Into every training cycle, a little fear must fall. At least for me. And when it happens, sometimes it happens big. This training cycle was no different than many, especially the really big races like Ironman Florida, Boston Marathon, and going for a big PR at the Houston Marathon. Sometimes something can be so big and so new, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, which is how the fear creeps in. Fear and I are not strangers but we are not friends. I certainly don’t welcome fear into my house for a cup of coffee. I also don’t loathe fear, as it’s a natural consequence for going above yourself to do something new. That’s the way I see it. Fear is natural, but the most important thing about fear is how you handle it.
There’s a difference between fear and “can’t”. I remember hearing the phrase “Can’t never did anything”, and I say this to my kids whenever I hear a misplaced “can’t”. It literally never did anything for anyone. Fear isn’t “can’t”.
There are many types of fear. Like the real kind when you’re running down a dark street and you hear this noise and you think you’re being followed and then all of a sudden you realize it’s a leaf skittering alongside you with the wind. The fear when you’re running to your ringing phone and slip a little on the carpet while you’re going downstairs and you get a shot of adrenaline in your fingertips. There’s more REAL fear but I don’t need to go there. Then there’s the fear you get when you start a new job, or meet a possible business partner, which would probably be better described as “nerves”, but it’s still fear. Then there’s that pesky fear. The fear of failure. The fear of failure and “can’t” are first cousins and they often have family reunions when the fear of failure arrives at your doorstep.
I applied for a full-time job last week. I was scared to do it, mostly because I didn’t want to get rejected. I didn’t want to be the one looking kind of dumb with my finger and my thumb in the shape of an “L” on my forehead. Back in the day, I was way overqualified to do this job, and now, I’m not quite qualified, technically. And I didn’t want to be rejected, because it would just validate my fear of being the L. But I wanted the chance to find out if I would at least get a shot at that job, and if I didn’t apply, I would never know. When I got that dreaded email “Thank you for applying, BUT….”, I felt pretty low. But at least I took a shot at it. And now I know they will never get a chance to work with me and know how awesome I am, how hard-working I am, that I’m funny, smart, and thoughtful. Their loss. Time to move on. But I’m actually proud of myself for putting myself out there and punching fear in the face. Nothing bad happened when I got the email. It actually gave me a little clarity.
Last weekend, I ran a 30k trail race at Lake Norman State Park. It was a trip that I didn’t want to take because we had just gotten back from New York, and two weeks before that was the half iron triathlon and a ton of long runs and training and I was just t i r e d. But it was already past the time to cancel my hotel reservation and my kids and I were supposed to go to a wedding, a wedding that I wanted to attend, but I didn’t want to drive that far. I resigned myself that I HAD to go, although I just wanted to stay home. I worried about traffic and I worried about driving in the dark and I worried about finishing the race in time to drive to the afternoon wedding about an hour away from our hotel.
I got up and got ready for the race, worried some more, then drove myself through some gorgeous fall hills to the park. It was 28 degrees, and it had been a long time since I had felt temps that low. I missed the beginning of the “trail talk” since I, among many others, was sitting in my car keeping myself warm. I arrived for the giveaways and asked another participant if I had missed anything really important. “Go left at the junctions and be sure you punch your bib at the checkpoints” was all I missed. There were probably about 110 of us total for the 30k and 50k, so it took maybe half a mile or so for the crowd to thin out. I stayed back and let a lot of others go in front of me. It was a gorgeous morning and a beautiful trail. We were off.
Things were going fine. Until they weren’t. My legs have handled the tremendous amount of volume I’m put them through and recovery was typically quick. (I didn’t see that then but I do now.) And this was my last long workout before my big race. About four or five miles in, my somewhat fragile mental state collapsed. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of something, or near the end, your perception becomes skewed. For instance, the week between the half iron triathlon and the NYC marathon was a ten mile run. And I was like, “Oh! ONLY ten miles this weekend.” I forget that running ten miles is actually quite a lot. And during my meltdown on that trail, when I felt my legs starting to get a little tired (I know this because I start tripping on things), I unleashed the wrath of my fear onto myself.
