It’s 1:30 pm in Railay Beach, Krabi Province, Thailand. True to historical weather patterns that we hoped wouldn’t play out, it is dumping rain for the 3rd time since we woke up. I’m wrapped in a plush cotton robe, sitting on the front porch of a large 4-star bungalow in the shadow of towering limestone cliffs, overlooking a lush garden, and I would be perfectly content except for one thing. There’s nowhere to run.
Railay Beach lies along a narrow isthmus surrounded by aforementioned giant cliffs. There is a “hike” that goes to a lagoon, but it’s about 900 m round trip and is so steep that most of it is rope-assisted. There’s presumably a beach, but at high tide, there’s none to be found. I think to myself, I could have (should have) run this morning before leaving Ao Nang with its miles of flat road, but know full well I woke up and decided not to for a few marginally legitimate reasons (pouring rain, no sidewalk or shoulder, trash smell, comfort of bed). Too late now; we’re here for 4 days.
I’ve been planning since the start of the year to take it easy with the running on this Southeast Asia journey. I figured after two basically back-to-back seasons of 100-miler training and racing, my body could do with some rest. While there’s a few trails here and there that look exciting, truthfully, our trip is mostly inconducive to running much beyond an hour. I’ve managed to get in about 20-25 miles a week, all mostly easy and slow because it’s too hot and steep to push the pace without overheating. Also, since there’s nothing I’m training for, why would I run in a hot, trash-filled mud pit dodging diesel trucks and scooters? I’ll happily just stay right here in this hammock and eat another banana.
Except that no matter how many articles and expert opinions I read that tell me taking an extended break is a good thing, the pictures and posts from friends tackling great adventures back home gnaw at me in the special FOMO way that only social media can. I should be absolutely thrilled at my current situation, but part of me (the driven, competitive, primal and, I guess, normal part) feels that I am being lessened with each day that I don’t put in a solid grind on the trails. In the panicked way that our brains work when they don’t have enough to do, I envision this period of less miles per week turns into no miles per week, followed by loss of all aerobic capacity, strength, musculature, a 40-lb weight gain, and a life spent reading crappy novels next to the pool (hey, the selection here is mostly in German, so I took what I could find). I know it’s illogical, but anyone who’s endured a break from training, forced or not, will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Maybe a break would be easier if I were more satisfied with my performance at Cascade Crest (which I’ve already analyzed as had-it-coming, and have accepted on a rational level but not an emotional one). In addition, it took me almost 3 weeks before I had a run that felt good after CC100, and it was barely 4 miles. It’s hard to not feel that I should have recovered faster and felt fresher after a race that was slower than I wanted, even when the data points suggesting the need for extensive rest stared me right in the face (lingering aches, need for lots of sleep, elevated heart rate, irritability). But there’s a gap that still exists between the runner I want to be and the runner that I feel like I am, and it’s hard not to be working my butt off RIGHT NOW to close that gap. Truthfully, what I probably need more than a physical break is a break from that mentality, and thus we are on a trip without trails.
Now, it’s not all gloom and doom, although it would be, were my obsessive need for accomplishment not redirected into more appropriate channels (such as daily core workouts). Beer also helps. When there is a place to run that looks nice, or a particularly strong urge to move, I make it happen. I’m aiming for an hour a day of exercise of any sort, whether it’s yoga or paddle boarding or swimming or hiking or climbing or kayaking or whatever else looks fun and doesn’t cost $100. I’m also writing more, reading more, and just watching people more. My slower metabolism means I don’t feel hungry 24/7 like I do when training, so therefore I spend less money feeding myself, and have more money for kayaks and beer. It may take daily positive self-talk to get through, but I might manage to make it until December without a single run over 10 miles. And by then, we may have a date for Justin’s citizenship interview, and I can start planning a race calendar, and build back up my mileage, and become obsessive about running all over again.
If you’ve ever taken an extended break from training, what strategies did you use to cope? How did the break help or hurt you after you went back to racing again?