When I stepped away from running two and a half years ago, I didn't know if I'd ever get back to it. After years of practices, workouts and races, I was finally burning out mentally, something that I didn't think would happen to me. It was hard to accept for a while. The competitive fire that once drove me to give it my all was slowly burning away, and I didn't know how to stop it.
Now, two and a half years later, rejuvenated and with a spark of energy, I'm ready to give it another shot and see what I can do.
It began during the 2012 track season. Like many runners, my season started out average; the first 5k race wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great either, just a season opener to gauge fitness. What I didn't know though, was that this would be one of my fastest races that season. I continued to train, and continued to race, but the pieces just weren't aligning. I would go to practice ready to run, have a sub par workout, and then a disappointing race. Repeat week after week, and eventually I started questioning things. I tried to hang in there.
Fast forward to the end of April and another 5k race, but this time it was different. I couldn't will myself to go. My body wouldn't respond. And I ran my slowest race in two years. That was all I could take. I called the season quits from there with a plan to take a few weeks off for myself, then I'd start training for cross-country and turn things around.
That cross-country season mirrored my track season. Once again, I went through the same motions of practice, workout, race, and once again I was disappointed each week. I began dreading practices and counting the miles until we finished our run so I could finally relax. I would try to work on the weekends so I could miss the grueling miles of the long run. I was at a loss. I couldn't figure out what to do. My coach wasn't sure what to do either, except to keep trying. I tried my best, but that wasn't good enough.
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When the season finally ended in November, I decided I would take another few weeks off for winter break, and I'd start the year new, training with my teammates and making up for the previous year.
When January rolled around and we were back together, things just weren't the same. Runs seemed to drag on, and I couldn't get the right gears in motion. After an easy four mile run, where I had been counting every minute, I decided enough was enough. I simply wasn't happy anymore and couldn't keep doing this to myself. I had a small talk with another other team captain, explaining things to him, and told him I just needed to stop running for a while. My flame had been completely extinguished and I wasn't sure how to get it back.
After this decision, I felt almost relieved; this burden was finally lifted off my shoulders, and for the first time in a long while, I could relax. Just because I stopped running though, didn't mean I was done with the sport. I was still engaged with my team planning things, and I still kept up with the sport as much as I ever did. I was also still working at our local running store, and in the fall I was helping to coach the run part of our school's triathlon team.
When I moved back down to San Diego after graduation, I once again gor a job at a running store, which kept me in the loop of things. Instead of the competitive college atmosphere I had come to know though, these people were enjoying their half marathons and marathons, and just running for fun. I liked that idea, since I had mostly run to compete, and though I did enjoy it, there was always a purpose, a looming race in the distance that I was training for.
But with this new job, I was able to see another, more relaxing side to the sport. I was also back by some of my old teammates who were training for their marathons and accomplishing awesome things. Slowly but surely, an ember emerged and I began to do some easy running. It wasn't much, but it was something. Since my friends had competed in the Olympics, run ultra-marathons, and gone on great adventures, it should have been easy to see that I would get back into things. I still had lingering thoughts though. I was still remembering all the bad races and the miserable runs, but this time around they didn't sound so bad. With a new spark lit, I decided to run a marathon, something I didn't think I would do for many more years, if ever.
Although I made the decision to run a marathon, that doesn't mean the training came as easily. It was hard to get myself to follow a training plan and get back into the groove I once had. I also signed up only eight weeks ahead of the race, which is not much time at all to train. Luckily one of my friends ran with me, but it wasn't enough. It should've came as no surprise that I was going to do pretty bad, and ultimately I did, but this started something in me.
That race was a blessing in disguise. I felt embarrassed at my showing, not wanting to talk much about it. But after all the pain of the race and the mental and physical fatigue, I somehow wanted more. I couldn't stop thinking about the race; what I did right, what I did wrong, where I could improve, the training I could have done, and so much more. These thoughts were on my mind for a month following the race, and I finally decided that I would do another marathon. This time though, things would be different. I needed to locate just the right race, and sign up well in advance.
This came easily and I decided to run the Long Beach Marathon in October. It fit in perfectly and it gave me plenty of months to train, and I had planned to move to the area over summer. It was perfect. I tried to get a friend to do the race with me, but one friend will be running the Chicago Marathon that same day, and another a 50k race two weeks later, so I will be flying solo this time. This would be the real challenge. Although we could do some of our training together, we were on different paths and going different ways soon enough.
So far, my training for the marathon is going well. Most importantly, I am still excited for it. The race, which takes place on October 11, will be right around the 10-year mark since I started running, and about 10 years from my first ever cross-country race. I am moving toward the Long Beach area later this summer for grad school, so that brings up another challenge of continuing to train while going at it with school, but I'm determined to make it work.
I also won't know any other runners in the area, so continuing my training solo may be difficult, but I have no doubt I can do it. This time around, things will be different. And though for now I may be done with competitive cross country and track races, I may get back to them in the future, I'm not sure yet, but right now, I'm enjoying this new land of marathoning and all it has to offer.
Saieed Rihan was a distance runner at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. You can follow him on Instagram @saieed.