Saturday, March 20, 2010

0 Celebrating Where We Are + Reckoning With The Past In Order To Move Forward


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I recently saw a quote that went something like this, "I want to continue to celebrate where I am and not be apologetic."

There's something about that statement that really resonates & hits upon a deeper truth, both as it applies to running & life in general. When we continually focusing on what's ahead of us -- the next road race, the next training plan, etc. --  we can become caught up in our plans for the future, and forget to celebrate where we are.  I'm not just talking about the importance of celebrating our recent accomplishments & milestones, but also the value of acknowledging our current state. Sure, we might not be where we ultimately want to be, but the way I see it, we are all "works in progress" (hopefully throughout the entire course of our lives!), so why not stop to sniff the roses along the way & celebrate what we are & how far we've come?!

Please note that I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive for change, but rather that it's important to acknowledge & celebrate who & how we are in the moment. Instead of beating ourselves up for what we are not or haven't yet achieved, let's focus on what we are, have accomplished, & are striving to become in all our imperfect glory.

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I'm reminded of these lessons as I reflect upon the accomplishments of the previous year and the place where I am now. There's a great divide between those points, as I'm back to square one now. Most of the time I took off from running in the past several months was not of my own choosing, but all the same, I'm happy for the time to reflect.

While I felt like my achievements & the many races I did last year were a badge of accomplishment, there were also times when I admittedly became wrapped up in "the chase," looking for the next rush of satisfaction from running & racing that I hoped to find just around the bend. As I got more & more serious about my training, something in me began to change on a fundamental level. And while many of these changes were improvements, others might've looked like improvements on the surface but ended up working towards my detriment in long-run. The scales began to tip, & the balance I'd worked so hard to maintain suddenly began to elude me.  However, it happened in a non-obvious way. Here I was, trying to maintain a healthy life -- focusing on eating healthy & nutritious foods, carefully spacing my fueling & hydration around my runs, & gradually building my level of fitness in a moderate fashion, etc. -- but what I didn't factor in nearly enough was how my laser-focus on health & fitness was affecting the rest of my life, i.e., the part that didn't involve running & sports nutrition. :)

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when this change began, but I know it began sometime in early 2009. In all honesty, it probably began sometime after I signed up for my running club's speed clinic. While the program was for great for improving my running, I became so hardcore about my training that I began to lose perspective on the larger picture. Running, running, running. It was all I thought about. Constantly. The other things & interests in my life began to take a backseat. I built my social activity with family & friends around running & racing events -- no joke, even vacations & trips home were focused around running & racing, & most of the people I hung out with were runners. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with leading a running-focused life. However, what I am saying is that I didn't set enough limits on where those boundary lines were.

And so, not surprisingly, looking back on 2009, I'm not sure I relished the moments & the achievements enough.

There were times when it felt like I was racing every weekend or every other weekend. While this wasn't always the case, it often felt like it. What I mean is that it just got to be too much. For some people the number of races I ran last year might be fine for them, but for me, it was going overboard for where I was in my training. Part of it was that the racing was built into my speed clinic schedule & I felt compelled to run these races as part of my training. However, in all honesty, only some of the races were actually "required races." The rest I pushed myself to do because I just found it hard to turn down the challenges, especially the racing tournaments & running club team races. Of course, a good part of it was that I loved the feeling of camaraderie & social connection that came from those experiences.

And then there were the times when I added in even more road races as "training runs." Or so, I told myself. :) In these cases, I think I just felt the need to know whether or not I would be up for the challenge on any given day.  It was a constant battery of tests and as a conscientious "student" of running, I wanted to pass them all with flying colors. :)

After a while, somewhere along the line, I stopped enjoying racing. Maybe even "dreaded it" towards the end. August 2009 was officially the last month I raced in 2009. It wasn't really all that surprising, all things considered.

Sure, I ran after that -- I was still in marathon training mode -- but things began to head off course after that. I had one bad experience that ended up being the beginning of the end for me, at least for the remainder of 2009. And that was back on September 23, 2009.

If you haven't already heard me tell the tale, here's what happened: I was running to catch up with a few of my running buddies as it was getting dark, & feared that I would be left behind on the trails in the forest -- and so I ran a bit too fast. I didn't feel comfortable at all with my pace, & furthermore wasn't at the same point in my marathon-training as they were -- I was only 4 months in, & they'd already been training for 6 months or more.

