If you’re like most runners, and especially if you’re a competitive runner, you regularly run through pain. Most of the time they’re little pains that disappear in a day or a week and are soon forgotten. But sometimes a pain grows slowly. Or maybe it doesn’t get worse, it just never goes away. Denial is strong in runners, and managing discomfort as we push against our limits is how we train to run faster, but when a particular pain lingers long enough, at some point even the most stubborn runner realizes that the smart thing to do is cut back.
I am a VERY stubborn runner. I’ve had a chronic sciatica problem on and off for years, but for the past year, it’s been much more on than off. My goal has always been to keep running until I start to win races in my age group by sheer attrition, so I’ve finally decided to switch to jogging a couple of miles every other day while I look into treatment options.
Obviously, the need to cut back on my running is less than ideal, but I know the value of knowing my limits. I also know the value of keeping a positive frame of mind. And when I look at things the right way, there are a surprising number of benefits that accrue when I have to curtail my running.
One of the things I love about running is that it’s straightforward and basic compared to other sports. There’s no need to get a specific number of people together on a particular field to follow some arbitrary set of rules. When I want, I can just go out and run. And when I’m only running a couple of miles at a time, I can pare everything down to the essentials. There’s no need for a GPS to track long runs or speed workouts when you’re not doing them. There’s no need for my detailed blister-prevention routine when I’m putting much less stress on my feet. There isn’t even a need to carry water on my run, no matter how hot it is. Once the weather is warm enough, it’s just me and the three S’s (socks, shoes and shorts).
Running isn’t all that expensive compared to other sports, but when I cut back, it’s downright cheap. Socks, shorts and anything else that needs replacing from time to time takes three times as long to wear out when I’m running a third as many miles. I don’t have to buy any special foods or fluids to fuel long runs or track workouts when I’m not doing them. And I’m not paying exorbitant race fees, nor am I paying for travel to destination races, when I‘m not racing.
I have a tendency to over-think things at times. When I cut back on running, there’s much less to worry about. I don’t have to worry about getting my clothing right for the weather. If I make a mistake and I’m too hot or too cold, I only have to put up with it for a few short miles. I don’t have to worry about the right training plan to accomplish my goals when my only goal is to run three miles every other day. And there’s no need to be awake half the night anxious about tomorrow’s marathon when I’m not running marathons.
Simplicity, savings, and freedom from stress all come together to help me with what’s long been the bane of my running existence, my shoes. I don’t have to replace my shoes anywhere near as often, not only because I’m running fewer miles per week, but because by cutting out speedwork, I don’t punch through the cushioning as quickly. And I can run in a wider variety of shoes. When I do finally need to buy a new pair, I don’t have to worry as much about whether mine have been replaced by a new version, or even worse discontinued altogether. And I never end up with almost-new shoes that seemed OK in the store, but end up relegated to the corner of the closet when it’s clear they just don’t work for me after the first 20-mile run.
I run in part to keep looking youthful and fit, but running less can help there too. Once my toenails grow back, I can wear sandals or go barefoot without scaring small children. And once I start to lose that gaunt distance runner appearance, my friends all start asking what’s changed, because I’m “looking so much healthier these days.”
By running less, I have more time for other things. I can spend more time with family and friends and do a wider variety of things with them since I don’t have to rest up for tomorrow’s workout. I’ve also got time to give back to the running community for all it’s done for me in the past by volunteering at races and helping support group runs.
And of course, there’s more time for cross-training. I love to go biking and kayaking, but the sitting irritates my sciatica. I’ve been doing a lot of walking instead. I travel many of the same miles, but I get to experience them in more detail, noticing things that I might normally run right past. Stopping mid-“run” for traffic, to watch an eagle soar by, or to get a cup of coffee (which I can carry with me!) is no big deal. Also, I can go out with new groups of friends, and we never fail the talk test. And public transit where I live is notoriously bad at running on schedule. This past winter, instead of standing out in the cold for 30 minutes waiting for a bus that’s supposed to arrive every 10, I’ve used the time to walk instead, arriving warmer, happier, and on time.
“We are all an experiment of one”. If you have to cut back on running yourself, keep a positive outlook and you’ll find your own set of benefits in your new circumstances. Make sure you don’t forget the most important benefit of cutting back and spending time on recovery and healing: you get to keep running. I figure that as long as I’m still putting one foot in front of the other, I win.
Running less also gives you time to read more books.