September 3rd Victory Memorial 10k – 36:53
Saturday October 6th TC 10k – 36:58
Saturday October 6th TC 5k – 19:07
Sunday October 7th TC Marathon – DNF
As I said in my last post, I spent a month in Fort Sill, Oklahoma for army reserve training as a condition of my scholarship for school. During that time, it was difficult for me to think that I wasn’t being treated to some extent like a child. Being required to travel anywhere on post with another soldier in my company. Not being allowed outside the barracks after 6pm most days. Being restricted to the quad area just outside the barracks on the weekend for personal training. Being told when and where to use the bathroom, talk, eat, and everything else is just a part of a training environment. By no means was this basic training (I can’t stress the discrepancy in the intensity of our training compared to basic training enough), but it threw quite the wrench into what I set as a goal at the outset of the year.
To run, everyday, without fail.
Suffice to say, I got creative. If it meant sneaking out of the barracks to run 5 miles on the treadmill, or playing dumb when getting caught coming back from the track by yourself because you can’t find anyone to be your ‘battle buddy,’ or getting home from training and running 4 miles outside at 2am in Minneapolis because you just couldn’t make it happen the last day in Oklahoma, I did what I had to do. With only my schedule to follow for the rest of the year, it seemed absolutely guaranteed to check off that goal. Even with a pretty packed racing schedule ahead. Checked off a 15k and a trail marathon that, respectively, showed me I still had some juice in my legs just a day after coming back from hampered run training and also instill a newfound love for trail running. Both confidence building revelations as I continued to gear up for a 50 mile trail race in WI and turn around for a race challenge series on Twin Cities Marathon weekend 3 weeks later. I felt healthy, and strong, so why not ramp up the training?
I was trying to use the weekends to prepare for the ultra by doing long runs on trails while doing intervals during the week to get used to running on tired legs. Fairly standard training methodology. I utilized a Mill City team race to get in one more big training weekend 2 weeks before Wisconsin: 30 mile trail run Sunday, 10k race Monday, 10 marathon pace miles on Tuesday. And everything went fine. I run faster than predicted on the trail and the 10k, and am able to maintain (albeit uncomfortably) those MP miles. But on an innocuous, ‘junk miles’ run the following weekend, I ran into something I’d managed to avoid for over 3 years.
I’ve facetiously entertained the notion since high school about cutting my legs off from the hips down and getting some athletic prosthetics to avoid that nagging, useless, debilitating pain you get from consistently pounding your legs. If I only had to worry about aerobic ability and do away with actually having to exercise maintenance, all the better right? It sounds like a better and better idea every day…
I digress. That weekend saw some nagging pain in my ankle, and then a forfeiture of a goal I’d, truly fought hard to achieve. A bag thick helping of humble pie that’s still finding its slow, painful, peristaltic path through my heart and soul. 1 week of cross training on a rower, a few days on the elliptical, a few PT sessions and wouldn’t you know it I’m ready for Twin Cities Marathon weekend. Having had to drop out of a trail ultra in Wisconsin, a forced abstinence from the fun and camaraderie with November Project tribe members from around the country, was, well, infuriating to say the least. And, honestly, I hadn’t had the slightest confidence I’d be healthy enough for TCM weekend. So I met the disappointment of mid-September with a newfound confidence that I’d run this challenge series (a 10k and 5k on Saturday, the marathon on Sunday) fast. And healthy. And I was wrong.
In hindsight, running only 5 seconds slower than my 10k PR for the first race was less than ideal, but I had the wherewithal to back off on the 5k just an hour later. Legs feeling 80% right after 15k of racing and a 4 minute lead in the challenge series, on paper I don’t think I could have asked for anything better. Honestly, I had as much confidence as I could have imagined going into Sunday. Out the gate, sitting comfortably at 6:30’s with good company to pace, I was even on pace for a PR. A marathon PR with 2 races the day before! But just 5 miles into the marathon, a thought came into my head I’d never experienced before in this race.
Quit. Give up. It’s not your day.
