It's Just Running

One of my fellow runners has moderated running related Facebook groups where people sometimes get a little too worked up and can take themselves too seriously. He attempts to lighten the mood by saying: "it's just running." I like this, as it always reminds me to step back and realize that this is a hobby...chosen by me...and it's not the be-all, end-all of my existence.

Lots of blood, sweat, tears and dollars went into finishing a marathon in all 50 states, and I reevaluated my goals all the time

In the last few days I've read several Facebook posts from friends who had a bad race weekend (including some DNFs). Other friends have reported feeling some burn-out from doing so many marathons. Among my marathon clubs (Marathon Maniacs, 50 States Marathon Club, and Marathon Globetrotters), it's not uncommon for runners to run several marathons in a month, often traveling far and wide to do so, and at great expense. Just looking at the number of marathons these people run, it stands to reason that not all race experiences are going to go well. And that's OK: it's just running.

I've been where these friends are finding themselves now. I've had to drop out of a marathon and wait more than a year to try a race in that state again. I've had marathon finish times more than an hour apart, in the same weekend! I've skipped races when I didn't feel my heart was in it. I have felt burnt out, and I've had to take a break. It's all OK: it's just running.

Running 2015 Berlin Marathon with a smile on my face because I WANTED to, not because I felt I HAD to

What's not OK? Allowing running marathons to feel like such a burden that you don't want to do it anymore. When the fun has gone out of your previously positive, life-affirming activity, that's when it's time to reassess your goals. Perhaps your goals are still valid, and it's simply the timeline that needs to change. Or maybe your goals need to be tweaked. There's nothing wrong with that: it's just running.

Here are some tips I have from my own experience of over-scheduling myself with marathons, modifying goals, and taking breaks:

  • It's just running, but it's YOUR running. Your goals should be meaningful and important to you. You do not need to keep up with the Jonses of running. Some of my running companions run a race or two every weekend. That's great for them. But I don't have to keep up. And no one is expecting me to. I don't even try to keep up with my husband's marathon schedule anymore. Instead, I choose the races I want to run even if that's only a fraction of the marathons he runs.
  • It's OK to take a break. Even if that means you lose a race registration fee or two, even if that means you need to pay the change fee on an airline ticket; even if that means telling your travel buddy that you need to sit this one out. If your expenses are already paid, there's nothing you can do about that. But you can ask yourself: do I want to go on the trip and regret the time I put into traveling to and running this marathon and feel like crap all weekend? -OR- Do I want to stay home and get the mental and physical rest I need and recharge my batteries? Make your decision with no regrets. I chose not to run the Army 10 Miler this year, even though I had been looking forward to it. I had just gotten back from a ten day vacation that included two marathons. I had to go straight back to work. I was both mentally and physically drained. I chose not to run the race, and did not regret it for one minute. It was just what I needed at the time.
  • Taking a break doesn't mean quitting. We frequent marathoners forget that it's really not normal to run so many races in a year. Cutting back on frequency doesn't make us less of a runner. But it just might keep us sane. After finishing my 50th state marathon this May, I didn't run another marathon until September. I used the time to pursue other interests, to focus on training, and to build up excitement for my big come-back at the Berlin Marathon. The 4 month break from full marathons felt like a relief to me. Maybe your break will be longer, or shorter, but take the time you need so you feel good about coming back.
  • During your break, keep touch with the running community. Even if you're not registered for races. Encourage your friends who are out there doing it. Volunteer at a race in your area, or set up a killer homegrown aid station. It's very refreshing to still be part of the action, but without the pressure of running the races. One of the best times I had recently was handing out Twizzlers and ice pops on a hot day on a tough hill at this year's Marine Corps Historic Half.
  • What if you DNF or have a bad race day? It's tough. You've spent the money and the time to travel to a race, often far from home. You wanted to "check off" a new state. But something happened. Maybe training didn't go well, or maybe you had an injury. Maybe you just had a bad day on the course. It's upsetting, but remember: it's just running. Your body was not up to the challenge that day. But guess what? There will be other days. Take care of yourself, salvage whatever you can from your travel experience. Look forward rather than back. You'll get there, eventually. I am reminded of my DNF at Mile 19 of the 2013 Atlantic City Marathon. I was running with a very bad case of plantar fasciitis. I really should have taken a break to allow the injury to heal. But I didn't; I kept running marathons, and it caught up with me in Atlantic City. I calculated the cost of dropping out of that race. The real factor was: how much more damage would I put on my foot by running for an additional 7 miles? It was not worth it to keep going. Once I made the decision, I was at peace with it. And I finally completed a marathon in New Jersey in April of 2015.
  • What if your goals really have changed? That's OK too. You are a multi-faceted individual with lots of interests. You have relationships and activities outside of the running community. These things are important too. Our priorities evolve over time. Trying to force ourselves into a limited image of "who we once were" is not productive. If you're done with running, that's your decision and don't apologize for it. If you simply need to change your racing frequency or your distance, that's fine too. I know that I don't want to run as many marathons as I did in the previous three years. I know that I want to start running more half marathons and work on improving my pace. I will not be registering for every marathon that my friends or my husband runs. I have decided that a handful of meaningful marathons, chosen because they are races I really want to do, or in locations I want to see, will be my annual goal for the near term. And I can reassess that goal at anytime.

Chins up, my fellow marathoners! If you're having a bad race experience or feeling burn-out, you may be at a crossroads. Take the time you need to reevaluate your goals. Do it for you, and not for anyone else. Remember: it's just running.

I ran the 2015 Baltimore Marathon for reasons that were not my own, and I didn't have a great day; at least the weather was nice


  1. FAB info and so VERY well worded!! thanks girl!

    1. No problem! I felt compelled to write it because of SEVERAL friends struggling with these issues over the weekend (and ongoing).

    2. Sandy, this is Lois
      Berkowitz - I do the newsletter for the 50 States Marathon Club. Dave Bell mentioned that your articles would make good newsletter copy. Would you be willing to edit out roughly 500 words worth for an article, subject of your choice? Thanks!

    3. Lois, just saw this. Yes...absolutely!


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