I haven’t blogged for months and the not blogging for months was threatening to let me not blog forever. When I blogged waaaaaaay back in – what, November of last year? – I promised myself I was back on the blogging wagon. And then I promptly fell of it again. Kinda hard, because here we are in March….
When you break a promise to yourself – or rather, when I break a promise to myself – I tend to start by just hiding from myself. I just don’t deal with it, and it festers and festers until it’s undeniable. I was going to do this thing. And I didn’t. Restarting something is harder than starting it the first time. The weight of your failure to persist hangs over you and makes you scared to start again (what if I stop doing this again). And, of course, quite simply, the only thing to do is to start again and tell your inner critic to go play somewhere else.
So here I am – starting again. I’ve started again before and I will, no doubt, start again in future. As long as I keep doing that, I will be okay.
One of the things that made it hard for me to restart writing this is some kind of embarrassment. My last post was all “yay! let’s go faster, let’s qualify for Boston again”. Written in a post marathon haze, which is a bit like a post-childbirth haze in that you probably shouldn’t make too many decisions at these intense moments. But I did set that intention and after an easy month, I got started on a marathon training program. I was all set and getting on with it when things changed. First off, my marathon was cancelled. Granted – it was a slightly nutso marathon (you run 17 laps round a cyclocross course) but given that it was the race where I PB’ed years ago and won my only ever age group medal (and I quite like the predictability and simplicity of running in circles, clearly) I was ready to hammer those laps again. But that race was not to be.
I was still casting about for other races when my husband surprised me over Christmas by buying me a trip to a running retreat in Utah in May. Which includes a marathon. At this point I was trapped in some kind of mental loop where I was still training for a race that was no longer happening and thinking I would “just” tack this new marathon in Utah and run that 5 weeks later. By the end of January, however, I finally sat myself down and realised that 2 marathons in about 5 weeks is not really my thing and so bailed on the race that didn’t exist, and shifted my training around to accommodate this new race.
The thing that really changed though, I came to realise, was me. These past 2 years of training differently, particularly my 18 months of heart rate training, have changed me much more profoundly. I can get briefly excited about times and paces (see Boston qualifying excitement above), particularly after a good run / race. But over time my real joy has actually become training. I like the schedule, even though I move every week around. And more than that I really like the runs, even if I don’t always want to go out and do them. My training plans are a such a touchstone in my life, and help to structure each day. In other words, I am really loving the process more than the goal.
That’s not to say that I look forward to every run. There are still runs that I put off all day, until I have to head out with a head torch to get them in. And there is – for me – no way to run long without contemplating jacking everything in. (Inner critic at that point: “I’m not a runner, who am I kidding, I’m getting too old for this, maybe I should just train for 5ks, maybe just give it up”). But I get past it somehow, and that is the addictive part. That I really do go low into self doubt and occasionally self-loathing, and then come out of it again. I’m becoming a teensy bit more aware of the fact that my inner critic is not me. I am more than that – and I have learned to recognise that voice and not go too far down the road with it. I carry on running, I either switch off my podcasts, or sometimes put them back on again, and I forget that I was being nasty to myself about myself and I move past it.
My last 2 races, London and Minneapolis, were amongst the happiest races I’ve ever run. They were not PBs, but they were hard work and I pushed myself in them. But I was not attached to a goal in them, other than to finish them. Way back, when I was trying to qualify for Boston, the goal was everything. It was what I got up for and did the workouts for, and it was how I raced the races (I have to hold this pace, I need to get to this point in this time). And of course there was a massive amount of gratification in achieving that goal, eventually, particularly after such hard work. It helped me to see myself differently. I have definitely shied away from setting goals in the past for fear of not achieving them, and training for a specific time in a race helped me to realise the value in setting, stating and defining your goal and putting yourself in a position where you can fail or succeed to reach it. The failures, if I can call them that, were never so bad. And the successes were great. But over time, the goal in a race has just become a more internal one. I’ve run fast in the past without real hard work, and I’ve worked really hard for an unimpressive time. I’ve switched what I’m looking for to the effort, physically and mentally, rather than to the outcome. Talking myself through a race, knowing when to push and when to hold back – all that has become the challenge and one I absolutely am loving. The time on the clock, is interesting to me only at the end. (So that’s what running for a 4:03 feels like). And I want to run again like I did in London and Minneapolis – hard, but joyous.
So I’m off to Utah in May. And before that, I’m taking a week off training to go skiing (I absolutely love skiing even though I know I could break my leg and end up not being able to run at all.). And before I get to my retreat and race, a new friend and I are heading out to hike and run and mountain bike in Moab for a few days (none of which I would do if i were focusing on a PB in the marathon). But there’s no way I’m not getting out and looking around, and there’s no way I will forego all that experience for a time on the clock.