Reinventing vs. Rebuilding: My New Comeback Approach

I woke up yesterday morning in a funk. Ever have those days? Like for no obvious reason you’re starting off with an uphill climb.

It wasn’t front of mind. I hadn’t been thinking about it before I went to sleep and I didn’t dream about it, but somehow my internal sense of the day was keenly aware that it was the USA Road Mile Champs down in Des Moines at the Grand Blue Mile…and I was missing it…again.

My baby. A race I love for a laundry list of reasons…

Being so close to Minneapolis, it’s always felt like a ‘home game’. It conjures up so many memories of cherished team experiences- from the time the Gophers pulled off the ‘triple crown’ by winning all three distance relays in the same year, to my very first race in a Team Asics uniform (a 1500m around the blue oval in 2010).

At the Grand Blue Mile, I’ve always loved the way the elite women warm up all together because we actually really like other…and then when it’s time to race we bring out the best in each other and put on a great show.

I love that Drake week feels like the kickoff to spring. The first big race of the outdoor season, it marks the end of a long winter of “just” training, and now there’s always a race just around the corner to get excited about.

And no matter how it goes, at least you get to see where you’re at, cash in the first round of chips for the big investment of training that you put in during the off-season.

So much potential, so much hope, lives in that first indicator race. It’s a major release, a reminder that “I still got it”, and whatever you felt like you were missing during that race helps direct your future goals and training plans.

I’ve heard before that when dealing with the loss of someone or something, there are good days and bad days and even the smallest thing can set you off when you least expect it. In no way am I putting my “loss” on the level of the loss of a loved one, but the parallel of what injury has taken/is continuing to take from me sometimes feels like real grief.

It might sound melodramatic, but all day yesterday I felt a little like it was my birthday but everyone forgot. To be fair, I wouldn’t expect it to be on most people’s radars to recognize that ‘today is a big day in the pro miler’s circuit’ and usually one of my favorite days of the year…but you can’t help how you feel.

I try very hard not to allow my running to bleed into my identity/self-worth, but truth be told, I cherish the nickname I’ve been given of “Queen of the Road Mile”. Having won 4 out of the last 5 US Champs Road Miles I’ve been blessed to compete in, it just stings to not have the opportunity to try. I will never be so bold as to say if I were healthy, I would win, because there’s no guarantees and the races I miss are always impressive…but it’s nice to have the chance to “throw a punch” too, so to speak, rather than having your hands tied behind your back and just taking the blow.

To get even more realistic- it also feels like a financial hit to sit out of these races with deep prize purses. I don’t run for the money, but it is my job, so I hope this sounds relatable rather than greedy when I say I feel another pang of insecurity knowing I am not financially contributing, like I am ineffective at my work.

I’m sure a lot of these feelings come from a deeper place. Generally, I like to think my “always moving forward” perspective on life is a positive thing, it drives me to believe that better things are ahead…but it also makes me very uncomfortable with personal stagnation or decline (perceived or otherwise).

Case in point. My personal pull-up challenge, made by me, for me, and completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Last year, after the diagnosis of my stress fracture, I decided a world without goals is a world where I do not function well. So I declaratively stated that by the end of my running recovery, I’m going to be able to do 15 pull-ups in a row. It was something I was allowed to do when a lot of my other physical activities were limited. And lo and behold, about 8 weeks into my recovery, just before I got to hit the ground running again, I did it. And not only did I do it, but I posted a video of it, and got a lot of positive feedback from people who understood my message of what those pull-ups meant to me, and also people who just understood how hard it is to do 15 pull-ups at all! ?

So here we are, in “long game” recovery mode again from this second stress reaction, that brought me back to feelings of needing some non-running challenges to give me a sense of accomplishment and fulfill my #comebackstronger goal. It’s funny how quickly I lost that upper body strength when I got back to training last summer, but now that running’s off the table again, I thought, why not get back to 15 (or heck, 16?) pull-ups again?!

