Kicking the Running Habit


“Buuuuullllllllls**t. In 3 days you’ll sign up again.” Those likely prophetic words were a comment written by my friend Jason, posted on Facebook immediately after I announced my retirement from running. I had just completed my third leg of the Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay on an Ultra Team consisting of six guys running 197 miles from Logan to Park City, and afterward I made it clear to the social-media world that this event would be my last. I ran a total of 34 miles in 24 hours, and had no desire to ever do it again. This long-distance suffer-fest was the culmination of my reluctant foray into the insane world of running for “fun,” and I had every intention of calling it quits after accomplishing a feat I once thought was beyond my ability. Basically, when it came to running, I had nothing more to prove to myself.  But Jason knew all too well that running becomes addiction, and his calling me out on Facebook was not without precedent.

I started the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other in rapid succession all for a chunk of cheap metal hanging from a ribbon about a year-and-a-half ago. The madness was born from the enthusiastic 12 Pack of Chafing Tail team leader signing me up for the 2011 Ragnar Relay. Seeing as how my wife was already among their ranks, I reluctantly agreed despite my intense loathing of anything that required me to move my legs faster than a rapid saunter. But then a funny thing happened: as I started to train, I found I was actually pretty good at running. My bird legs were well suited to the activity, I could bring my nutso dogs along for some exercise, and the health benefits were obvious. Then Ragnar hit, and my dread turned to elation as I ran on the loose, dirt road up Avon Pass and realized that running was about traveling outdoors in the most simple way, and with the only gear anyone really needs – their own two feet. In that time, I became a runner.

After Ragnar, it didn’t take me long to sign up for another event. I figured that since I trained so much, I might as well put my newfound physical fitness to good use. So I entered the Mid-Mountain Marathon, a trail race that follows the 8,000-foot elevation line from Deer Valley to The Canyons Resort. It was a big jump to go from 12 relay miles to checking a marathon off the bucket list, and the training required meant nothing mattered in life except for running. If Ragnar was a gateway drug, then the marathon was a coffee table covered in cocaine, surrounded by half-naked hookers passed-out on a stained carpet.

That fall, with a marathon completed and under my belt, I was ready to call it quits. Why? For starters, the awful ritual of training sucks. While running a race is tons of fun, the training to get there is too time-consuming. Four, six, ten miles a day, four days a week with a long 15-18 mile run on Saturdays is like a freaking full-time job. With no time for anything but running, dust covered my video-game console, weeds invaded the yard, unread books stacked up, and worst of all, training cut into my mountain bike time in a serious way. No bueno. In fact, whenever I was out pounding the pavement or trail and saw people riding their bikes, I would think to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this again?”

So post-marathon, boy did I try to quit. But it turns out a mere week hiatus from running was like a damn intervention that shed light on my addiction. A few days of lazy couch surfing allowed dark cravings to enter my mind. I would wake up in the morning and think it was time to go on my daily run, only to remember that I quit. Driving in town, I would see runners on the sidewalks and in parks, sweating away while I just sat there all guilty, forcing me to remind myself that I quit. My running shoes, tossed aside in a corner of the living room, pleaded with me like some demented, talking inanimate objects, and I’d have to tell them that I quit. But the worst part was that my beer consumption suffered tremendously as a result of quitting. While training, I made a deal with myself that if I went on a run during the week, I could drink a beer that night as reward. Take away the run, and any beer I drank became a source of shame. But guilt didn’t stop me (mostly). I was weak. In short time, I fell off the non-running wagon and, damn-it-all-to-hell, ran a half-marathon in Moab.

Then winter arrived and my attention should have turned to skiing powder, pushing any thoughts of lacing up my sneakers as far away as possible. But no, friends with their own running problems are bad influences. One of them tempted me with Ultra Ragnar, and I could not resist. Just like that, I was back out there every morning, training in sub-freezing temperatures and snow storms, and for what, the opportunity to exhaust myself by running 34 miles with no sleep come June? Yes, I was a junkie for running, and by the end of Ultra Ragnar, I bet looked the part.

So here I am, not running, getting lots of time on my bike saddle, ignoring any invites to join a Ragnar team next year, and laughing off any doubters who give me three days before I cave. And yet, the doubters know me all too well. I’ve already gone on a few short runs, telling myself I’ll just bang out some 3-milers every so often as exercise. But inevitably, those short runs around the park evolve into trail jaunts above the city, and before I know it, I’ll be alongside my running friends again, huffing up a canyon road during an early morning 18-mile epic, dreaming of catching the sag-wagon so I can slam a few energy gels. What a tool.

I’ll just have to take it day by day and swallow my urges when they bubble up. Like a true addict, I’ll make a date with my sponsor (my bike) and her knobby tires and full suspension will talk me down and make me feel better.

Oh, but wait, this mud run in Ogden looks pretty fun…

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