Jellyfish

So around Christmas time, I had the very excited revelation that my Demons had “come out of hibernation,” so to speak, and that I was thus hopping back into the saddle to gallop forth into the glorious sunset to set PR’s, run better than ever before, and CRUSH all races (but only uphill ones, and only at certain grades, and preferably nothing technical. I’m a bit persnickety nowadays).

That’s right: Payne Train Version 2.0 is locked and loaded and about to leave the station folks! Choo-choooo!

And happily, for the most part, that has happened thus far, with the exception of “crushing all races.” I know, I know, “patience, young grasshopper!” Eh, do I still qualify as a “young grasshopper”?

Because come to find out, when you’ve been out of the game for a while, it’s surprisingly tough to work your way back in. You forget, in a way, how much you did and how hard you did it to get to where you were, how many hiccups happened along the way, and how long the build-up really took. That’s one of the things that drives me bonkers when someone chalks up another person to merely being “talented” when they’re winning things. Natural talent plays a role with any good athlete, certainly, and so does luck to a degree, but there’s a whole lot of effort there behind the scenes too. But, blog post for another day. That aside, bottom line is you recall things as having been so much easier than they really were. The great coach Jack Daniels had a name for this aspect of training, he called it the Time-Erodes-Memory Principle. Yes, yes it does.

One of the great positives of spending so much time over the last couple of years more or less removed from the competitive aspect of running, was the abundance of, shall we say, Running-Come-To-Jesus-Moments. In this particular case, mostly brought about by being pulled out of a mindset that I’ve resided in for some time, and forced to look at things more subjectively and without as much emotion tied to them, has been a great way to see all the places where things went wrong both physically and mentally, and just see things for what they were: good, bad, and ugly. When you come to terms with what’s bad and ugly, see that they were not really benefiting anything, you can try to improve them for the next go around.

In any case, it took no time at all for me to go right back to my old ways. In many ways, that’s been a great thing! One thing that disappeared there for a while was the ability, much less the desire, to make myself really hurt. But after jumping into a couple of rinky-dink local races, not to mention actually completing workouts, it became readily apparent that it is still there and has remained perfectly unscathed. And even better, the butterflies came back. Workout days and races are again always preceded by that fluttery feeling of excitement and anticipation blended with a bit of adrenaline because that primitive part of you that thinks you’re about to wrestle a saber-toothed tiger somehow thinks YOU MIGHT DIE TODAY.

But aside from the physical aspect of training, if you really want to be Version 2.0, you have to tackle the whole kit n’ caboodle. The other thing that wasted no time in rearing its ugly, scraggly, mottled little pin-head was the angry little Type-A monster that lives deep (or maybe not so deep) within my psyche, who is absolutely bent on getting a given result, every single day, and is going to make that result happen come hell or high water. Training log says ___________? Then _____________ better happen. When he doesn’t get his way, things get real ugly real fast. I’m not super proud of it.

It’s a crying shame that this characteristic doesn’t seem to permeate a single other area of my life besides running.

They say that we shouldn’t be like bamboo: bamboo looks strong, and it is, but really it’s too rigid, and so it breaks too easily, but rather that we should be more like willows: even though they might look super wimpy, they have a flexible nature and can withstand tough storms because they bend with the wind. I mean, that’s a pretty solid analogy and it gets the point across, but let’s move away from tree metaphors for a moment, to something more original. I think we should try to be more like jellyfish.

Jellyfish have a flowing, tranquil, almost liquid quality that is quite beautiful to behold as they get tossed around to and fro in waves and currents, going wherever the ocean feels compelled to send them, but they also capture their prey by stinging them to death,

jellyfish-2

So tranquil…

and then engulfing them within their bodies prior to consuming them. That really doesn’t line up all that great with the previous tree analogy, but what I’m getting at is that jellyfish go with the flow wherever they go, but when push comes to shove, they get sh*t done. Yes, we should all strive to be like jellyfish.

