How to fall back in love with running when you've run out of enthusiasm

You need your own personal reason to run, and it doesn't have to be what motivates anybody else

28 January 2018 - 00:00
Coach Peteni, running  here in the Chicago marathon,  advises that training should be fun - mostly.
Coach Peteni, running here in the Chicago marathon, advises that training should be fun - mostly.
Image: Supplied

It happens to the best of relationships. Gone are the heady days of first love and endorphin rushes. Now it just feels like a perpetual slog around the same old block. You had strategies for how to attain your "personal best" in the relationship. You imagined growing old together. Now you just can't.

What's worse, you might find yourself looking elsewhere for that high you so fondly remember. Shameful, I know - but true. This is how you find yourself cheating with boxing on your running. A lot.

It's a kind of existential hitting of the wall. And it hurts. I know it's all in my mind but the pain is real. People ask "Are you still running?" and I answer glibly in the affirmative.

But inside I know that the running I am doing now is not like the running I did last year, or the year before. It's a shadow of that running. It's hard running. Not that running is always easy and joyous but the magic appears to be gone.

DON'T JUST DO IT

So I call Nike with my problem. Speak to Coach Peteni, they say. He is the Nike+ Run Club Coach. At least they didn't say "Just do it". We meet in Rosebank, Joburg.

The electricity is conspiring against me, and the spark is gone from the treadmill in the Nike store where he was going to observe my gait and give considered advice.

I am on a tight schedule, I have boxing in an hour and now that the machine isn't working, I am not sure what kind of super-fast enlightenment Coach Peteni is going to supply that will alter my mood.

We sit at Tashas and I blurt out my sorry tale. How I started running from tree to tree, goose to goose and wino to wino around Zoo Lake several years ago and fell in love. Five marathons later I am just bleh, and no, I don't want to run Comrades. Ever.

Coach Peteni (his surname is Kuzwayo but it seems no one uses it, including the coach) has an open, enthusiastic demeanour and a winking disposition. Everything he says is preternaturally upbeat and I can see why he might be in his line of work. He tells me his running foundation myth. All runners have one.

In his case, boy has asthma, young man leads sedentary lifestyle coupled with much partying, young man discovers running with asthma pump. He sets a goal - the Soweto marathon, and after a year of training runs it. Hits the wall at 28km, discovers what he really has inside of him, finishes, runs the Comrades the next year and the next. Young man discovers running has cured asthma.

A REASON TO BELIEVE

Runners like to talk about running. A lot. So very quickly we get into the minutiae - his times, his PBs, his training schedule, his Bible reading to focus his mind.

"And?" I said, "so far, so good - but have you ever felt like me?" He has. Which is a relief somehow. If this wonderfully positive man can feel the slump then I can't be so bad. His solution? "I changed the reason I was running." This sounds rather profound.

He set up a website called Runforwealth.com to share his running stories and life vision (go there, it's great).

Coach Peteni's running advice in a nutshell

• Record your runs, use an app to understand what you are doing

• Cross train

• Get some time on your legs; 3 sessions should be tough and challenging 

• Run in areas that are busy (so you don't get mugged)

• Face the traffic

• Don't be too hard on yourself

• Understand your running character

• Get into the zone

• Repeat

He translates running advice into life advice as in running your best life race. I am not going for the big life questions though, just this little one.

His running passion also translated into becoming a coach for Nike and over the next couple of years has inspired a community of thousands. Twelve thousand people have joined the Nike + Running Club and the retention rate is ridiculously good: "They get hooked." So his solution was community and inspiring others.

But one of my two running partners moved to Berlin (I am still struggling with this) and my other running partner has always been moonlighting with running from her boxing. So my community is in a slump of its own.

Coach Peteni has an answer for everything. "You have to go back to the basics. You have to understand what kind of runner you are. What is your running character?"

Interesting concept this self-reflection thing. "Are you a social runner who just wants to enjoy the run and finish the race, or are you the kind of person motivated by personal bests, setting goals and pushing yourself? You have to find the reasons you run to ride the lows."

It appears that running might be related to the bigger life questions, but is just really well disguised as exercise.

I get it when Coach Peteni says: "Running for me is the solution to everything. When I get stressed I run, when I am down and out I run, when I need to brainstorm I run." Perhaps the man is onto something.

The next morning I go for a run. It has just stopped raining, the air is crisp, the light is pure. Ridiculous, I think. The day is conspiring with running to set up the perfect conditions for my new running relationship. I run to Zoo Lake. The geese waddle, people greet each other on the path,

I set off up the hill and stop for coffee. The Tyrone Harriers have just finished their club run, they are gabbing away at Croft and Co over banana bread and wellbeing.

I take to the road again and I suddenly feel lighter on my feet. Perhaps Coach Peteni did have an effect, without any actual advice on my running form. Maybe form has nothing to do with it.

I try to think consciously about why I run. I run because it is fun. It makes me feel alive and in touch with my body. The way I feel when I am dancing, and swimming in the sea, and yes, boxing. I am a fun runner. And I can stop berating myself that I am not running often enough, or far enough  or fast enough. I am running because I like to run. Especially to the coffee shop, for a caffeine fix and a further run. That's it really.

Maybe running and I can start flirting again like we used to.

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