It's been an interesting month for me. After the North Face 50 I began running again almost right away. I spent a week in Juneau shortly after that race and ran everyday while I was there, including some pretty long runs. I was feeling good and felt like I had recovered amazingly quickly from the race, especially considering how late in the year this race is. I figured the time that I had taken off in September and October made this more like a typical spring time race than an end of the season race.
And then I came back to Colorado. And almost right away I felt exhausted. I did some really easy slow runs and felt even more tired out. Finally I decided that my body and my mind were both in need of some more serious time off. The entire second half of this year I would respond pretty well to down time, but the "good times" would only last for a few weeks, and then I would feel the need for prolonged rest again. In the past I have had this same cycle, but the "good times" would usually last for 8 or 10 months. The second half of this year they have lasted 3 or 4 weeks at best. When I've rested my body has responded very well, but only for a short period of time. When I've rested for a week I've gotten maybe 2 weeks of feeling good in return. When I've rested for a couple weeks I've gotten about a month (at best) of feeling good. This rate of return on rest has been about 15-20% of what I've typically received in the past.
This experience has led me to the decision that I'm going to take the entire winter off from running. My hope is that 3 or 4 months off will reset things and allow me to get back to a place of being able to get more return on my rest.
Initially I thought I would take the winter completely off from much of any physical activity, including giving up on the plan of tackling The Iditarod Trail Invitational in late February. After sitting with this plan for a few days though, I decided instead that I'm going to take the winter off from everyday running, but I will still plan to get out most everyday doing very low intensity nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, winter camping, or the occasional mellow run (when conditions are not suitable for other activities, or when I'm travelling to warmer places that don't offer these "snowsports" options).
As I thought more about this plan I still found myself thinking a lot about the Iditarod Invitational. In the past I approached this event from a running perspective, thinking of it simply as a really long run. Over time I've come to think that this isn't really the best way to approach this event. Really it is much more of an adventure, a journey, and on some levels a pilgrimage. And thus I've decided that I'm still going to take a shot at the ITI, even in the midst of taking the winter "off" from running. My "training" will be focused much more on the mental and logistical aspects of this event than on the physical aspects. Rather than trying to get myself through the 350 miles by being in the best possible physical shape, I will try to get myself through the 350 miles by being comfortable with my gear, comfortable with the immensity of the journey, and prepared to best be able to deal with any challenge that will arise while out there. Previously I tackled this event with a plan to try to move quickly. I never had time goals in mind, but the mindset that I went into this event with was very much a racing mindset. Once we started my primary goal was to get to McGrath as quickly as possible. This time around my mindset is going to be very much to have the most satisfying journey possible, even if this ends up being several days slower than I feel like I could do this route.
Perhaps this is a crazy approach. I'm not sure there is a whole lot of logic in tackling one of the most difficult physical challenges in my life at somewhere well below my best physical shape. Then again this could all very well be a blessing in disguise. This could be just the dynamic I need to have the journey that I'm hoping to have out there.