I’m no jellyfish however. I’m a control freak of such epic proportions that somehow I more often than not make this running thing out to be quite stressful, which is absolutely absurd because it truly does not matter. But alas, that is a concept that the brain will always understand, but the heart never will. Give me a piece of paper with a training schedule to follow, and follow it I will–dotted i’s, crossed t’s and all. Yep, me and that training schedule: Till Death Do Us Part. And very few things give me the warm-fuzzies quite as much as knocking out a whole week, gone to plan, with an A+. But have one tiny thing go wrong; one workout that was a tad slower than anticipated, one run that needed to be replaced with a pool run, a couple of days that needed to get switched around as a

jellyfish

Floating serenely…

result…and behold, it’s not just as though the whole bamboo forest got blown over, but that it then proceeded to light itself on fire.

Yes, it is one of God’s many great miracles that I have never been institutionalized.

But seriously, I didn’t really write this with the intention of actually telling anybody how to go about being a jellyfish, but just that we should. Super helpful I know, you’re welcome. We should be adaptable and fluid regardless of where the waves of life (or running) take us and keep the faith that we can still sting when it counts.

I’ll let you know when I actually figure out how to do this. Don’t hold your breath, but I’m trying.

Till then, don’t be the bamboo.

Maybe don’t even be the willow.

Be the jellyfish.

diver-with-jellyfish

Bro, don’t touch that.

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Demons

“So, what do you think is the most important mental quality someone needs to have—that can’t be coached—to be a successful athlete?”

My long-time friend Corey Kubatzky posed this question to me as we conversed on an especially slow Sunday afternoon at the running shop we worked at a couple of years ago. Corey was about to take over as the head women’s cross country coach at CU-Colorado Springs, where he had formerly been the Graduate Assistant during my senior season there several years prior, before spending some time in Michigan coaching with the Hanson’s Distance Project (of which his wife was a member), and he was now putting together his first NCAA recruiting questionnaire for potential incoming athletes who would comprise his future teams.

I paused in my Windexing of the watch case to contemplate briefly.

“Demons,” I responded, at which he burst out laughing. And with good reason too: we shared a whole lot of miles together “back in the day”–some better than others—during the 2007-2009 seasons where he always graciously accompanied me during many a training run and workout given our lack of women on the team to train with at that time. The guy is just so non-judgmental that a few times I probably got a little too comfortable around him in saying exactly whatever it was I was thinking, sans filter. One thing that’s stayed true and unchanging for many years now is that although I will always love this sport, it at times frustrates me to absolutely no end, and I was much (or perhaps just slightly)  less adept back then at mastering any mental turmoil going on at a given time, so needless to say, he’d heard it all. What a lucky guy.

loon

Yes, that fateful race in 2014 where my demons got the best of me. Boy am I glad I picked a US Championship to mentally implode in spectacular fashion…let’s not go back to that dark place, shall we?

Now, I’m not entirely sure if that question actually ended up making the cut for his questionnaire, but I still think it’s pretty valid, and I can just see it: “Please list all demons.”

In any case, not very long ago, I read something somewhere that some smart person said at some point sometime, that “Every human being should find out, before they die, exactly what they are running to, from, and why.” And at the same time, I was reminded of this aforementioned conversation in the running store a couple of years ago.

I have mentioned before that for many months over the last couple of years, that running had come to lack a certain something that it used to have. It took me some time to realize that a certain sort of urgency was missing from the equation, it was as though I had given myself a pass or become complacent or perhaps written myself off and somehow tried to convince myself that I was okay with that, when I never really was. Granted, it didn’t really help that for a large portion of that time, that I couldn’t really run, but that’s a minor technicality. That aside, I realized the other day, with a strange kind of relief, that after a few aggravating turns of events in my own little Running Realm in recent weeks, that I was feeling incredibly frustrated, because that sense of urgency has returned and ain’t nobody got time for a buncha baloney. Yes, the demons are back. The sport that I love is frustrating me to no end…again! And that–despite a few hiccups–actually makes me pretty thrilled. I was so happy because I was so angry! It was a moment akin to the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, when the Grinch’s heart goes from being shriveled-up-walnut-sized, to regular sized, and he realizes with great joy that HE REALLY CARES!  Bless you, Cindy Lou Who!grinch

Or something like that. Regardless, it seems the demons are out of hibernation.

I think a lot of competitive athletes, regardless of level, understand and can relate to the strange feeling of “urgency” that drives us to go out and put in miles and tough workouts despite various circumstances; to not care about the weather or conditions or other outside factors, to make it work when it’s anything but convenient, or perhaps play a little Russian roulette with injuries and such. For many of us, that urgency is our demon. Sure, we all love what we do and that’s the ultimate driving force (or at least it should be), but there is something else there too, something that makes us not care so much about all of those other things, to throw caution to the winds, and put our noses to the grindstone with no promise of a favorable outcome or of ever really seeing our work come to fruition.

