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Remember when you first started running? Every day was a little farther, a little faster, a little easier. It seemed like you were constantly setting PRs, and running was exciting! Maybe you kept training hard and those PRs, although harder to come by, still happened on those rare perfect days when all the pieces fell into place. Then, one day, you got injured. Or you had a baby. Or you had to take an extended amount of time away from running, whether by need or by choice. Suddenly, you’re back doing your old routes and everything is harder and slower and you’re feeling discouraged, constantly comparing your current times or distances to your old ones.
As I work to come back from my April back surgery, it’s been a tough road. While running is physically challenging, I find that it is the mental side of things that has been the most difficult. I couldn’t help but think about how easy my old routes used to be while I’m huffing and puffing up those hills now. I found myself getting so discouraged by my lack of progress that I wasn’t even enjoying the act of running—I was too caught up in comparing the “old me” to the “new me.” That’s when I realized something had to change.
When I thought about it, I realized that it was absolutely ridiculous to expect my body to pick up running right where it left off after nearly 7 months on the sidelines. I decided that I would focus only on what I’m able to do right now. Instead of comparing my current times to my old ones, I’m looking for progress that has happened only since I started running again.
I didn’t realize how far I had come until a 5 mile run this week. Three of the miles were my fastest ever since my surgery–by a lot! The entire run’s average pace was under 9:00/mile, which is a great pace for me. Even better? I felt fantastic! Initially, I couldn’t help but think, “So what? Eight months ago you ran a half marathon at a much faster pace than that.” But I refused to let that thought process ruin my moment. I wanted to celebrate that accomplishment, so I did!
Why is this so ground breaking? Well, I ran 2 of those miles with a friend of mine who is also coming back to running after gaining some weight and taking the past few months off. He expected his body, 40 pounds heavier than the last time he ran, to be able to pick up his old pace and get to work like nothing had ever happened. Instead of being proud of himself for getting out and running, he was incredibly discouraged. It made me sad. To think, I had been doing that to myself that whole time!
From now on, I’m going to do my best to focus on what I’m doing right now instead of what I did before. Here are my tips for redefining what success means to your running:
- Pick a “birthday:” Think of your return to the running world as a rebirth. The day you started back is your birthday! Focus on your accomplishments from that point on.
- Make it fun: To ease some of the frustration that accompanies starting from scratch, try running with an old friend or picking a fun race to participate in. Don’t worry about your time. Just enjoy the running community!
- Keep a log: Start keeping track of your runs on your birthday. Whether you choose to focus on time, distance, or simply the number of days a week that you get out and run is up to you! Watch as those numbers improve as the weeks go by.
- Celebrate: Don’t be ashamed to pat yourself on the back for a run you feel good about, even if it wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy before. Celebrate the good moments when they happen!
While I don’t know yet what my running and training routines will completely look like going forward, I do know that I’m going to focus on the reason I started running in the first place—I enjoy it! Maybe I’ll PR again, and maybe I won’t. Either way, I’m just glad to be back.