It wasn't like me to run a half-minute faster per mile (than my normal training pace) for 9 miles. That was just sheer stupidity, even if was done out of necessity, in order to not be left alone in the dark. Of course, after we were half-way in on an out-&-back, it was already too late & they weren't going to slow down. I fell behind in the last two miles, & it was getting pretty dark. There's nothing worse than being in a dark forest alone. Talk about creepy.  Even with a headlamp, it's still creepy.

Anyhow, I was really mad at myself for doing this, as I ended up having knee/leg problems & other issues (upper-back/shoulder/arm pain, etc.) as a result. When it comes to my pace, I'm usually really good at knowing where I should be, & what I should be doing. It's just not my style to court folly like this. I know how to train safely & effectively. All through my run & for several days afterwards, I was having difficulty processing & accepting what had happened. I kept telling myself, "What the heck was I thinking?! Hey, I'm smarter than that!"  It was like an unsettling recording playing it over & over in mind.

After that, my running trailed off considerably -- by that point I was alternating running & walking intervals in an attempt to stay active/fit -- & was worried that I'd done some really serious damage -- I couldn't run without feeling pain & the prognosis didn't look good. Sure enough, injury had set in, & then shortly thereafter, extended bouts of illness. Of course, I took a few recovery breaks, but by that point had taken off too much time from my marathon-training & already knew that it was going to be way too late to even consider running the Philly Marathon.

Philly came & went, as I heard my friends talk excitedly about their plans. I was happy for them but it was also a painful reminder to me of a race I'd signed up for but had missed due to various obstacles -- admittedly, almost all of them being of my own making, with the exception of one particular, purposely-unspecified "roadblock" that's still presenting challenges to me as I write this.

I'm not going to lie or paint a rosy-colored picture; the above situation was a disappointment, as I'd been looking forward to accomplishing the milestone I'd been working towards for several months. I'd unwaveringly set my sights on that goal since I'd first restarted my running regimen (back in 2007), & had been running fairly consistently from July 2007 to the end of September 2009. So, with that kind of laser focus, it wasn't so easy to give up on that prospect. I still haven't given up on that dream; I've just extended the timeline for making it become a reality.  That means restarting the quest from where I currently am (i.e., zero fitness!), & establishing new (but often familiar-sounding!) short-term goals, along with a new set-point & frame of reference.

I've since come to terms with the aforementioned setbacks of the last several months -- months of illness & zero running & lots of things beyond my control -- & while they don't keep me from my present or future plans, they are important to acknowledge for what they are & of course, present valuable lessons that can be applied to present & future situations. And I'm not just talking about training scenarios. I'm talking about the larger realities of life & the unexpected curve balls it can throw at you, even if you think you're going to be ready for them.

Anyhow, flash forward to the present. I'm OK with where I am, & am not looking for external validation. I can see what happened, & it's only going to make me the better for it in future training sessions.

So here I go, celebrating where I am. Right here, right now. It might seem like I am nowhere at present, but even so, I will celebrate it, because it signifies both the hard-won knowledge acquired in those several months of quiet reflection & also the start of me taking that first step back towards a running life. And that is something I'm truly excited about. I just cannot wait to feel how I felt when I was running several months ago. When I was running, the rest of my life & the way I moved through it almost seemed... effortless. The running wasn't effortless :) , but everything just seemed to flow with ease. Run, & the whole world seems to run with you. :)

So, in a strange way, I'm grateful for this ebb in my (running) life, because it has allowed for the flow. Just like writing, sometimes you need to give the silent empty spaces a place to exist, so that the motion & renewed spark (of creative energy) can be let back in again.

So, in that way, the downtime has actually been quite productive.

I know that starting all over again is not really going to be so bad. I've done it before & know how to do it. The good thing about it is that as I go through the motions once again, I know that, along the way, I'll be reminded of some really good recent running memories & accomplishments. :)

And furthermore, I know that this time around, I'll make a point of savoring the moments & the milestones, & not get caught up in the "rat road race" :) & the crazy noise of the world at large. I will instead go back to the formula that's consistently worked for me in the past -- following my own path & listening to my instincts. And of course, I fully intend to cut back on my racing schedule so that there's room for other activities. As many of you surely know, the tricky thing about marathon training is that it takes up so much time that achieving balance with other aspects of one's life can be very challenging indeed. Well, since the marathon training probably won't start until much later in the year, that should allow for plenty of time for other activities until then. :)

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