In addition to leaving no stone unturned in our own little “quests for glory,” I think part of us also knows that we may only get one shot at what we really want to accomplish, thus creating some of said urgency.

I was hanging out with my friend Peter–a sinewy, mustachioed, beer-swillin’, badass mountain runner–not long ago, who is battling a super tough injury with a somewhat questionable prognosis and he was debating upon what course of action to take, and lamenting the potential loss of some upcoming race opportunities.

“People always say, ‘Don’t worry, that race will be here next year,” he said, “and it will, but I might not be.”

I think that particular statement perfectly encapsulated what we all kind of feel as runners: that our time to maximize our potential and really see what we’re made of is, in reality, quite limited. We’re mortals—particularly from an athlete standpoint–and that creates this “demon,” so to speak, of urgency to fulfill our potential while the window of opportunity is still open.

And in a way, running is also a way in which many of us fight back against our demons, whatever they may be. For instance, I was talking with my friend David today, who coaches a lot of top-notch folks, and we got onto the topic of how in the day and age of social media in particular, there is always a positive, glowing picture painted of successful athletes’ lives, when in reality, many of them are actually quite self-destructive. But, running is their way of fighting those inner demons, a way to cope and calm their monkey minds, and they’ve become damn good athletes in the process.

To conclude this nonsensical, rambling, jumble of thoughts, what I’m getting at is that our “demons” can be many things. They can certainly be destructive if we let their voices get too loud, they can give us the yips, and they can sometimes keep us up at night. But if they’re channeled correctly they can be friends rather than foes, and they can all be used to create the same result, driving us to do whatever we can with the time we’re given because we just have to know what we’re capable of.

The Strumbellas put it nicely when they sang:

“I got guns in my head and they won’t go, spirits in my head and they won’t go, but the gun still rattles, the gun still rattles…”

Demons, folks: gotta have ‘em. Now if you’ll excuse me,  I’m off to dye my hair black and pierce my lip with a safety pin. Run on, fellow whack-jobs!

Running Full Circle

After I finished the last run of my 30th trip around the sun a couple of weeks back—which happened to be a hill workout (my favorite) on one of my favorite big hills (High Drive. Happy birthday to me, let’s go run uphill repeatedly.)—I was sitting in the river post-workout in Bear Creek Park and it occurred to me what a whirlwind the last year has been. Seriously. Like, whoa.

I almost had to laugh though, because exactly one year prior, I was coincidentally finishing a run in the exact same spot (I know this because I am a dork of astonishing proportions and I keep a running log that is so nerdily detailed that sometimes I get really embarrassed when I go back and re-read it because I actually wrote those things at one time. Then again, come to think of it, that’s basically the story of my life.), knowing that it would be my last run there for an undetermined amount of time as I was in the process of throwing everything into the back of a Uhaul to go down to Texas to tackle a new job and whatever came with it. Even though I wasn’t running well and my foot was still quite exploded-feeling at that time, I had nonetheless kind of done this “last tour” sort of deal of all of my favorite and most cherished running spots, of which there are many. It took like a month. I get super attached to all these places, it really doesn’t matter that I’ve been in Springs since I was 18, some things won’t ever get old. In any case, I wasn’t really sure when I’d be back, so it was a little bit of a bittersweet time of life, with a weird mix of super-high-stoke-level and anticipation (because shiny new job), yet combined with a lot of trepidation (because Texas) and a bit of uncertainty and nostalgia (because life). While I was really excited for something new and different, I nevertheless promised myself that I’d be back eventually and that it would probably feel like I never left.

Actually I ended up being back way sooner than I expected so needless to say it actually did feel like I never left. Sooo….PSYCH!

Anyway, back to my story of contemplating life while sitting in the stream post-hill session.

