Some people like to go all in. I’m probably one of those people, most of the time anyways. I’ve never liked the idea of doing anything halfway, and often think of commitment like jumping across a raging, ice cold, boulder and log strewn creek. You don’t leap over that thinking “maybe I’ll make it across” — you either go all in with full intention of successfully making it to the other side, or you simply stay put on the safe side of the torrent. You go, or don’t go, but there is no in between.

We usually opt for “go”

I first realized that I possessed this personality trait when I was in middle school, training relentlessly to make it onto the prestigious Yahara United soccer team, the reigning Wisconsin state cup champions and premier league champions. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or not, but at some point I decided that it was extremely important to me to make the team. I dribbled figure-eights in our empty two car garage during snowy winter months, I juggled underneath a streetlight at midnight during the summer, and did bodyweight strength training in my basement all year long. Did I make the team? You bet.

Life twists, turns, flip-flops, and changes sometimes; I coach soccer now more than I play, but that dedication hasn’t gone away. Now, of course, that dedication directed towards ultra distance mountain running. 2,000 foot hill repeats, early morning tempo runs and evening progression runs, and back-to-back long runs are the tools of the new trade. Putting in the miles and hours is a surefire way to become a better ultrarunner, no doubt about it.

About to crash and burn at Run Rabbit Run 100

However, contrary to the popular American belief, more is not always better. If we keep pushing our limits and slogging through endless workouts, somewhere along the line we meet the law of diminishing returns. We probably can’t achieve our maximum potential without reaching this point, but at some crucial moment(s) in the training continuum, our bodies and our minds can only take so much. I may be hyper-motivated, and I’m not sure my mind has ever reached total training exhaustion, but my body certainly has. My theory is that the key to ultrarunning longevity is doing something about deep exhaustion and fatigue before you’ve really dug yourself an energy hole. Sometimes being in tune with those physical and mental signs that maybe we’ve pushed ourselves a smidge too far are difficult to notice until it is too late. There are plenty of Over Training System poster boys and girls out there to drive that point home, so just being “mindful” or “knowing your body” probably is not enough.

So what is enough? I would argue that it is taking a break when you don’t really want to, and don’t feel like you really need to. For the last two years in the fall I’ve taken 4 weeks off from running, and basically any exercise in general. I can’t take any credit for this idea, that goes to none other than my coach, Ty Draney. I don’t have a great finishing record in September 100 milers, which there are a myriad of factors and explanations for, but it’d be hard to argue that end of the season fatigue is not one of them. I’ve been ingrained with the mindset since my soccer years that every single day you should do something to make yourself better. So, how can baking more cookies and muffins than running for a month make you a better runner? Sometimes doing something to make yourself better is being kind to your body, refueling the tank, and just taking a break. Check back with me in a few years to see if I’m right.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Ultrarunning seems to be an attractive sport for people with addictive tendencies; former drug addicts and alcoholics are pretty common on the trails. Some folks run 20, 30, or 40 ultras a year. I would not describe myself as an addict. Sometimes I feel like people view me that way, and maybe me choosing to stop running cold turkey, and patiently waiting to start training again is just one way to prove that I’m not an addict. But really, taking time off is not about being addicted to running, or training, it’s about doing what is best for mind, body, family, career, and overall health.

That being said, I’m ecstatic to hit the trails this Saturday as my 4 week hiatus will be over. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my family, taking a new job, and putting on a couple pounds. But don’t get me wrong, I am hungry as ever to get back after it. So with that, good luck to you, fine reader, with wherever you are at on training continuum. Even if you haven’t “trained” in years, or if you are at the peak of your season, I hope you do something today that improves you.

Still time for some fall running