GUEST POST: Is it sustainable?

As a people, we are far more than runners. We’re involved individuals with a past, present, and hopefully a long and bright future. Although I see it so often, our identity shouldn’t be wrapped up in race results and the like. Yes, you are a “runner”, but you’re so much more than that, you’re more profound, emotional, and sophisticated. Shouldn’t we hope to sustain a certain amount of balance in not only running but in life as well? The balance I speak of is critical in allowing us to reach our goals, and possibly more important, in continuing to set and pursue healthy goals ongoing.

Finishing my third Rough Trail 50K

Finishing my third Rough Trail 50K

Have you ever thought about balance as not just a word to be defined, but a broader concept, one to structure areas of your life around? What can be achieved in life without balance? Is that thing worth the struggle, the chaos, or the off-kilter approach? A quick list of life’s demands that must be met with a certain amount of balance or burnout is risked:

  • Sleep

  • Diet

  • Your faith, or pursuit of faith

  • Work

  • Relationships

  • Exercise - training, racing

  • Social media consumption

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Family

  • Finances

The list could continue.

For most runners and ultra-endurance athletes, seasons tend to wind down around this time each year. The holidays are a natural time to slow down and enjoy friends and family. While it would be unwise for the athlete to cease running or working out altogether, what is an acceptable balance to achieve sustainability in your active pursuits year round? If/when you reach that level of sustainability, could you then apply what works for you to the list above, at least in principle?

Let’s pick a few from the list apart. I get that not everyone can go to bed between 9:30 PM - 10:00 PM each night. I understand that an egg white omelet with avocado doesn’t always fit the bill, and I definitely see the desire to somehow fit that extra race on the race schedule in the middle of the year. This blog is meant to serve mostly as a primer, to get the conversation started on sustainability in running, and everything else that comes along with the often demanding ultra scene.  

I try to fit my pursuits under this umbrella: set goals, plan, adapt.

What better finisher award could there be?

What better finisher award could there be?

More specifically, set as many ‘mini’ goals as you can. If you miss a day, a goal, or an event, there’s something else on your schedule that would give you the opportunity to accomplish a goal. That’s a good thing and a good feeling. Check it off the list. In a training block, I create little goals for myself almost daily. One goal might be to run a route as slow as I can, to listen to a new podcast on a run, or to run with one new person that month. Get creative. Find ways to renew your mind. The purpose is to get to the point where your training runs are vehicles for other things like social activities, learning, or maybe even productive things like solitude or pursuing a spiritual life. Creating (and executing) smaller goals can help runners reach a level of sustainability not previously experienced in training because of what I call a ‘shifting of focus’, sometimes even daily, from the larger, big picture goal you’re working towards. After all, you can’t run an ‘A’ race every day, can you?

My personal goal for the rest of Fall and Winter is to pursue activity 4-5 days each week to maintain the majority of fitness I have now. 2-3 days will incorporate spin and strength training and the other 1-2 days will include running - a day of speed work on the track and a medium effort run of 1-2 hours over the weekend. This is a great, low mileage plan for me while still keeping the fire burning for races I’m eying in 2018. And if I were to miss my track day, I have the option to chop another day for it or incorporate speed work into my medium run that weekend. Just adapt.

While it may seem a stretch to some, what if you incorporated that kind of pure planning to other areas of your life or even things that directly related to ultrarunning like diet and rest? To further define simple planning - a well thought out list of smaller, attainable goals all leading to a more prominent, primary goal (that’s not so set in stone and rigid that it doesn’t allow for adaptation). Think stepping stones. Practice this and see if it doesn’t spill over into other areas of your life.

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Let’s quickly look at diet. Seriously, how many fads are out there? How many plans are entirely unsustainable? Take for example a 30-day juice cleanse (I admit, I know very little about juice cleansing), but what’s the point of doing something supposedly ‘good’ for just 30 days? If it were indeed an amazing thing, why not make it a habit, a total lifestyle change? Is. It. Sustainable?

Ultrarunning is a sport that many of us can and will be able to enjoy well into our 50’s and 60’s. I hope I still have a passion for it then. Figuring out the balance of it now will go miles in creating a sustainable culture where our goals will continually be met. We’ll enjoy the journey more, I hope, and those around us will appreciate it more too.

Jesse ChulaComment