Running—like life—has oodles of challenges, as we all well know. Which is of course part of why it’s rad. If you didn’t have a bunch of physical and mental battles to fight en route to improving, it would get rather repetitive rather quickly and would perhaps lose some of the satisfaction  and sense of purpose that comes with trying, sometimes failing, figuring it out, trying again, and then often repeating the process again down the line. It would be “like shooting fish in a barrel” as they say. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

One of said challenges in my own running life that I was not really aware even existed until recently when I was finally able to put my finger on it, revolved around a weird and rather difficult to articulate feeling of being…adrift, I guess you could say. Un-anchored. Rudderless. Unmoored. Floating. Why are these all nautical references?

Allow me to elaborate. Actually, given that this is my blog, I’m going to elaborate till I’m blue in the face whether anyone allows it or not. I mean, my middle name may as well be “Unnecessary Elaboration” anyway.

Excluding time spent on my high school and college teams quite a while ago—which were great times– running has always been more or less been a very solo endeavor of mine and  more or less by choice. Some people hate training alone, but I love it. I don’t really understand that about myself, but at this point I just roll with it. And running is not really something I share with anyone in my life outside of people in my “running world.”

Despite the aloneness with which I’ve pursued running, it has rarely felt particularly lonely to me. I’ve always been fortunate to have the support of wonderful coaches and teammates both collegiately and post-collegiately, as well as friends and acquaintances in our small but very close-knit running community here at the foot of Pikes Peak, which is full of characters and, like the bar “Cheers,” it often feels like “everybody knows your name.”

I also had the great fortune of working for several years in a terrific local running shop that was populated by local runners who put in the miles before (and after) punching the clock every day and who understood well the grind and joy that comes with training and competing and always chasing after that elusive “next level.” It was also home to a fantastic club team that was comprised of more of the same kind of people. So, in a sport where it can be easy to get a bit lost when pursuing it on your own, it was a little like having a perfect little sphere of support and understanding in which to keep chasing after your dreams yet at the same time being able to feel like you weren’t in it on your own at all, that you were doing it for more than just yourself, and that you are not, in fact, a complete freak. Well, that could be debatable, but regardless….good times!

For various reasons beyond anyone’s control, those things more or less abruptly ceased to exist, so cue all of the aforementioned  nautical references regarding feeling slightly adrift, and amplify that with the challenges that come with battling a stubborn, longer-term injury that was super tough to kick, toss in a relocation and life adjustment, and talk about feeling like being up a stream without a paddle and generally slightly out of sorts.

One big take-away of the last year or so and something that I’ve come to have more and more faith in is that the right people and situations will drift into (and occasionally out of) your life at all the right times, and that it nearly always works out. That could perhaps be the most naïve statement ever, and really, maybe it’s just that we end up somewhat creating–subconsciously–what we need around us  (thanks a bunch, psychology degree, for helping me learn to overthink the sh*t out of everything), but I don’t know…I’ve seen a few too many things work out way too neatly way too often to chalk it up to just that.  

While I certainly do miss it, without being as immersed in the small running bubble that I was once part of, I’ve taken significantly more notice of what a great, even bigger, running world that we have here in Springs (and beyond) and have come to appreciate infinitely more the people that comprise it, who always offer their support and who I’ve heard yell for me at races here and there and many of whose names I don’t even know. People who I’ve never met who ask how my running is going, or leave comments on this completely nonsensical blog, or shoot me a message across cyberspace to offer encouragement or whatnot. Sometimes I’m a bit taken aback that anyone is remotely interested, but geez, do I ever appreciate it.

Add this to the fact that I connected a while back with a great coach (David Roche) who has a great group of runners spread across the US (yay S.W.A.P.!) who all watch and genuinely support each other’s progress from afar, and it’s not a whole lot different from what I used to have.

My final warm and fuzzy thought before I wrap this up, is that months ago I was questioning how much and whether to continue to attempt to pursue running all that competitively anymore—at least for a while–simply due what I now recognize as feeling a little too “on my own,” or like I wasn’t doing it for anything bigger than myself anymore, or like I needed to put it all on the back-burner thinking that I needed to become, like, a real grown-up or whatever (I decided that was over-rated pretty much within the first hour). But running is the same as ever, it’s just set in a slightly different context than ever before, because things change. What has not changed, however, is that I’ve always had folks who’ve had my back, all the time, and without all of them I don’t know that I would still be chasing “it,” and that regardless of the circumstances, that’s ultimately always made all the difference.

