What’s next?

“Run this marathon with me in a month!”

“Are you doing Erie again?”

“When’s your next marathon?’

I’ve had these offers and questions thrown my way more times than I can count since the end of April. And I understand why. The thought for everyone is: time for revenge. You were so close – just try again. I was successful at Erie last year (though not successful enough); why not go there again?

The truth is, I’m not ready. I’m not ready to train hard through an entire Georgia summer again (and I may never be, to be honest). I’m not ready to pick another marathon. I’m not ready to think about all that high mileage; all those workouts; all those super-early wake-ups; all those Saturdays I wish I could hit snooze just once; and after the long run I feel useless to the world unless I can fit in a long nap; all those turned-down invitations (sorry, we can’t go on that awesome-sounding hike, I have to run 20 miles instead…).

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Of course there are still things I love about marathon training and miss already. The structure of a plan – I know what I’m going to do each day, no guesswork, no backing down from a plan that sounded fun the night before but laziness overcomes me when I wake up. The calorie furnace – my appetite is still there and I’ve been having to really pay attention to what I’ve been eating (and in what quantities). The fellowship of the long run and workouts. The deep satisfaction from a well-executed run. The energy nailing a hard run would give me for the rest of the day (while also making me tired). The grit I would find in myself as I dug myself out of a mental hole to crush a workout or race. Dragging along friends for the ride when I did not want to do hill repeats alone – and laughing about it when it was all over.

I’ve been steadfastly not even so much as searching for fall marathons. I only just caved for a moment the other day when I looked up the date of the Richmond Marathon, wanting to verify that it was indeed about mid-November. That’s the earliest I think I would want to do another full.

But do I even want to do that? Who says I have to run a marathon this fall? Who says that – just because I didn’t reach my goal in April – doesn’t mean I can’t carry on with the plans I had hoped for if I had succeeded: focusing on a fast half, dabbling in other shorter distances as well. The marathon will still be waiting for me come spring, or whenever I again feel ready for it.

The journey for a(nother) BQ is still a worthy one. At this moment, I don’t think I’m ready to shelve it. But I do want to make certain that when I go for it again, my head is in the right place. That I’m pursuing it for the right reasons, whatever those reasons may be. In a way, I can feel my mind shifting from the idea of getting a BQ, which I technically have already achieved, to a less race-specific goal of a pure PR: breaking 3:30. I know it’s in me. I’ve come so close now. I probably wouldn’t have quite gotten there at Glass City, even minus the vertigo meltdown, because I was slowing down just enough the last 10K, but that entire effort made me stronger. I threw down several sub-8:00 miles and felt good. I was rock steady for so many miles. I know I would have dug deep the last 1.5 miles or so had I not been unable to remain upright. In my heart, I feel that the next time I am ready to completely dedicated myself to a marathon, and get good race day conditions for it, I will smash it up, leaving no doubt.

But there are other worthy pursuits. I left the Albany Half knowing I likely had more in the tank. My 5K and 10K PRs are old and dusty. Trails have been calling my name – for peace of mind and heart, working different muscles, different parts of my spirit.

So what have I been doing since the race? Well, I took about 3.5 weeks off running, and just recently started to feel ready to run more than once or twice a week. It helps that it’s mostly with friends. It helps that there’s no pressure (though I always put a little too much pressure on myself, something I am working on). It helps that my running girlfriends are the best I could ever ask for.

Shannon and I went up to the north Georgia mountains over Memorial Day weekend, a mini-vacation we both needed together. The hike taxed our legs and freed our hearts. At the end of this month, we’ll be going on another mountain trip, this time with a group of friends.

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A veritable fairy bower atop Blood Mountain

I signed up for a trail 15K mid-June. This probably was not the greatest decision, but I hope to approach it as a 100% fun run, despite the big clock. I got seeded in A corral at Peachtree Road Race from my Albany half time – and anticipate running my slowest Peachtree yet. But that’s okay. I went to my first Saturday club run in weeks last weekend. I had hoped to arrive early for a couple extra miles. I didn’t get out of bed. That’s okay, too.

I know the desire will come back. The desire to run long. The desire to train. The desire to race. I can’t rush it, and I can’t fake it. That’s not why I run.

But all the things I have been focused on the last few weeks have been reminding me why I do. I’ve volunteered at three races since the marathon: I did course setup for some, race day registration, course marshalling, and at one I handed out finisher cards to exhausted 10K runners, from the first speedster, to the last, most determined runners. There’s nothing like witnessing those final raw moments.

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My friend Ramsey and I dissolving into a fit of giggles as we try to dislodge two stuck cones during Twilight 5K course setup

I’ve been pushing myself at the gym and at Friday HIIT classes at the YMCA. I want to get strong this summer. Weight-lifting always takes a backseat during marathon training, and I miss it. And I know it’ll make me stronger and faster come my next training cycle.

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I’ve been reading more. I’ve been writing – about running, anyhow; the second issue of my running club’s quarterly newsletter went out at the end of May.

So when will I be ready? I’m not sure. But I do know now that there truly is no rush. In those moments that I was finding my brain relapsing to a familiar place – okay, it’s been a few weeks since your last race; time to think about building back up to a comfortable pre-marathon cycle base – I have to shut down those urges. When I want to run double-digits – when I jump out of bed excited to run 10+ miles, and do so in relative comfort – then and only then will I be ready to start thinking about plans.

Until then, I’ll keep following my heart and feet, chasing trail mud and early morning sprinklers, as I run into the Georgia summer.

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I'm a 30-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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