That is the question that I had in my mind for the last year or so. My previous blog post about slowing down already hints the solution of my dilemma.
I started to be serious about trail running a little bit more than four years ago. I grew as a trail runner during the very time when this sport became more and more popular in Romania and the number of trail-running competitions exploded. I got carried by the wave and participated in many competitions, and this was great! A competition is the best way to measure one's performance, and mine was steadily growing for at least three years in a row. Competitions are also great places to meet other runners and share stories and experiences.
This year I participated in only two events, two mountain marathons, and I felt that it was the right amount for me. As an amateur trail runner I think that I reached a level where is not much room for improvement. I am not a professional athlete so I really do not see many reasons why I should try to get an even better and faster trail runner as I realize that this would put too much strain on my body. Instead I am focusing on keeping my very good fitness level while enjoying trail-running even more than ever.
You see, less competitions give me more freedom as I do not have to constantly train for specific events. It is clear now to me that my goal is just to keep myself fit and enjoy running in the nature as much as I can. Keeping fit means to find the right balance between too much and too little training and this is much easier for me without the pressure from competitions.
Then there is one more reason I prefer not to run in a competition... Trail running competitions take place in nature, often along trails that take you to the mountain summits. There are always amazing views and landscapes to enjoy. However, when I am running in a competition I am so concentrated on the trail and on my run that I cannot afford to look around. I cross the finish line and only then I realize that although I enjoyed running in the nature with all my senses, the pace was too fast and I missed so much... There were places where I would have stop to admire the landscape, to listen to some bird song, or just let all my senses to be tuned to the nature around me.
At this moment I run slower than I used to until not too long ago. I am keeping my heart rate in the aerobic zone for most of the time. As a result, instead of feeling exhausted after a long run, I fell really well. The slower pace is much better for my body as there is less stress on it. It is true that on steep uphills I find it hard to keep my heart-rate low, but well, one also has to train harder from time to time, so the uphills fit just perfectly into my running routine... Then there are the downhills. On the steeper ones there is not much stress on my heart, but on my knees... So I have to be careful! Some knee injury that I had this autumn reminded me that I might do it too hard and that I should be more careful when running on steep downhills...
In short, I am running slower, but just hard enough to keep my fitness level so my body can benefit most from it. This way of running also gives me more time to admire the landscapes. I also adapt the length and intensity of my runs depending on how I feel during the run. Sometimes I change the route while running, making it longer or shorter depending on how I feel. I may start thinking that I am going to run 15km and end up with a full marathon; or I might go out for a run on the hills and end up on the top of Postavaru Mountain, 1200m higher than my home. On the other hand I might run a shorter run than my initial plan if I feel that I am struggling too much...
I am not sure if I will compete in any trail-running race in 2016 although my competitive spirit is still alive. So I might take part in April in Brasov Marathon, a great race on the trails around my city, a race where so far I participated in all four editions that were organised so far.