 

Pikes Peak and the F*** It Moment

Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent weekend is arguably the biggest deal in the Colorado Springs running ‘hood, and it was a blast being totally immersed in it a few weeks back, all weekend long, working the expo for Salomon. It’s a pretty special race, this year as much so as any. Seeing old and new friends kick ass, take names, or just crush whatever goal(s) they had in mind; whether lofty or humble. I admittedly was just as amped for everyone racing as I’d ever be for myself. Working at the expo was interspersed with obsessively catching up on Leadville 100 progress and the men’s Olympic marathon. There was so much epic runningness during a 48 hour span that my mind was blown.

And yet…something was missing.

Oh yeah, I should’ve been running up Pikes Peak with all those other brave souls that day, and I realized that as we packed everything up as things wound down, and it just didn’t feel quite right. I’m healthy, I’m not super-fit by any means, but plenty runnable.

I was sort of 50/50 about going into race day whether I’d toe the line or not. I picked up my bib, went to the press conference, gave some absolutely ludicrous advice to a small crowd and talked a kickass game, and then didn’t race. Anti-climactic to say the least.

It was an insanely hectic last 7 weeks, I told myself, and I knew I had not invested enough time into preparing (and in some cases, maybe letting preparation slide a little where I had the option of doing better). I know what that race is like. Pikes will chew you up and spit you out and make you her little b**** if you don’t respect her. But in my heart of hearts, in places that I don’t like to talk about at parties (when I go to them, which is pretty much never, because it entails mingling, which is terrifying), I believe the real reason I chose not to race was because the bar has already been set, and I knew I wouldn’t surpass it (or likely even come close to doing so) and I was afraid of what I’d feel like if I didn’t do better than before, I was afraid of any disappointment, and I’ve been a bit bothered by that realization ever since.

Afraid of disappointment…geez, if that’s going to be the case, you’ll never do anything again.

Granted, it’s not as though I’m being eaten alive by regret by any means–I know I’ll be clawing my way back up there again–but that little epiphany from the weekend did make me reflect just a bit on the last few months and spurred on the confrontation of an uncomfortable truth that I think I’ve more or less been avoiding thinking much about, and that is that I’ve let myself get okay with only going half-way out of fear of what disappointment awaits if I try to go the whole-hog but fall short.

While the last few months of running have been some of the most joyful and freeing miles I’ve run in several years, part of that has been because of an underlying hesitation; there’s been a lot of reluctance to really mentally/physically/emotionally invest in it the same way that I used to. Honestly, that’s not such a bad thing, being overly-invested in anything has just as much potential to be really destructive as it does to be really productive, depending on how the cards fall and of course the perspective that you take on things. But there has been a certain amount of having to work really hard to convince myself that none of it really matters to me anymore, because it actually does.

I was emailing a bit about this and other running things with one of my friends (I mean mostly a social media friend, but we’re all friends in this sport, right?), an awesome trail and mountain runner himself and a terrific writer for Trail Runner Magazine to boot; more or less about how to really get back in the saddle because I do want to, but how to do so and not repeat the same old mistakes that always lead down the same road, and how I feel like I’ve really been a bit apathetic about things, and how that’s really not me at all, and I’m honestly not sure how to address the situation.

His response was full of a hilarity, some wisdom, a bit of profanity, and a whole lot of truth, he said to me,

“Life and what we decide to do only has the meaning that we give to it. Running is an amazing way to derive meaning from what can be a daunting, scary, fun, and sometimes pointless-seeming journey. This is the point that will decide the relationship that you have with running for the rest of your life. I call it the F**k It Moment. There are two doors: One, you can say, ‘F**k it, f**k running, whatever.’ Or two, you can say, ‘F**k it! Let’s make this fun and sustainable and adventurous and insane and ultimately not give a single s*it about anything other than enjoying the process.”

Seems reasonable enough. Let’s take door #2, shall we?

Now, I don’t know if he took this straight out of a Prefontaine quote or whatever, but regardless, I realized that although I have been loving running, maybe even a bit more than I used to, in a way I’ve also simultaneously been saying “F**k it” because I don’t want to get let down again. But the truth is, I miss making myself hurt and battling it out and going to the well and “leaving no stone unturned” so to speak, but I let myself get too timid to do those things. And while talk is cheap, that’s not how I want it to be from here on out.

