It’s no secret that this training cycle has NOT been a smooth and seamless process for me. I’m competitive and I’m ambitious and I expect a lot of myself. Sometimes it feels like my favorite phrase is, “Yea, I can do that.” These can be great traits if they’re coupled with honesty and humility. They can be self-destructive if allowed to run rampant over common sense and practicality.
I had a great few years of running; I PR’d every distance and felt invincible. Until I didn’t. I haven’t run a marathon since the fall of 2014, when I pushed myself through a tough training cycle and tougher personal situation, crossing the finish line a shell of a person with broken dreams and a broken spirit. Every year since, I’ve felt I had something to prove – to myself, to those who held me back, to those who had lifted me back up. Each year, I’ve put together a marathon training plan and watched it fall apart for various reasons. I’ve felt a sense of loss and helplessness with every race day I miss or every goal that fades. This year was no exception. But I wasn’t honest with myself about where my fitness was, what my limitations were, what I was willing or able to sacrifice to make it happen.
I pushed through those things because I thought that was part of the process.
While I consider myself a very practical person in many ways, that doesn’t often extend to recognizing my own needs. I don’t back down easily, and my stubborn pride often wills me to suffer through things that others would not. I’ve been suffering through this training plan all summer, convincing myself that it was manageable if I just committed myself to it mentally, if I just sat down and planned things better, if I tuned out and focused more sharply on my goals. If I was less busy, less stressed, less travel-weary, less balanced. There have been glimmers of common sense; I briefly toyed with the idea of changing my training plan earlier in the summer, but the glory of a tough workout can be an intoxicating drug, and the feeling of accomplishment and opportunity for growth can temporarily mask a greater need. My body was screaming at me to stop, but my brain told me that relief – a breakthrough, a fitness shift – was right around the next corner.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that a spot that I thought was a lingering spider bite had spread. It was a rash; an autoimmune response to my body’s stress levels. Apparently tired of of subtle hints (like cranky Achilles or weird hip pain) that didn’t seem to be working, my body covered my torso in tiny stop signs I couldn’t miss. Even still, it took me a bit to recognize my own limits; the good parts were still good enough to convince myself that I could manage things as they were. Trying to fit six days of running into a 7-day week felt like a Sisyphean task — one that had taken its toll. While I was enjoying some of my workouts, I was treading water most days. I had lost the joy and satisfaction in the process. Lost in the forest, I was blind to the trees.
I didn’t keep a real training log during my first Twin Cities training cycle. Most of my observations were poured into a blog that I regretfully deleted years ago in an attempt to cauterize a blooming abusive relationship. (Ironically, a similar autoimmune response to that relationship – Shingles – also helped me to move past a stubborn need to suffer in that situation.) I felt that that loss more acutely this year as I sought guidance on my upcoming race. A few days ago, I discovered that I was able to access a few of my old blog posts (that I thought had been lost to the ages – thank you, Wayback Machine!). Some of those posts described tough training days where things had been derailed, but one of them was my actual race report from Twin Cities 2012.
Finding those posts eliminated the rosy tint of revisionist history and allowed me to remember the good and the bad. It also gave me the chance to more accurately remember how I felt that day, how well my legs responded to the challenge, and how effortless much of that race was. Perhaps most importantly, finding those posts helped me to realize something: I did all of that with a much simpler training plan. I had blown my race goal out of the water with 20% less mileage/intensity because it gave me room to breath. I had my rocket ship all along.
Rather than beating myself up over lost workouts or inviting more injury or white-knuckling through each week, I’m shifting my focus to my old training plan. It’s not flashy, and the numbers on the page feel a little bare, but it’s real and it’s tangible and it’s tested.
While it’s not ideal to switch canoes mid-stream, my biggest rapids lie ahead, and this boat isn’t sinking.