It’s also important to note that within failure, you find the opportunity for growth. I’ve failed at reaching my marathon goals, but within that, I’ve learned my biggest lessons. But that is not the same as fear that stops you from trying. And tells you you’re not good enough. Which is what I was feeling.
Here’s just a sample of things I said to myself.
You’re NEVER going to be able to finish the JFK in 13 hours if you can’t even run this easy trail in 15 minute miles.
How could you let yourself gain so much weight over the last year.
You can’t do this.
You’re going to be late for the wedding. You can’t use “I was running” as a valid reason.
You have absolutely no reason to be this tired right now.
Then I reminded myself that I had run a marathon the week before. And walked 60-70 miles in four days.
STOP MAKING EXCUSES.
Why did you even sign up for this 50 mile race when you KNOW you are a BAD trail runner?
There is no excuse for being tired.
You are going to embarrass yourself when you get a DNF.
Then I told myself that yeah, I ran a freaking marathon the week before and to not lose sight that THAT event is typically the goal for most people. But it didn’t matter.
You’re going to be last.
Running a marathon is no excuse for being tired right now.
Stop being a huge pansy. Pan. Zee.
You’re pretty dumb for thinking you can do this.
There were a few cycles of this negativity. I was really mean to me. I’m not proud of it, and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to share this. But I know I’m not the only one who does this. But I didn’t let it win. First, I knew from Ironman training that when you get low, you probably need to eat. So I ate one of my gels. I felt better and my mood lifted a little almost immediately. Then I went through my last month of training in my head.
Half Iron Triathlon, which is 70.2 miles and took me 6.5 hours
10 miles (yeah, the EASY week)
Marathon day, which was 32 miles of running and walking, plus 27 miles of walking in 4 days.
Look LADY, you have put your body through a LOT, so STOP being a bully, stop being so hard on yourself and just keep moving forward. And I did.
I went through the mean lady/nice lady cycle a few times during that race.
I think the 30k course was short a mile or two, but I finished in just under four hours. Four hours of running is a lot of time to be running. And I wasn’t last. I wasn’t in the top half of the finishers, but that’s ok.
I made it back to the hotel in plenty of time to get prepped for the wedding and find food. And as I said, it was one of my favorite weddings of all time. I totally borrowed worry. And we went home on Sunday. I was tired. Really. Really. Tired.
Then Monday came. And the mean lady came back. I got scared again. And I questioned my ability to finish the JFK 50 Mile race over and over. I was familiar with this feeling, but it came on really extra hard for this event. All it is, is fear of failure. So you want to give yourself enough reasons to just not even go? Just don’t even try because if you don’t try, you can’t fail, right? RIGHT? But just like that job, you can’t fail if you don’t even try. I didn’t come this far to only go this far. And I wanted to try, and I was going to put everything I had into making a successful race plan, then more importantly, execute it. I told my coach my mental state wasn’t really good, and I told her that this was normal for me and zero negativity would be allowed in my thought processes come race week. And she gave me the race plan assignment, and I really can’t express my gratitude at the timing of it, because it ignited the thought processes that will carry me over that finish line.
It only took three days, and all that bad juju is gone. Poof. And I look back and am disappointed that I was so mean to myself. I sealed the negative off and I will not allow it back in. I have worked too damn hard to be afraid. And part of a good race plan is to prepare for the unknown, as something unusually typically pops up in an event that long. And that’s ok. It’s crazy that I was feeling so bad at the beginning of the week, and today, I’m feeling nervous and a little anxious and really, really, dang excited.
On November 23rd, I’m running the JFK 50. I’m not going to TRY it, I’m not going to attempt to, I’m going to do it. I’m not naive enough to believe that things can’t happen to cause a DNF, but I’m not even going to let that into my space. At this point, a DNF is just not possible.
My mantra is to “Keep fucking going”.
Follow my race plan.
Adapt to changes.
Remember that I didn’t come this far to only go this far.
All the way. 50.2 miles. I’m going to do it.