Like they say, “The fear of suffering is always greater than the suffering itself.” Whether I set some lofty goals and fall miserably short, get injured, get disappointed or whatever, those things will always be possibilities that are more likely to happen than not. Anything you really invest yourself into can be the greatest thing, and sometimes the biggest heartbreaker. But f**k it. I still want be striving for something other than just going out for a run every day. That’ll be enough one day, but right now it’s not. There is too much fight left in the legs and too many other awesome things I want to try to do, whether they work out or not.

Pikes Peak has taught me and plenty of other runners a lot of hard lessons, but this year, I have her to thank for one of my most valuable ones: my F**k It Moment.

image

Back on the Mountaintop

The summer’s going by in a whirlwind and with it, mountain running season. While I’m not big on meticulously recapping, dissecting, and picking apart every race—I don’t want to bore anybody to tears after all (like, my mom and maybe the one or two other people who read this)–given that I haven’t had the pleasure of doing so in quite a while, I’m going to allow myself to indulge in that for just a few minutes here. So, forgive me.

I was sort of surprised to find myself back at the summit/finish line of Mt. Washington last month after entering it on a total whim. On one hand, it felt like ages since I crossed any line, but on the other hand, it felt like I was up there just yesterday and that not much had changed: still the same incredible view of the White Mountains, the same feeling of accomplishment paired with relief after finishing, and the same faces of the same great people who I met there in 2014 and some new ones in there too. My time was certainly nothing to write home about; being over 6 minutes slower than in 2014 and certainly nothing that would turn any heads or impress anyone and definitely something my normally hyper-competitive-with-myself self would’ve been hugely disappointed by, but I didn’t feel a whole lot of anything besides gratitude, relief, and little bit of, “Oh hey, it really is gonna be okay.” Truthfully, I would’ve been just as grateful for a first place finish by a landslide and a time 10 minutes quicker as I was for what I got, which probably seems strange and maybe even a little bit complacent to most but….it’s been a while and it sure is nice to be back out there and to be able to have another shot at getting back to where I want to be. Added bonus, since the top 4 women from Colorado (Kim, Mary, Brandy and myself) had the fastest cumulative time, we took home the “team” trophy, and huge props to Brandy for racing up the Beast in the East six months pregnant, I can’t even fathom.

Afterwards, with the prompting of a lot of friends, I gave some thought to going back out to New Hampshire to race the US Mountain Running Championships. I knew that realistically I did not have a shot at making the team; although some people argued with me on that one, in my heart of hearts I definitely knew. Thing is, not all mountain races are created even remotely equal (a huge part of their appeal) at Mt. Washington you just have to have lots of lungs, at Loon you have to have lots of lungs and lots of speed. Which right now I absolutely do not, the work hasn’t gone in so needless to say, I don’t expect a great result. It was just going to be a prove-myself-to-myself kind of thing, 2014 was a really crummy, self-inflicted, and still kind of baffling experience, and I wanted to have a shot at a bit of redemption, or really just to “bury it” as Brandy phrased it. The ultimate decision-maker however was really just that the journey to getting healthy and back on track over the last year and half was admittedly somewhat arduous and often really discouraging and with so many missed opportunities, where a few times the question became not so much “when” but “if,” not that I would’ve ever admitted that to myself. I don’t want to go back there again, and at the end of the day I didn’t want to risk un-doing any of that just for pride’s sake.

Fast forward a month and this morning saw a run up to Eagle’s Nest, otherwise known as the Vail Hill Climb. I found myself on the line again with my fellow uphill-only friends Mary and Simon, and finished second. It was five minutes behind the winner—Annie Bersagle—but once again, not disappointed.

vailhillclimb

Vail Hill Climb summit.

 

I’ve gotten lots of “are you happy with your race” questions since starting back again and the answer is yes, absolutely. I used to find something wrong with every race or workout that I ran; some way I should’ve done it differently or better no matter how good the result was, which made something I love into something that made me basically a nervous, neurotic, type-A train wreck (there. I’ll say it so that no one else has to), and looking back, for what? I know there is loads of room for improvement and lots of work to do from here—and it’ll come—but I remember now why I love this stuff, and for now I’m just happy to be back on the mountaintop.

Poking the Tiger

Since returning to Colorado, running motivation has increased from about 5% to approximately 1,857%. That’s good news, and I didn’t really realize that it had in fact dwindled down quite so much until recently, when I noticed that I am actually pumped to get out the door every morning versus simply finding time to get in a run so that I had something to write down in the training log that day so that I didn’t feel like a loser. I had been chalking up my sluggish miles everyday to having no routine or real goals or direction, but really I think I just had a bad case of Texasitis.

