2014: New Year, New Groove

2014 is a new year full of opportunity and promise. After a difficult year in 2013, personally, I could use the optimism and sense of re-engagement with one’s life that comes every 365 days. After ending last year’s racing season on a strong note with the December 28th Run for the Ranch Marathon, I’m looking forward to another strong year of racing and running!

As a marathoner, January is often a difficult month to retain focus, unless of course you’re training for a spring marathon for which I need to take pause to say, “Seriously, good for you.” Training in sub-zero polar vortexes is HARD. For me, as much as I want to jump into hardcore training mode and finally achieve the “beast status” image of myself that I have stored on top of my mental shelf, I also need to take a break and set myself right emotionally and mentally as much as I do physically. This might just be a symptom of literally ending the year with a marathon. Most race seasons end a few weeks before the holidays and then it’s gluttony-gluttony-gluttony (no judgment, believe me) before January delivers its wave of motivation like the refreshing crisp Midwest winter air that hits you when you open the door to go outside when you’ve been stuck inside for hours.

Okay, okay, so last year wasn’t a banner year for me. I went through a hell of a lot. Started out the year with a job loss…a month later, my serious relationship turned into a long-distance relationship that unexpectedly ended two months later, and after a grueling job search that wore me to the core, I made the hardest decision of my life to take a break from DC, a city I love and lived in for 5 years, for a job back in my home state of Nebraska so I could recover from the hardship of being unemployed for almost 10 months coupled with a cross-country move and all the costs associated with starting over. Yikes. I’m proud and even slightly astonished with myself that I kept racing in my life throughout all of that. I admit that I sometimes didn’t go running. No one has any idea what unemployment is like until you actually go through a job loss and the agony of job-searching— and I hope no one ever does because it’s a wound that bursts open every time you get a rejection for an interview you know you aced along with a writing sample you took all night to write, or a networking opportunity that falls to pieces on top of the terrifying likelihood of homelessness and bankruptcy that increases every day you go without a paycheck (are you listening, Congress?) Some days, the emotional toll that unemployment had on me, in addition to a breakup from someone I loved deeply, and the uncertainty of my world caving in on me was too much to handle, so I couldn’t run. This was frustrating to me because the fundamental concept in running is the forward motion of one foot in front of the other, but that completely denies the heart that goes into the process. It frustrated me greatly to be emotionally absent from running, but I was surprised at how tangible it felt to feel my rational thought that told me to go run perform as a distinct entity from my emotional thought which was consumed with fear and worry. Some things you just can’t “mantra” your way out of. Or maybe I am being too hard on myself….

2014 will be amazing, I can feel it, but I think that I need to shift my focus back on my emotional and mental health. One thing that I learned in 2013 is that I fall victim to mental roadblocks in running all of the time. It’s not that I don’t think I can accomplish the task at hand or excel with my goals. I’m not actually sure what it is. Perhaps it’s fear of success, perhaps it is fear of failure after I’ve gone so far, perhaps it is stagnating when I get somewhere. Maybe even, it is the fear that the destination won’t be as good as the journey and that once I get there, nothing else will ever compare to the high that is in the struggle. Something is stopping me. I don’t know what it is, but it causes me to hesitate before charging ahead and that caution is dangerous because it’s just enough to put doubt in my head and arrive at a place where I can compromise what I know I am capable of doing and just be good enough. Just get by…

So, 2014 will be a year when I try to focus on the quality of my running instead of the quantity of running. First of all, I want to run a 4-hour marathon. I was close in Springfield at Run for the Ranch: for the first ten miles, I was running an average, consistent pace around 10:20. That would have earned me a PR by 8 minutes if I had kept that up. And while I was immensely proud of my 5-hour time (see my race recap– it’s ridiculous), I remember starting mile 11 wondering how I was going to keep up that pace. Instead of wondering how, I should have told myself that I would do it— that I COULD do it, even if I was crying like a baby every step of the way.

So, this year will be all about reconnecting to the very simple concept that got me off the couch 10 years ago: try. When I go running, I’m going to focus on running faster and paying extra attention to the mental switch in my head that is trying to get me to slow down. I’m going to focus on ignoring that switch, pushing past it, and exploring the realms of the sub-8:30 minute-per-mile pace. It’s not the pace that I am after (okay, maybe it is a little bit) but I have been an average 9:00 per mile runner for years now and it frustrates me greatly that I haven’t been able to run faster than that, but I also realize that I have never really tried to either.

But before I go there, I need to bring some balance, variety, and optimism back into my life. I shouldn’t feel guilty about skipping a run– that’s the fastest way to make something feel like a chore. I love running, I love training, and I can’t wait to get back out there. But right now, this is hibernation season so I’m going to enjoy a little downtime mixed in with some workout DVDs, free weights, and some genuine R&R.

So……..how are you starting off YOUR year?

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