It happens to me every October. In past years, I trained for and competed in a series of 5K races over the summer. This year, I spent the summer training for the Air Force Marathon in September. Then comes our local Oktoberfest and its 10K Classic, after which I have nothing for which I need to train.
I have entered an in-between period. I run now not to prepare for a race, but just for the sake of running. It may be more accurate to say that I run for the sake of not gaining 20 to 30 pounds. There is a steep drop-off of motivation, and running begins to take on the feel of a chore. Even when I run my short little 4.5 mile loop, the first mile seems to stretch on forever. It doesn’t help that the sun remains under the horizon until 8 am and the overnight temperatures are inching ever-closer to freezing. The delayed dawn makes it harder to get out of bed at 5:30, when the rest of the family is sleeping, and running in the evening means imposing on everyone else’s busy schedules.
So, the physical fitness regimen starts to slip, and I hope that it’s only temporary – a little time off to recover the mojo.
As usual, I also wonder whether there’s a spiritual analogy here. Can the in-between time that I find myself in with regards to running be compared to Ordinary Time with regards to things spiritual? Training for a race is similar to the way that Advent is preparation for Christmas, Lent is preparation for Easter, and the Easter season is preparation for Pentecost. We build up to the big liturgical celebrations, and then we’re left hanging, like Wile E. Coyote, before gravity grabs hold.
Physically, we can’t maintain intense training indefinitely. At some point we peak, and then start to burn out. A recovery period is necessary, but a recovery period means training with less intensity, not the total absence of training. I suppose you could say the same thing about our pious exercises in Ordinary Time. If we don’t take them up a notch during the special seasons, then those seasons lose a part of their special character. The problem, for me anyway, is motivational. The alarm clock goes off, and the bed feels so warm, and the sun is so far away. The last thing I feel like doing is dragging myself out into the cold or off to the gym. Even though the exercise is lighter, the effort required is greater. What seemed so easy in Lent, now seems like such an imposition, and I receive no spiritual consolations.
To say that the effort required is greater is not to say that the effort shouldn’t be made. I’ll keep going to bed every night with the alarm clock set for 5:30. Some days, I’ll even get out of bed when it goes off and do what I know I really want to do. Other days, I’ll convince myself that I need sleep more than exercise. That’s how it goes during the cold months.
I’ll keep telling myself that I should pray the Hours or go to a week day mass or make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or confess my sins and be reconciled with God. Some days I will do it, other days I’ll convince myself that I don’t have time or that I’m needed at home and the little ones can’t go along because they can’t sit still. In this case, though, it feels more like I’m just making excuses. That might be how it goes in Ordinary Time, but it shouldn’t be.