Anyway, since getting back onto the trails and into thinner air, I feel like my old self again, just way better and more appreciative than when I left. I was so excited after finishing one of my favorite runs (climbing up Rampart Range Road) last week that I went and signed up for a race! Staying true to my form of putting the cart way ahead of the horse, it wasn’t a local 5k, or a Nielson Challenge to test the waters…no, I went and signed right up for Mt. Washington. I’m still debating upon whether or not this was a good and rational and well thought out decision, or if it was made in the throes of Post-Really-Fun-Run-That-Went-So-Much-Better-Than-I-Was-Expecting Ecstasy, and if come race day I’m going to need someone to remind me on the start line that this was my dumb idea in the first place.

RRR

Mary and I post-Rampart.

In any case, I didn’t come to this without at least some thought, so here was my rationale: Rampart Range Road probably averages roughly a 6-8% grade, begins at around 6,300 feet, and where we finish is probably (and I’m estimating sans an altimeter here) 8,500ish feet, give or take? We start at the base by Balanced Rock and go up about 8 miles. Mt. Washington on the other hand, averages about 12% grade, is 7.8 miles long, but the summit is at roughly the same elevation that RRR begins. So it’s a bit shorter, albeit steeper, and is at a much lower elevation. So why the heck shouldn’t I believe that I can do it? I respect the mountain, but I can’t think of a reason.

Now, I’m not really one to believe that you can get incredible results without investing incredible work. In 2014: lots of work. Lots of investment. Probably too much investment actually. Fast-forward to 2016: not so much. Not to say no work has gone into it, there has probably been more than I think, but comparatively it’s just not on the same level as couple of years ago, and Running and I have very altered, very different, relationship since then.

Sometimes I think about it and realize that I don’t have the same Do-or-Die, Stop-at-Nothing attitude toward it that I once did not too long ago, I don’t really know where that went, or when it went, or why it doesn’t bother me that it’s not there anymore, and I’m not entirely sure how that will translate to actually competing; maybe I’ll get better than before, or maybe I’ll never get back to that level, much less past it. I don’t know. Don’t mistake it for apathy, it’s not, I still care, but it’s like some weird psychological defense mechanism where I won’t let myself get too invested in any process or outcome, because the cost can be a bit much if it doesn’t turn out how you want it to.

To go slightly off-track here, Leah O’Connor, a stud steeplechaser for adidas, verbalized some of this feeling in a far more eloquent and far less convoluted and nonsensical fashion than I ever could:

“When we put unhealthy pressure on ourselves to make our goals happen and attempt to be perfect on our quest, by default we start to tighten our grip on what we want in unhealthy ways… Slowly, our ability to just roll with the punches and manage disappointments starts to fade. Almost unknowingly, we start to tie our worth as a human being into being the one thing that we have decided we want more than anything.”

Speaking of nonsensical, the best way I can think of to describe it in my own words would be this: let’s say you’re bushwhacking your way through the Amazon and you stumble upon an adorable, abandoned baby tiger cub (tigers live in the Amazon, right?). You want to pet it and love it and scratch its fuzzy belly till it purrs, but you’re a little reluctant to do so because you know it could very well rip your arm right off: that’s me and Running right now. Before, I’d be hugging the tiger cub in a smothering fashion while it was eating my face off and about to disembowel me. I don’t want to hug the tiger anymore, I don’t even want to pet it, I’d rather just poke it every now and then but jerk my hand away fast enough so that it doesn’t get eaten off.

tiger cub

I will eat your face off.

No, but circling back around; in all seriousness this particular race and venue means more to me than any other one for a lot of reasons, and that reason alone plus the people who decide to undertake it are enough to make it a great day no matter the result. Last year I legitimately had no business racing, but I know I’d be really disappointed if I let it pass me by again this year without even rolling the dice and giving it a shot, and I would have wondered how it would’ve turned out if only I had tried. Time to rip the band-aid off. Good, bad, or ugly, you gotta find your way back somehow.

