The last day of summer vacation has always been a trigger for me – a time of the year marked in the Southeast by a swelling symphony of cicadas that shakes the evening trees. When I hear the sound swell here in Greenville, I can still feel the dread I used to have for the return to the routine of classes and homework and nightly activities. It still stirs up an anxiety I can’t really explain.
With the swell of cicadas in the air and the Olympic cycle coming to a close, the Post-Olympic Blues are on my mind. I wouldn’t say I am depressed, but I am certainly feeling more sentimental than usual. And after reading an article featuring Olympic swimmer, Allison Schmitt that Brandon Hudgins had posted on his Facebook page, the gears have started turning even more.
Two of my darkest periods happened to come when I was living abroad. I have blamed a lot of that on the lack of light in European winters and a challenge in body image that came with packing on a few extra pounds thanks to the change in cuisine. But now I can see that the biggest factor probably had a lot more to do with what Allison Schmitt described in that article.
Spending my high school junior year abroad and teaching English overseas after college were two goals that I had set my sights on for years. The other side of achieving that goal was going to be magical – unlike anything in my life before.
It was certainly very different from anything I had ever done before, and both experiences enhanced my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined, but it was not magical. It was hard work.
Likewise, sometimes the hardest part about our sport isn’t the training or the competition – sometimes it’s finding peace and meaning in the vast expanse of time that occurs between major objectives. For Allison it was the desert of the 4 years ahead of her after her incredibly successful 2012 Olympic campaign was over.
I have no idea what it is like to win multiple Olympic medals and come down from that high, but immediately following the Olympic Marathon Trials, even I exhibited one hallmark sign of depression: I got a dog. We adopted Grace almost exactly 1 week after I returned from LA (and I have regretted it exactly zero times). But that wasn’t a coincidence. It was part of the plan.
Just like our wedding that I scheduled 1 month after the World Championships, Cole’s proposal 7 weeks after my National Title, or my first marathon, for which I registered six weeks before the inevitable end of my collegiate career.
I’ve developed a habit of ensuring that I pick my next peak to climb well before I’ve summited my current conquest. Yes, it definitely makes me less focused on the current task at hand, but it’s a choice that I choose because I’ve decided that the alternative is too scary, and honestly I’m not sure if I’m fully capable of functioning any other way.
With our recent move to Greenville, I’m getting a lot of questions about what will come next for me. And while all of those asking mean the best, I can’t help but hear the underlying question “when will you give up this running thing?”
The truth is that in Greenville I will be doing exactly what I was doing in Blowing Rock – training professionally thanks to the remote support of my coach, Terrance Shea, and my sponsors Skechers and the New York Athletic Club. All of those affiliations have been remote for at least a year and are completely independent of my home base location.
But what is harder than the external questions, is the subtle voice in my head that still asks “shouldn’t you be in Rio?” Even though I have known for years that making the Rio Olympic team wasn’t a realistic goal, there is still a little piece of me that hadn’t fully accepted that fact until the 2016 Women’s Olympic Marathon was over.
After several days of composing this post, I finally figured out what the link is between Schmitty’s story, my old anxiety around the start of school, and the post-Olympic blues. Really it’s about that turning point. That question “are you really ready to commit to doing this all over again?”
As athletes we sacrifice a lot – careers, relationships, social lives, tons and tons of time, hobbies, further education. And with the Olympics over, we look at the next 4 years and ask ourselves. “Is it worth 4 more?” For a lot of people it isn’t, and for others it’s really hard to decide.
At the end of the 4 years, the answer is easy because the commitment has already been made, and you’re just glad you made it through. But at the close of that cycle, the looming sacrifice holds its greatest weight. And at the same time, it is the moment in which we can also dream our greatest dreams. After all, for better or for worse, anything can happen in 4 years.
Unlike much of the rest of Track and Field, I feel very blessed that in elite marathoning, the World Marathon Majors give us multiple opportunities each year to stack ourselves up against the best in the world and see how we fare. In a way, this saves us the pain of having to choose whether or not it’s worth 4 more years. Instead, we can just ask, is it worth 4 more months? And the answer is almost always yes.
That’s what I love so much about this sport, and that is why this sport has helped me to overcome the anxieties I once had as a non-athletic school kid. As soon as I started competing in running, I no longer had to think about 9 months of school or even semesters. I could just focus on getting to the next race and making it through each of the 3 seasons. And then I’d get to the end of each and move on to the slight variation in focus of the next.
Since my start in competitive running, my darkest year was in 2008-2009 when I lacked focus for target races. But from that year I gained rejuvenation in the sport and learned a powerful lesson – that my daily life has more meaning when I’m training for something.
So regardless of where I live or what I’m doing, I will always have short term and long term goals. And right now they are these:
Short Term: Run my absolute best possible race in the TCS NYC Marathon on November 6th.
Long Term: My heart is set on Tokyo. For reals this time.