The Final Marathon?

So, was Des Moines it? Was it my final marathon?

Short answer: I hope not.

The real answer is that I just do not know. But it probably was.

Over the past few seasons, I went from couch potato to Ironman and ultra-marathoner. I enjoyed seeing how much I was capable of accomplishing and trying to push myself further. Now that those milestones have been accomplished, I lack the drive and motivation to keep doing these events. Training takes too much time, and I just do not enjoy it any more. I am burnt out and exhausted. I am also questioning the health benefits and risks of ultra endurance training. There are studies indicating possible increased health risks for ultra athletes. They show that marathon runners have the same life expectancy as couch potatoes. I am not convinced that more is dangerous. But I also believe that the health benefits hit a plateau after a certain point. Running five marathons and one ultra this year was way too much for me, although I checked off the final goals that I wanted to achieve (ultramarathon and back to back marathons). I never had a DNS or a DNF. It has been a good run. But I need to re-evaluate my goals and my future in the sport. After a lot of thought and consideration, I plan on the following changes.

1) Things that I will NEVER do again:

Ultramarathon:
I am glad I tried it, but I really wasn’t motivated or enthused about it going in, and I was undertrained for the event. If I am honest, I hated everything about it. The small scale, the endless small loops, the trail running. I am happy that this one is behind me.

Ironman:
Unlike the ultra, I loved this event. The day was the best racing day of my life. The training was a wonderful experience. But it is far too much to do as a lifestyle. I sacrificed too much and I knew it was a “one and done” before I even registered. Overall, it exceeded my expectation and I treasure the memories.

Century Ride:
I have done ten of these. Six solo century rides, three Tour de Tonka, and Ironman Wisconsin. Again, more isn’t better. I learned to dread getting on the bike for my 6-8 hour training rides. Despite a good bike fit, everything hurt afterwards. I racked the bike for months after Ironman and only pulled it out for sprint triathlon training this season. The shorter rides were so much more enjoyable. I learned to enjoy cycling again.

Ironman 70.3:
This one surprised me. It likely should not be in the “never” category, but it is highly unlikely that I will ever do another. I have completed 5 of these and enjoyed them all (well, except the swim at Racine). But they are big events to train for and traveling to these venues is a chore. I had planned to do one this year but Wisconsin Dells got cancelled, and the rumored Ironman 70.3 St. Louis never happened. I found that I was relieved. That told me a lot. I find that, looking back, my Ironman journey is complete. I have everything that I wanted from the experience and that the book is closed and I feel very comfortable with that decision. If Ironman announced a 70.3 in my backyard, I would have to consider it, but right now…I would pass on the opportunity.

Olympic Distance Triathlons:
OK, this definitely shouldn’t be in the “never” category. But I never enjoyed the distance. It is to long to be a sprint and it is too short to be an endurance event. It seems to be the worst of both worlds…which is why I haven’t done one since 2012. At almost 4 hours, it is a long event. Since I won’t be doing 70.3’s anymore, it may end up being my occasional “long” triathlon events. But, for now, I am very happy with the sprint triathlons.

2) Things that I need to change:

Less training:
Already doing this. Exercise and fitness need to be part of my life, not take over my life. The three hour runs need to go. 30-60 minute runs or swims and 1-2 hour bike rides give me all the health benefits while allowing me time to be with my family, to do my job, to enjoy summer and to have other hobbies.

Less winter “training”:
I hated training for a spring marathon. Running in the cold, in the dark, through snow and ice was an invitation to injury. Wearing twenty layers of gear was miserable. Running twenty miles on an indoor track or treadmill made me hate running. I have friends who are serious runners and will battle through these condition as a badge of honor to be ready for a spring event. I, on the other hand, feel that runners need an off season. Up north, that off season is winter. Sure I will run on the treadmill, and even get outside when the weather cooperates. But it is a good time to do some strength training, swimming, elliptical cross training, or get on the bike trainer while catching up on movies. Change things up with no big event on the horizon. Sure, I will schedule a spring 10 miler or half marathon, and I will run 8-10 miles outside when weather permits. But feeling that I have to do a 3-4 hour training run in a blizzard is not for me.

Less traveling:
Destination races are fun. But doing too many gets expensive, keeps me away from home, and gets to be a chore. My inexpensive hobby is costing me a fortune. So, I will try to limit destination races to one/year (well, this isn’t happening next year…maybe 2017!) These will either be a destination that truly excites me, or something close by that I can drive to and only cost me one night hotel (Duluth, Fargo, Trinona).

Less event photos:
The bigger the event, the more compelled I feel to buy the photo package. I need to be WAY more selective. The cost adds up fast! I will be less motivated to buy the package for smaller and local events. I will consider it under special circumstances, or if I spot an incredible photo.

