The Slow Simmer

It’s been a little quiet around here. I know.

The truth is that I’ve been having a little identity crisis with my running and I wasn’t sure how to articulate how I was feeling about it.

Running has truly become part of my identity, so figuring out how to be okay with myself as a runner and a coach of other runners while running less has been a challenge for me, but I’m starting to come around.

I recently read about the Four Burners Theory describing the four areas of focus in life. Everyone has four burners, like on a stove, that represent areas of your life. You can’t keep all burners on high all the time; you have to either keep them all at a simmer or choose which ones to turn up while turning down others.

The first burner is family, the second is friends, the third is work, and the fourth is health.

When I was training hard, my health burner was burning bright. And if I’m truly being honest, too bright at times. My family and friends burners were simmering. At the same time, my work burner started getting more fuel as my coaching career started to heat up.

Then, not long after I ran the best marathon of my life, my marriage officially came to an end.

Time to put the training on simmer while I navigated being a single mom, turning up the family burner.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I fell deeply in love. I don’t know if you put a new lover in the friends or family category, but whatever burner that’s called turned into a rocket-launching, flame throwing, super volcano.

Suddenly spending two hours alone on a long run on a Saturday morning seemed much less enticing. No endorphin rush that I ever got on my best day running held a candle to the pure happiness that I feel now with my love.

So I’ve turned down the training burner from laser-hot to a healthy simmer. I still run nearly every day and hit the gym 2-3 times a week. I know I’m not as fast right now as I could be and I’m learning to be okay with that.

Training hard, eating perfectly, and racing well involves discipline, sacrifice, and sore muscles. But the high of doing something hard well is well worth it when it’s needed.

Things weren’t always so perfect at home or with my old career, and running gave me escape, accomplishment, and a sense of control that I was so desperately lacking.

But now that I’m happier than I have ever been and doing what I love for a living, why do I still have this little feeling that if I’m not training to be stronger, faster, and better, then I’m somehow losing my identity?

It’s probably because simmering isn’t sexy.

Doing bigger, better, and faster things is exciting and fun to share. Without the carrot of a race, training for training’s sake is admittedly a struggle at times. Not to mention sharing my daily 4 mile jog on Strava feels somehow lazy.

I know that is just my ego talking. The ego that is afraid to be considered not good enough. Not fast enough.

But that is not how I want to live. I’m not going to train and race just to be able to say I’m training and racing. I’m going to run and lift and be fit enough that I can say yes to a 14-mile group trail run, yet flexible enough that I can occasionally share a bottle of wine and a nice meal with my love without worrying about ruining my splits the next day.

And in some ways, going through this “detraining” process myself could make me a better coach. Not everyone can or wants to train at a high level all the time, and experiencing this phase is something all runners will go through at some point.

Life is rich and wonderful and running can ebb and flow throughout.

I know that one day, I’ll turn the running burner back up to a rolling boil. But right now, I’m finding so much satisfaction in helping the athletes I coach reach their dreams that I’m really happy simmering for a while longer.

And that’s something to celebrate, not stay quiet about.

7 Replies to “The Slow Simmer”

  1. Thanks for posting about this, Claire! I have been going through a very similar thing for the past year or two with school and personal life taking higher precedent over intense training. I often miss being in great shape and running ultras all the time, but I know I can’t do everything. It still feels weird when friends from the running community or people at the shop ask what I’m training for and look disappointed when I admit I’m not running very long these days. But Running even a few miles nearly every day and going to the gym regularly is still an accomplishment and keeps us plenty healthy and balanced. Let me know if you want to do a really slow, short west Asheville run soon! I’m extra slow these days. :)
    1. Absolutely, Whitney. I'm usually out there for a late afternoon jog most days and would love your company!
  2. Claire this was such a wonderful post to read!! I can definitely relate especially now that my 1 year old son has become the new love of my life and priorities have changed without losing the love for running at the same time !!
    1. I know that feeling, Manos!
  3. Great post Claire. My running is on simmer 8 months out of the year! Winter has been the only season I train for running, opposite of most people. I find I love being on the water, either swimming, paddling SUP so much when its warmer that I’m pretty sure the local running community wonders who I am when I show up at group runs these days. Whitney, you should never ever ever feel like people are disappointed that you aren’t training for something. Furthering your education is way more meaningful. And harder!!! It’s easier to go for a long run than to exercise your brain. Be proud! Learning should never stop.
  4. I have such a wise coach. Always inspiring 🙌
  5. Thanks for these insights Claire! And good for you for finding such happiness!

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