Running, like any other sport really, is measured by numbers. At first thought, it might seem that our numbers are simple – time and distance. But the reality is, there are a plethora of numbers that come into account for most when we think about our running. We don’t just log our time, but now we have watches that log each split – about every mile or so, we know our pace. Our watches tell us how fast our heart is beating. Not only do we know how far we’ve run by mile, but we can find out down to the thousandth how far we’ve run. We log our days by miles and time, and at the end of the week we have a nice little total. Our totals add up monthly and eventually yearly. And over time we’ll know just how many miles our legs have traveled; we’ll know how many days we’ve run; how much time we’ve spent on our feet traipsing around chasing fantasies and finding solace in ourselves.
For me, adding these numbers up – following my own progress – gives me motivation. I like to be able to look back and see that I’ve hit my weekly mileage for 10 weeks, 20 weeks, a year. At the start of every week, I lay out a mileage goal of some sort for myself – my little carrot. This year I’ve also laid out some mileage goals for the year and am attempting to run-streak for the year, and maybe beyond. But all these numbers, all these little goals, can muddle the end point. The focus on staying healthy and running fast can get forgotten as I look to accumulate miles and time.
Since February I’ve been running with a bit of nagging Achilles issue – nothing too big, but stiffness in the morning, tenderness to touch, and discomfort to run. It wasn’t a gradual occurence, rather one of those trauma induced injuries you get from running at 4:00AM in single digits without properly warming up. I think a big fear of any athlete is to bugger the Achilles. A bad injury takes months to heal, and it never seems to heal to full strength.
Last week, after yet another early morning longish run and a day standing around corralling fourth graders, it became apparent that my Achilles was, in fact, not happy. It was time to evaluate. It didn’t go away on it’s own as I had wished it might. Nor did it really progress pain-wise. With a half marathon in a little over two weeks and the VT100 a little over two months away, I knew I had to do something.
All those numbers that were so important to me. My mileage goals for the week, the month, the year had to be tossed. My training plan was scratched. It was time to reevaluate and think long term. With my future in mind, and forsaking all the numbers that mean so much to me, I took a week easy. A whole week. It might not seem like much, but for the past seven months I’ve been building up for my first 100 mile race, and with two months to go, I would be logging less weekly mileage than I have in almost a year.
But then I did some realizing. I already knew it, but I needed to remind myself – the miles, the weeks, even the months, they don’t really matter. Sure, if your miles plummet for a long time so will your fitness, but what is seven days, fourteen days? If I had started my week on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday, my weekly mileage would be different, and what would it matter? I had been – and probably will continue again – to focus on the little things, the numbers that matter, but don’t. The numbers that will impact my final goal, but not more than a significant injury.
And so with great discipline, I took a week easy. I ran short four mile or less days. I didn’t fret over the pedestrian pace or the low mileage. I made myself ignore the finishing time on my watch. And while my log book looks a bit disappointing, my Achilles feels much better, and as I come back to real training, I’ve never felt more motivated to get out and hit it hard.