A few things I have figured out during the past six weeks of not officially training for anything:
1) If I'm not training for something specific, and don't have a paper schedule hanging up on the fridge, my training will be haphazard and I will skip a week at a time and justify it by saying that I'm not training for anything and am taking a relaxed approach to working out. If I am not faced with either doing the workouts so I can cross them off, or else having to live with the knowledge that I'm lazy and a slacker, I will not be accountable to myself and will do about 25% of what I should be doing. I need a paper schedule. If you don't, I'm impressed and jealous, but I do.
2) Despite my prior rationalizing of why I didn't need to be spending so much time doing something I didn't like, and should spend my time doing stuff I do like, the truth is that I do not like myself when I'm fat and lazy. Part of my identity is "athlete", and if I give that up, everything that I was trying to give more time to by cutting out workouts suffers. I think that even when I'm not enjoying training, it gives me the energy to enjoy everything else, in some weird way.
3) I can train for something without training obsessively. There is no reason at all that I need to do two to three hours of cardio every single day -- on top of this job where I do so much walking. No wonder I burned out.
I decided I will train for a fall marathon -- nothing crazy, just a regular marathon. Since 2005, I have done at least two marathons every year -- most years four -- and this year I haven't done any. I'm going to plan on the Indianapolis Marathon in October. Short drive, low entry fee, nothing terribly exciting or elaborate, but that's the kind of low-pressure race I want. At least it will be another state! Maybe this will get me more excited about getting back to trying to do 50 states.
I'm going to use one of Hal Higdon's schedules -- Marathon 3 -- which includes two days of cross-training (bike and elliptical for me -- no more swimming, EVER!) and three days of running, with a low total weekly running mileage. I totally believe high running mileage is unnecessary, considering that I had my fastest marathon ever on less than 40 miles a week, and with all the time I spend on my feet at work, I really feel like I should be as nice to them as I can outside of work. I used one of Hal Higdon's schedules for my very first marathon, the Chicago Marathon in 2005, and following that schedule was a great beginning for all the years of running between then and now, so I figure there's no harm in going back to one of his schedules. (Of course, I also believe just about any schedule will work, given the variety of schedules I have followed over the years and the fact that I've done pretty well with all of them, so I just pick the schedule that matches most closely with the kind of training I'm in the mood to do.)
One thing about this schedule -- it is a 24-week schedule, and I started it at Week 13, so when I looked at the scheduled long run of 17 miles for this weekend, I was scared. I ran 21 miles last November and since then have not run more than 10 miles at any time. I know I ran 10 miles in Tucson in February, and also one day in June up at the lake, but I think that's it. It was shocking to realize that I'm not really a long-distance runner anymore! I have a theory, though, that when you've done as many marathons as I have, the body "remembers", even if you're not exactly ready for the distance. Happily, I was right, and today's 17 miles was perfectly fine. Well, it was slow, 9:30 pace, but I expect that, with as much extra weight as I have right now and as little practice as I've had lately with any kind of distance. Most importantly, I felt all right at the end and even felt like I could've gone ahead and done marathon-distance if I had to.
Even though I'm excited at the thought of having a race to train for again, I'm not going to register for this race until October when I know I've actually done the bulk of the training. I am too familiar with and resigned to my own flakiness to continue throwing money away on race entry fees until I'm sure I'm going to do them. I'd rather lose an extra $10 by registering late than lose $70 by registering early and then getting lazy or lame and deciding, Nah.