Hanging up My Running Shoes

Registration for the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon recently opened. “So are you going to do it this year?” people ask me. “Ha!” is my first response to their question. They seem genuinely surprised that my answer is “No freaking way.”

Most people who ask know I ran the Chicago marathon last fall and continue to spend quite a bit of time at the gym. It just seems natural that marathon running is my hobby. For some people who run multiple marathons a year, it is. And good for them! Those people are in crazy good shape and can eat red velvet cupcakes for breakfast every single day without gaining an ounce. They run in rain or shine, winter and summer. You hope to never have to see their feet in flip flops.

But this crazy runner lifestyle is just not for me.

Even I, the gym rat, have my limits. Training for and running a marathon takes a lot of work. It’s a lot of sacrificed Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. It’s a lot of catching up on sleep because all that running wears you out. It’s a lot of constantly eating because you never feel full. And it’s that hours-long race that puts you out of commision for days after and make you feel ill every time you see a staircase.

The marathon business is not something you do on the side of your work and social life. Running so frequently — and at hours at a time at least once a week — infiltrates all aspects of your life because you have to make sacrifices. Surviving three or four months of training and the race itself requires a lot of ibuprofen, BandAids, Gatorade, PowerGel, body glide, and sunscreen.

So why would I do such a thing at all? Every few years, I do have an itch to run another marathon. To date, I’ve run four. I love the accomplishment of completing a huge feat like this. I feel healthier during marathon training because I crave healthier foods (and eat them), and tend to steer clear of less healthy foods because of the negative effects they have on my running performance. I drink less because I stay in more. I drink tons and tons of water. I get lots of sleep. I have a lot of endorphins pumping through my veins from all those bursts of runner’s high.

But for me, “healthy” expands beyond nutrition and fitness. Maintaining a healthy attitude is important, and so is having healthy relationships. Making time for my other hobbies and accomplishments is also important to my health. And those sorts of things don’t get as much attention when I’m in the thick of marathon training, because there are only so many hours in the day.

For example, I have to sacrifice one of my favorite rituals during those few marathon months. I like waking up early and drinking coffee as I get a head start on the day’s tasks. During marathon training, I still wake up early. But instead I’m running. Giving up the ritual I have grown to love so much for a few months is no big deal. But if I had to give it up all the time — as well as time spent with friends and time spent pursuing other hobbies — I don’t think I would be as happy of a person.

It’s not that I will never do another marathon. I’m sure I will. But just not this year, and probably not next either. I got all my marathon running out of me for a bit. It’s time to focus on the rest of my health for a little while.

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Betsy Mikel | betsymikel.com