I’ve been working at it, my hands have the old callouses back and as I’ve gotten closer and closer to the mark I’ve been shooting for, I have found myself walking off the gym floor more confidently- there’s something about walking away with my heart rate up and a little sweat on that feels sooo much more fulfilling than flippy-flopping out of the pool, hitting the showers to try to prevent the chlorine smell from getting any deeper in my pores, and dripping back to car with my still-wet head of hair).

So yesterday, after waking up in this funk, I decided, “Today would be the friggin day I get back to hitting all 15 pull-ups.” I needed a win. I dressed in all black to match my hardened demeanor and headed to Lifetime Fitness on a mission. Truth be told, I made max-out attempts last Friday (14) and this past Sunday (call it 14.75- I didn’t get my head above the bar entirely on the last one)…so despite the fact that every-other-day max-out attempts is probably dumb, I was doing it today.

I waltzed in, conspicuously set up my phone to record this momentous moment I was expecting, and went for it. I started to slow down a little by #12 but knew I was close, fought hard for #14…and then got stuck in the same stupid spot, nose just below the bar for another near miss at the full 15.


Ugh. I know this isn’t in tune with my usual brand of positivity, but it is in tune with the authenticity and honesty I always try to share. I was pissed. I could even see it evident in the way I walked back to shut off my recording.

I was so pissed in fact, that after I was all done with the rest of my strength session at the gym, I went back to the bar for more punishment. I wasn’t planning on shooting for the 15 or anything I just thought I obviously need to work on these some more if I failed today, a day where I was so resigned to get it done. Set #2 I did 12 more, fairly quickly and felt way easier than the first time. Set #3, 10. And it was about at the 8th pull up of set 3 that I recognized, ‘hey, you never do 3 sets, and you sure as heck have never done 36ish of these in one session, like ever.”

And just like that, it was like one of those ‘aha!’ moments in a movie where someone quickly rewinds in time and the reel catches right at the moment of a memory that ties the whole thing together. In this case, the memory was a conversation I had with our amazing sport psych, Hayley. I had been telling her in our last meet-up how, after a full year of on-again-off-again training, I don’t even feel like my brain works in the same way anymore. I don’t think like I used to. I don’t just confidently plan for the future anymore. I don’t see myself as a competitor that you can never count out of a race. I can’t even remember what it’s like to just wholeheartedly push myself to the limit…and this was a new layer of grief no one told me to expect that I was trying to process- feeling like I’m not the same and may never be “the same”.

So Hayley, wise and wonderful as she is, said something to the likes of, “yeah, it has been a very long time. It’s understandable that you might feel this way. But have you ever considered that you don’t have to go back to being the same? That maybe the way you will be, and think, and compete…could be even better than before?”

It brought tears to my eyes. I hadn’t considered that at all. I thought I had to first get back to where I was, in order to progress to something better from there. But the truth is, in order for me to honor my mantra of “always moving forward” I need to scrap my idealized view of my “former, uninjured, self” and start building a vision for my future self. A future me who has more perspective and empathy for others who have been and are going through injury. A future me who is smarter about recognizing the difference between the pain of an injury vs the discomfort of pushing myself. A future me who has put in hours of work and reading and commitment to a stronger mental game. A future me with even more gratitude for what I do and a blazing desire and drive to chase down huge dreams. A future me who doesn’t take tomorrow or ‘the next race’ for granted, and races with literally everything she has because she knows all too well that there are no guarantees for another chance. A future me, who has the presence of mind to recognize that 36 pull-ups in one session is actually more impressive than 15 in one attempt because it indicates both the physical and psychological endurance I have gained through this trying year.

A new vision is emerging. A transformative chapter in this story of my life. And I think I kinda dig it. I think even the former me would be intimidated by this new girl. And I think I kinda like the thought of that.

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  1. 1

    We ran a meet at Richfield last night. The meet official complemented my 800M runner by saying “she runs like Heather Kampf” (she won the 800 and anchored the winning 4×8 as a freshman). Very high praise for any athlete!
    You will be back, better and stronger than before. You got this!

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