Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Recovery and Ruminations on Failure

Tall Trees

Today I went out for my first post-marathon exercise: a slow walk next to the tall trees with their autumn leaves swaying in the breeze.  It’s chilly in Michigan today, so I was bundled up in tights, a scarf, and a sweater that has its own built-in hand-warmers.

Hand Warmers and Fingers

As I walked, I thought about the marathon training cycle that ended successfully on Sunday.  I keep thinking that I really should not have run such a fast marathon.  (A side note: yes, I know that for some people, a five-hour finish is not fast.  For me, it was fast and unexpected.  Let’s just agree that fast is a relative term, okay?)  After all, I walked most of my long “runs.”  I learned how to power-walk for long intervals, slowly building endurance.  I tinkered with speeds to learn how difference paces felt, at least on a treadmill inside an air-conditioned gym.  And in the end, I chose to be outside in the Texas heat because that’s what I do: I train outside.  It’s just part of who I am.  Whenever I’m inside on a treadmill, I’m always wishing I were outside, even as I’m grateful to have the treadmill as a work-out option.

My marathon training was a series of struggles, but the most important struggle happened between my ears.  I believed that since I failed to execute my training plan perfectly, I had already failed at the marathon.  I was so hard on myself about all my setbacks, secretly convinced that I deserved to fail because I had failed in so many little ways already.  And yet…4:56:50.  Not only did I finish, but I ran the marathon respectably well.  Better than I thought possible.  Which brings me back to the mental game and a question I can’t answer:

How do we decide what is possible?

Looking back now, I feel much softer toward myself.  Not only has it been a crazy year, a year of transition and heartache and falling in love and finding myself again, it’s been a year of doing things I have never done.  I never dreamed that I’d resign from a job without a new job waiting for me.  I never thought I’d ask a new boyfriend to go on a huge, multi-destination trip with me.  And I never thought I’d start a marathon feeling so unprepared for the miles ahead of me.

When I’m being kind to myself, I can acknowledge that since August, I’ve had a very full plate.  Starting a new job is a challenge by itself, let alone a new job plus marathon training plus the rest of my life.  I fit marathon training into that life as best I could.  Sometimes I nailed my training plans; other times I fell short and tried to be flexible.  The point is that I didn’t let a lack of perfection completely derail me.  I kept at it, kept trying to do better.  I think Sunday’s performance was my ultimate “do better.”  And that felt amazing.

I want to work on being more positive with myself.  Not just with my running, but with everything.  It’s never too late to do better.  I believe that with my whole heart.  But it’s also important to know when to persist and when to back off.  If I had felt I was courting injury, I would have backed off of marathon training.  If I felt like I was under-performing at work or hurting people by being negligent, then I would have reconsidered my schedule.  Mostly, I felt the tug of disappointment that I had to settle for “good enough” in every area of my life.  But maybe “good enough” is still really damn good.  The experience of stretching myself to my limit is worth having.  It provides perspective, builds discipline, encourages growth.  I think this year has shown me my limits and my ability to adapt.  I am grateful for all of it.

Gorgeous Yellow Leaves

Boots Tights Leaves

SPI Belt_Not just for running anymore

{SPI belt: not just for running any more!}

Thanks for reading, sweet friends.


  1. I love this post! Congratulations on an excellent marathon, and better yet, the wonderful things the experience has taught you. I also like your ruminations on "good enough" and "spreading yourself thin." This is something I've struggled with as well, but I think you're right - not only does it provide perspective, etc, but it also makes you a very interesting person! So congratulations, also, on that. ;)

    1. Thank you, friend! I'm glad I wrote this post after the marathon because I think I need to keep these lessons close to me for the next six months. This year just keeps throwing me unexpected challenges...but it's also been a year of opportunities. Ultimately, I think they are one and the same.

      (I may have cried a little bit today, feeling scared and excited about new challenges. Apparently I'm a bit emotional about this subject!)