What Taking a Year off of Running Is Really Like

This past week, my social media reminded me that during this time last year, I was in the thick of finishing my first ultramarathon. By contrast, I skimmed this information over some lazy Sunday coffee after sleeping in, and spent the next few hours debating if I should sign up for a yoga class or not.

I’m a runner (er, was a runner? – no, I am one), but I decided to take 2017 off from long distance running. When 2017 came around, I made the conscious decision to sit this year out from the 26.2-mile run, to re-focus on other areas of my life and recharge.

And while I still feel my reasons were valid, I wasn’t fully prepared for the feelings that come with hitting the pause button on a part of my life that I had, for so long, strongly identified with. Sometimes the only way I know how to deal with my emotions is to type them out for strangers online, so maybe I’m being a bit selfish, but this is my act of cathartic release.

If you’ve ever trained for a long-distance race, you know the quasi-religious routine of a Saturday morning long run. They require early Friday bedtimes and the discipline of even earlier Saturday wake-up calls. This past year has been filled with a lot more snooze alarms and cuddling into the warmth of the excessive pillows on my bed, and – surprisingly – missing those grueling Saturday morning long runs.

I don’t miss waking up before the sun, I don’t miss worrying about if I ate my slice of toast and peanut butter a few minutes too late, and I sure as hell don’t miss the little voice in my head around mile two asking, “can I stop running yet?”

But I didn’t realize how many things I would miss.

There is something therapeutic about the long run. Lately, I find myself feeling a lot more anxious. Long runs used to be my personal time – and trust me, they get very personal. You can figure out a lot about yourself over the course of 10+ miles once a week. I used my long runs to think through problems, destress, prioritize my week ahead, and exercise creative thinking (seriously – I used to think that I made this up, but it’s a thing).

Not surprisingly, my fondest memories of Saturday long runs were when they finished. There aren’t many things in life that compare to the salty, swelling pride of accomplishment after you push your body to exhaustion, topped off by raspberry crepes and the most restful nap you’ve ever had (until, of course, the one you’ll have next weekend).

Preparing for a long-distance race also made me prioritize myself and be selfish in a good way. The truth is, I struggle to set aside the time for myself and health without the help of a structured training plan.

Everyone’s busy, and we’re only getting busier. While training for marathons has taught me that you can make time in your life for almost anything, not training has taught me how easily that time gets filled with other things.

It’s been surprisingly difficult to admit that I don’t have any major races on my 2017 calendar. There is a part of me that feels like it’s missing, and not having a race to train for, in a weird way, gnaws at my self-identity. Can I even still call myself a runner? When was the last PR I set? What are my goals?

While I’ve taken 2017 off from long distance, I know that there are many more miles in my future. There are little embers smoldering, and with every day that passes I’m refueling my fire. In my heart, I know I’m still a runner and I always will be. I’ll see you at the start line soon – but not until 2018.

Endurance Move

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.