Bubbles

I looked at the calendar, it’s almost May, and I can’t believe the crazy whirlwind that’s comprised the last 6 months. Life in rep-land is a little like a weird time-warp; you’re always planning for a million things and/or going somewhere and before you know it a month has gone by and it feels like a week.

One great thing about time feeling as though it has elapsed in fast-forward motion is that finally–and I say this as I knock on wood—running is pain-free again! It wasn’t long ago that any run that was just the tiniest bit too far or too fast, would pretty much send my plantar and Achilles backtracking toward square one. It just didn’t respond well to much of anything. But not anymore. At some point I just stopped noticing or caring about it all that much, I’m not really sure when that happened because truthfully, running hasn’t really been very much of a focus for the first time since I was probably like 16 years old. I think maybe it fixed itself because I finally just stopped giving a s*it. I wish I would have known that the key to getting healthy was to stop giving a s*it. That would have been so much cheaper and would’ve saved me a lot of needles in my foot and calf.

On one hand, this Giving Less of a S*hit shall we say, has been really liberating, on the other hand I hope it doesn’t mean the beginning of the end because in reality, competing successfully does take a certain amount of tunnel-vision focus. And it seems like once you lose that tunnel-vision, it’s awfully hard to get back. And truthfully I don’t know if I want it back. Hopefully that’s not part of that mythical beast we all know of as “burn out.” I still want to pursue it and to be successful at it, but I don’t want the all-encompassing obsession that has accompanied it. Not at all. I realized how much life and fun was sucked out of what should be and is a great thing. Now, I really only think about running when I’m running. Before, it was all I thought about nearly every waking moment of the day.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed about this whole new job/new place/new lifestyle/etc., change that’s taken place is that I noticed that for the last several years I’ve really kind of lived in a “bubble” so to speak, of my own mind. Not just my own mind, but physically I lived in a “bubble” of a running world. I really, REALLY, wanted to be successful with running, and literally everything was geared towards that; from the people who I surrounded myself with to the jobs I looked at and the one I had, and I did the same things at the same time every day and chalked all of it up to “money in the bank” of running, every decision that I made was made with this little voice that would say, “but can I still train/race how/when I want and is it going to go how I need it to?” I had a plan that I wanted to see happen a certain way and even though it got blown to smithereens virtually every year with injuries and setbacks, that only made me come back more determined to control every factor I could and try even harder than before. What I thought of as working really hard and being super determined was really just me being a control freak. There is a line to draw between those things.

Regardless of the level you’re at, there seems to be an Inverted-U of sorts that goes with that degree of physical, mental, and emotional investment into something. Some is good, more may be a little bit better, but beyond a point and it’s detrimental, not to mention exhausting. To be honest, in hindsight, my previous mental approach and attitude was really sort of completely ridiculous, not terribly realistic, rooted in insecurity, not at all sustainable (which I learned the hard way), and also really anxiety-inducing because, what if one of those things that you’re hell-bent on controlling doesn’t go how you planned for it to? Which was often. There were so many times the last several years when the week of a race, I would sleep maybe 3-5 hours a night max, because I’d be so worried that something was going to go wrong and I wouldn’t do as well as possible. Heck, that even happened the nights preceding important workouts. Way to self-sabotage there, champ. Good job.

I think back on some of the seasons and races that were really successful and should have been really joyful because what’s more satisfying to a runner than watching hard work pay off and having goals that you can realistically look at achieving? Not much. But rather, it was oddly stressful and made me expect more from myself, compare myself more, want to prove myself more, all while at the same time waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it inevitably would, because that’s what happens when you’re never satisfied with just being consistent, nothing’s enough, you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, and you keep trying for more. Not only that, but going back to the “bubble” that I lived in, it kind of felt like, “if this all doesn’t go right, what then? Who am I going to be then?” Like if running doesn’t go well then holy sh*t I’m gonna die. Because you know, I’m making a living off of it and everything. Oh wait, no I’m not.

There’s a difference between wanting to be successful at something versus feeling like you have to be. Bottom line, while I do still want to be, I no longer feel like I have to be. Had I never taken this big of a step outwards and backwards, I don’t think I ever would have noticed anything so glaringly obvious.

It’s coming up on nearly two years since I stepped on a starting line–even though it doesn’t feel like that at all and it’s hard to believe–but I’m thinking soon I probably will, and we’ll see how it goes. Regardless of the result, here’s to staying out of the bubble.