Quite literally looking up into the sky for the source of the insurgent voice I felt its power start to cling and take a prominent presence in my mind. Mile 8 rolls around and that conquered pain in my ankle comes back with a vengeance. And those 6:30 miles start to feel like 6:00 minute miles and I have to back off. And once again that voice of quitting finds a platform and a megaphone that drowns out any other thoughts. Am I even running in my own body anymore? Mile 11 and now I’m starting to limp, my watch says 7:00 minutes. My breathing is labored like I’m hitting the wall on Summit Ave and I’m not even halfway through the race. My pacers are almost out of sight. I spy a spot on the side of the road and knew, overwhelmingly, that this really isn’t the day. For the first time in my career this race is a DNF, a Did Not Finish. I looked down trying to comprehend what happened, looking back on the weekend, what went wrong. And in hindsight, when I’m honest with myself, the signs were there. I felt sluggish all day Saturday. I was fatigued and sore, unable to feel satiated or hydrated despite adequate food and fluid. I was irritable, and unmotivated for Sunday. Even getting up, that sense of excitement, wonder, curiosity, intrigue, all those things that have come with distances like this, was absent. I tried (and succeeded) at ignoring exactly what my soul was telling me. I really believe that, mind you. So when your soul can’t get through to you spiritually or emotionally, well it will try to reinjure you to get you to stop. I looked down at my leg on Sunday morning just after quitting, failing, ascribing a new meaning to the multicolored beautiful winged sandal that now takes up the majority of lateral thigh. A representation, for me, of endurance and longevity. And I felt something, in that moment, I hadn’t anticipated.
My soul, having tried a few different ways to reach out to me, finally found a mode of communication that satisfied its audience enough to comply. Now, that’s not to say I don’t feel frustrated and upset about being sidelined from the race. And having to go back to the drawing board as far as recovery. Both suck. However, I take solace in knowing that having scrapped something that meant the world to me, a return to an event that catapulted my practice in exercise to levels I would never have anticipated, I ensure I get to come back to it faster and healthier than before. It’s a practice to focus on the positives. It’s difficult to find the silver lining, and it’s even more difficult to keep your focus on the good when I could spiral into self-flagellation and loathing far more easily. But that gets easier, with practice. And extending that practice of positivity beyond my own self-interests, focusing and reveling in the accomplishments of others is where I find I can shift the perspective (more) easily. I have so many friends that found success this last weekend, and in Wisconsin, that I can’t help but have my heart fill with joy and pride for all of those in this community that enjoyed their successes this weekend. The selfish, self-absorbed, self-deprecating thoughts become smaller and less frequent when my internal focus is set on my wonderful friends all over the country who are absolutely fucking crushing it. People who are courageous, strong, and most importantly in my opinion, inspiring. And it extends beyond running.
There have been numerous occasions in which this blog has opened doors to friendships and relationships I would never have conceived, simply because immeasurably strong individuals had the courage to reach out and connect with me. From old friends, current and former classmates, to complete strangers, I am floored by the willingness of people to be directly vulnerable with me, show support, and even open up about their own struggles. But because I have trained (am training, sometimes failing) myself to keep those doors unlocked, I have fostered new friendships and maintained old ones I wouldn’t have dreamed of even a few months ago. Re-connecting with high school friends I haven’t seen or heard from in years. Throwing every available resource I have to classmates struggling with the demons of eating disorder that found a home in my mind and soul for far too long. And perhaps most surprising to me, an unprecedented 6 hour lunch with a high-school-acquaintance-turned-best-friend sharing her story of her own struggle with mental health, along with her unapologetic sarcasm and morbid gallows humor that reflects mine with preternatural and hilarious precision.
There are lessons to be learned from listening to your mind, body, and soul. The integration of all three allows me to push when I need to push, slow when I need to slow, and (frustratingly) stop when I need to stop. But it’s listening to others, directing that focus onto the inspirational stories and success of friends, classmates, and total strangers that makes listening to yourself that much more bearable when your hurt. It gives me the chance to stop focusing on what I can’t do and being boisterously proud of what all of my friends can do, and continue to do.
So keep being awesome people. If nothing else, you’re providing positivity fodder for a currently hobbled, humbled, (recently a little high for the first time), closer-to-30-than-20 kid who’s hoping just to dovetail your badass example.