About a week ago, I stood at Skyline Gate in Oakland’s Redwood Park awash in fatigue and an exaggerated sense of failure. I had just finished an hour-long “boot camp” strength-training and cardio class at a nearby gym and intended to run for a mere 7 or 8 miles, slowly. This was my “easy” training day.
I felt torn about whether to go home and dig into a backlog of work, or whether to stick to the run in an attempt to get closer to achieving my goal of running more than 60 miles that week as part of training for the March 25 Oakland Marathon and May 5 Miwok 100K.
My head felt as though it were clamped in a vice, and my limbs felt weighed down. A stream of negative phrases when through my mind: I don’t want to be here. I can’t get anything done. Nothing is working out right. I can’t even run. I feel like I’ve gained 10 pounds. I feel like I’m 80 years old.
I shuffle-jogged about an eighth of a mile and then did something I rarely do: I gave up. I turned around and walked back to my car.
I could have coached myself with a pep talk. I could have acknowledged the fact that following the gym’s not-for-wimps boot camp class with an hour-plus trail run, and considering that to be my “easy” day, is a testament to how high my standard of fitness has become. Or the fact that running 50 to 55 miles during a normal week is a big increase from ten years ago, when my marathon training would peak at 40 to 45 miles a week. Or that I was doing the right thing by listening to my body telling me it needs rest, especially since I was probably fighting a virus passed on from my sick kids.
I also could have focused on the fact that I actually have been doing a good job with the thing that matters most: taking care of my family. I’ve been spending extra time with my 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, because they’re both making developmental leaps and dealing with issues. In recent weeks, the hours slipped away while I lingered with my daughter to help her organize her closet and watch her YouTube videos, or I played ping-pong with my son and helped him with math. I also worked by Morgan’s side and gave him emotional support to help him ride out some rough spots at work. I lost myself in a novel and wrote a poem for Valentine’s Day.
All of which meant my various projects, resolutions, training plans and grand ambitions got pushed to the side.
Sitting in my parked car at the trailhead, I sunk further mentally and ramped up the self-criticism about my inability to accomplish what I set out to do. Objectively, I understood I was being too hard on myself and sabotaging the ability to enjoy a life that I recognize is quite enviable. But that objective awareness made me feel worse rather than better, because then I felt more frustrated and inadequate for the stupidity of my mood. When I got home, I drafted the ugly paragraph below:
Blog posts usually inspire. Blog posts tend to brag. My inbox receives RSS feeds daily about destinations where global travelers venture out to the most incredible undiscovered spot (always a superlative), while my runner friends passionately detail their miles logged and their challenges overcome. That’s how I tend to blog—when I blog—which, lately, I haven’t been doing, because I can’t write. I don’t want to write. I have nothing worthwhile to share. I’m not traveling. I’m running but not particularly well. What am I doing? I’m cocooning and trying to work and drawing my kids close. I’m splitting a bottle of chardonnay nightly and eating enough dinner for two. I’m wasting time on Facebook even though I find the detritus and musings of other people’s lives increasingly annoying, and it depresses me that 9 out of 10 people whom I follow aren’t real friends. I’m in a funk, and no one wants to read this shit anyway.
So, that’s why I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front.
Why am I now “oversharing” (as my family likes to say when I blurt too much info)? I was inspired in part by Bryon Powell’s recent post on iRunFar, in which he described his disappointment and self-criticism sparked by not meeting self-imposed expectations. I realized I’m not alone in these funks that periodically derail manic, over-achieving runners, and I wanted to balance out all those “look at the amazing thing I did and here’s how you can too” type of blog posts with one that shows me honestly feeling weak, unproductive and unbalanced.
I realize in hindsight I made the oft-repeated mistake of measuring myself against others, both professionally and athletically, and letting that comparison inordinately influence my satisfaction and sense of self-worth. For example, I went to a book-signing event a couple of weeks ago that did a number on my head because it stirred up dormant feelings of regret stemming from a memoir project that I spent months on before giving up. At the time, I concluded it wasn’t the right time to write it, and I ultimately didn’t feel right going public with my story. Still, listening to that author talk about her memoir, I couldn’t help comparing myself to her, which sparked feelings of inadequacy and envy. In terms of running, I know I excessively compare myself to peers who fit in more miles and clock faster times at races while also managing demanding work and family schedules. I stopped listening to my body’s internal cues (such as fatigue and muscle tweaks while running, fullness while eating). Rather than being flexible with my expectations, and achieving moderation and enjoying life in the moment, I fell into all-or-nothing extremes and black-or-white thinking.
I went home from Skyline Gate, caught up on sleep and lowered my expectations of what I could get done during the day. Turns out that giving up, or giving in, was the first step to getting better. I spent more time with my kids and back-burnered this blog and several other non-essential tasks. And then, like magic, I bounced back. The cloud over my head lifted. It’s amazing what eight hours of sleep and a day with hardly any agenda can do.
I ran well over the long holiday weekend. (OK, better than well: a relatively fast 20-miler on a flat and paved course Saturday, a nice and easy recovery run with a friend on Sunday, a strong and gorgeous 28-mile mountainous trail run on Monday.) Life feels manageable again, even though I still haven’t caught up on work and myriad chores. No, much better than manageable—this time with my family and time spent on the trail feel gratifying and precious. By cutting myself some slack, I regained perspective on priorities and progress. I didn’t exactly regain my ability to write, but so what, I’m going to put this out there raw and imperfect anyway. That’s the way it is.