivation because I compare my times to a decade ago. It was hard then, it would be even harder now.
But. I loved running. So someday… you never know…
Edit: Well, it appears I’ve already written this exact post, about why I quit running. Who knew? I guess I’m still thinking about it all these years later. Maybe that should tell me something?