I used to be such a planner. In addition to normal long-term plans, at times I’d plan out my entire week in advance – every run, every meal, every assignment, every scheduled activity, every commitment. It sounds crazy, but made a lot of sense and truthfully was the only viable way for me to make it through high school, college, and my years of working 3 jobs in Vienna, but ever since I made the commitment to running as my top priority, things have started to shift.
Especially since the Marathon Trials this year, I have really noticed that I have ever so slowly become the type of person who sometimes barely even looks ahead at the weekly training schedule that my one boss (coach) Terry sends. It’s not because I’m overwhelmed by it. It’s not because I care any less than I ever have – in fact I probably care more than ever. Part of it is certainly the fact that I have way fewer standing obligations to work around these days. But I think the real reason is that I’m just not worried about it anymore.
Flash back to March 2011. I was in my first year with ZAP, I still hadn’t fully adjusted to the lifestyle there, my relationship with Cole was just finding its sea legs, and then my grandmother died. This is all to say that I was kind of a mess, and I certainly wasn’t helping myself.
I saw every workout and race as a test to prove whether I had made the right decision in coming to ZAP and committing myself to the singleness of focus in running. And with low iron creeping in again for the umpteenth time, I felt like I was failing every one of those tests.
Sometimes crazy just needs a little tough love. And luckily I had a teammate who was fed up enough with watching me flounder that he was ready to give me just that. After what felt like an hour of a very eloquent intervention, these are the tenants of what he said that have stuck with me ever since:
- Esther, you ride your highs too high and your lows too low.
- Stop looking for drama and trying to create it when you can’t find any.
- Stop trying to be the person you think everybody wants you to be. If you’d just be yourself instead, people would like you a whole lot more.
Despite his best efforts, the message wasn’t received in the kindest way, and I literally ran away from that conversation sobbing. But even through my blubbering, I assured him I wasn’t mad at him and thanked him for his advice. It was just that I had had enough for one night.
The truth is he was totally right, and I knew he was. I had been doing all of those things. I had been placing my self-worth on every single training run. In my boredom for lack of other activities, I was creating stress between myself and my teammates and even inciting stress among teammates that had nothing to do with me. And in a way, the last point was probably one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. He essentially gave me permission to be myself, and while it felt like a slap in the face at the time, it became a load lifted off my shoulders.
I am nowhere near perfect on any of those accounts now, but I do feel like in some ways I have nearly gone the total opposite direction, at least with respect to training. Here are some examples:
In training for New York, I have gotten so far from judging myself based on every workout that I have done all of these things at least once in the last month:
- 8mi/5mi double was on the schedule – I decided to prioritize sleep instead, skipped the first run, and ran 9:45 pace for my 5mi jog that evening.
- Ran 6:21 for the first measured mile of a 4mi tempo that was supposed to be 6:00-6:04 or marathon effort and still considered it a good workout.
- Didn’t really forget to do my second run, but waited until after 8pm to start it just because I was pre-occupied doing other things around the house until then and then waited for Cole to get home from practice and eventually cut the run 2mi short of what I was supposed to do.
Basically I have gone so far in the opposite direction that I have no idea what my fitness is right now because I refuse to place any judgement on my training whatsoever. For a recovering analytical control freak like me, this is only possible for 3 reasons:
- I absolutely trust my coach. He could tell me right now that I am fit to run a 2:28 in New York and I would believe him, and I would believe him just the same if he told me that I would be better off if I target 2:41.
- *Knocks on wood* I have been so consistent in the past 3 years that I have total faith in myself and my ability to get things done – whether that’s a 4-mile 2nd run that I put off until after 8pm or racing to my best ability at a World Major Marathon.
- My self worth is not tied to my performance. Even though running is really the only productive thing I’m doing with my life right now, I know that the process is what matters and as long as I am having fun and enjoying life throughout the build-up to each race, then there is no outcome that could transform my life into a waste of time.
As for drama, I still have a lot of work to do. I have a severe lack of filter and compulsive need to share my opinions. But since Grace and Cole are my only close friends in Greenville so far, there isn’t much drama to speak of nor to conjure up.
Also, I’ve made a habit of living in an alternate reality that Brené Brown calls the hypothesis of generosity – basically finding the most generous assumption you can make about what a person does or says. For the most part, I’ve gotten a lot better at living in that assumed reality and convincing myself that everyone around me is just doing the best they can. That little trick has helped me to avoid judgement and therefore not even have further thoughts on the matter or the compulsion to share them.
(But to be totally honest, it also helps not living in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of roommates you didn’t choose… there’s a reason why reality TV started off with shows based on that type of setting.)
And as for the last point, I have finally learned that not everyone is going to love me, and I can never be perfect for everyone (if anyone). This applies to my personality in friendships, my efficacy as an employee, and even my ability as an athlete. The best I can do is simply be the best version of myself and if that’s not good enough for somebody then so be it. At least I can go forth with the knowledge that I did the best I could.
Essentially this is a super long-winded way to say that in my day-by-day approach, I haven’t even taken a moment to dwell on a workout or analyze what it means in terms of my fitness.
I will be racing NYRR’s Grete’s Gallop Half Marathon on Sunday (and a 5k in VCP as a shakeout after). My directions are to run 5:50 pace. I have to admit that I’m not the best at controlling myself in a race setting, but I’ll do my best to run marathon effort and be eager to see what that turns out to be on Sunday.
NYRR races are always fun and it’ll be an awesome little preview for what will come 5 weeks later – which will certainly make this race even tougher to control!
P.S. You didn’t ask, but here’s what goes on in my head during a marathon: typically a handful of soothing mantras partnered with internal strategic dialogue, but usually a theme song, too. I think I may have found mine for NYC… (Thanks to Cole for cluing me into this excellent goodness.)