Less event swag:
I bought Ironman everything after the event. I also bought stuff after the first 70.3, marathon, half-marathon, etc. I got every kind of gear for every weather condition. Aside from replacement running shoes, I should be good forever…

Less events that I have to drive two hours to pick up a bib the day before a race:
I live in the extreme suburbs of Minneapolis and St Paul. Having to get a bib the day before can be a 100 mile round trip plus parking-frequently on a work day. This is especially annoying if there isn’t much of an expo. Twin Cities Marathon doesn’t bother me since I want to spend 2-3 hours at the expo. But Team Ortho or Hot Chocolate? No thanks. I will favor events with same day packet pick up or that will mail out the bib for a reasonable fee

Fewer Events:
When every weekend has an event, it becomes a chore and eats up free time. They aren’t special anymore.

No more Team Ortho events:
I have run all of their events for years. I have the same swag that I never wear. They are overpriced and always disorganized. They were fun, but not worth the money. (The 2015 Minneapolis Duathlon was postponed until 2016…so I will be doing one Team Ortho event next season…unfortunately).

Less focus on PR’s:
As my training volume has decreased, so has my speed. I doubt that I will ever improve upon my 2014 PRs, and I am ok with that. I will run races for the joy of running and to motivate me to stay fit. That is enough.

No marathons in 2016:
This is an absolute. I need the break. Marathons always seem like a good idea when signing up, so I am taking this off the table for awhile.

No more marathon “season”:
If I run a marathon in the future, it will be as a single and isolated event. It will be a decision that I make to go through a single training and recovery cycle. I will embrace the whole process or not commit to it. Marathons are special. Doing six in a “season” strips all the joy out of it.

Spend less money:
Seems to be a recurring theme in the above points…

So, what does this leave? Well, believe it or not, I still love running and running events. In 2016 I will follow the “2 hour rule”. I will not sign up for any event or do any training longer then 2 hours. So, races will be 5k to half marathons, and triathlons will be sprints. Bike rides will be limited to 2 hours or less. I am much stronger at short to medium distance events, I enjoy them more, and they are easier to train for. It is also in line with what most recreational and fitness runners do. It will be a part of a healthy lifestyle…

The schedule still looks fuller then I wanted for 2016. I won’t be doing the Team Ortho series, or any other series for that matter. Only three triathlons in 2016, the two Lifetime Sprints that are nearby, and HITS Wacconia. I plan on doing the Loony Challenge every year. It is a 5k, 10k, 10 mile combo during the Twin Cities Marathon weekend. It lets me be part of the biggest running weekend in the Twin Cities, get involved with our corporate team, get an armful of bling, check out a great expo…all without actually running a marathon. I am also headed to both DisneyLand AND Walt Disney World for a pair of  Star Wars themed Half Marathon. I love Star Wars and Disney and these will be the most enjoyable run-cations that I have had in a long time. So much for my “spend less money”, “buy less swag”, “don’t buy photos”, “travel less” rules that I just laid out…

In 2017, I will consider bumping up the running a little by adding the MN Running Series, and I MAY consider doing ONE marathon…but only if I am feeling a true desire to run and train for one. I won’t force it. It has to be a fall marathon for the reasons I listed above. The only bucket list marathon that sounds appealing is to run one of the World Major Marathons (Chicago or New York). Both are fall marathons so I could throw my name into the 2017 lottery and see what happens. I will actually be surprised if I feel the desire to apply for one of these races, but I am leaving the door open to the possibility…

The downside to this approach is that a lot of races that I wanted to check out will never be run. I had a big “parking lot” of events that I wanted to get to, and I did get to complete several of them (Twin Cities, Grandmas, Flying Pig, Detroit, Pittsburgh, KC, Des Moines, Houston, Route 66, and Disney). Many others are just being deleted from the “to do” list. These include LA, SF, Big Sur, Portland, Seatle, Fargo, Little Rock, A1A, Toronto Goodlife, Toronto Waterfront, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and MCM. Sigh…so many “what if’s”…

The question is…will I want to do it. I don’t know. I hope so. I don’t want my marathon “career” to end in Des Moines. But I know me. I tend to be all in or all out. I get obsessed with something for awhile, then lose interest, then forget about it and move on. I worry that this pattern will repeat itself with running. That is why I am trying to plan things so carefully. I want to adjust my activity to my level of interest and stay in the sport. But I know that, even if I keep running, that I may have no interest down the road in returning to the marathon once I have moved on.

I hope that the revamped 2016 season will rekindle my interest. Time will tell…

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