Dear Sally

This just isn’t my winter. I’m not really sure how it got away from me – how it managed to slip through the tiny cracks leftover between work, school, illness, snow days, fatigue, and giant naps – but somehow it fled the scene.

I haven’t run since I bombed a 4-mile race several weeks ago. I stopped mid-race before ultimately deciding to finish, but otherwise the details of the race aren’t important. It marked the departure from a plan that I haven’t been able to reignite.

Letting out some expletives after barely beating that stringy old guy

Letting out some expletives after barely beating that stringy old guy

I started with a perfect plan. Of course I did. It included perfect execution of a perfect, injury-free training season, and the Boston 5k in April would be the perfect icing on the cake. But perfect plans only exist to be royally effed up by more realistic circumstances.

Turns out my schedule is tough, and I let it serve as an excuse for everything. I typically work in the evenings, so rather than feeling off-the-walls pumped for mid-day workouts, I am crashing hard after my morning class due to sleep deprivation. I’m in a cycle of work late, get home late, go to bed late, sleep past alarm, get up late, rush to class, nap late, rush to work… and then I’m fighting to get out of bed for a 10am class the next day. I stumble to class with a piece of toast in one hand and coffee in the other, braless in a sweatshirt, to endure 50 minutes of feverish note-taking before my central nervous system has even realized it’s awake.

Do you think my next move is: A) bust out a VO2max workout or B) make a beeline back to my apartment to nap?

Hint: it’s not A.

Throw in a couple bouts of sickness and borderline ferritin levels, and well… after that 4-mile “race” I tossed in my towel.

Short-term life-boost solution and some wise words

Short-term life-boost solution and some wise words

I bring all this up because I have dreamed about Boston being something special. First and foremost, I am going to support a friend in the marathon. I have a feeling she will OTQ one day, and I haven’t watched her run since college. But I want a piece of Boston cream pie too, so I set the goal that I would run my fastest 5k ever. After a year of living at altitude, a sub-18:00 should be a cakewalk with the proper training, right? Thanks to sneak peeks via LF’s WoW workouts, I know that is near the pace of your 5k goal as well, so I suppose part of me feels like I let you down these past few weeks as a virtual competitor and training partner. I gave up on the work that was going to get me to fast times.

I gave up on runners, too. Instead of finding motivation and inspiration from all the talented runners I admire and believe in, I’ve felt depressed by my inadequacy lately. My inability to pack a training session into my – let’s be honest – less-than-full day when everyone else did it at 5am feels shameful. When everyone else is out getting better, I am in the person in that one meme who sleeps in. Everyone else went running and I have serious FOMO but I’ll just stay in I guess because I’m getting used to being left out?

It’s been a hell of a rough patch and has shaken my faith in running to its core. And for that – for all the negativity, and doubt, and envy, and abandonment – for all these things, I apologize: to you, to the incredible people behind Oiselle, to every runner I admire, to the friend I will be cow-belling in Beantown, to my boyfriend. And, with humility, I apologize to myself, because it’s all been so unfair. Negativity does not drive success or healing.

Finally, I pulled it together for light cross-training. Even in unpleasant times, there is something about sweating and getting the blood pumping that makes me feel invincible, even if for only a few minutes. After several days straight on the elliptical, with the irony of a Greek tragedy, I succumbed to another bout of illness. But I got up again.

Sally, here is the silver lining. I will still run in Boston. I will carry my heart and soul to the start of that 5k. It might not end up being the PR I once set my heart on. Maybe my story isn’t ready for that yet. I may not be nipping at Lesko’s and your heels. But I will be breathing deeply and flying with the strength of a million runners before me who overcame fear, injury, or adversity to toe the line.

We could all quit every day, but we don’t. We need breaks to keep us humble – to keep us yearning for more. We need to learn to roll with the punches. We need to let go of perfection. We need to get back up when we are beaten down. We need to keep dreaming. We need to keep running.

I once lost a year of my track career after a stress fracture. It took months of mental training to get back to the start line. Healing takes many false starts before you're really ready to fly.

I once lost a year of my track career to a stress fracture. It took months of mental training to get back to the start line. Healing takes many false starts before you’re really ready to fly, but it does happen.

If Boston symbolizes anything, it is strength. On April 18, I will bring all the tools I have to execute whatever my mind and body are strong enough to do. It’s the best I can do, and that certainly beats the worst.

Thank you for believing in all women runners even when we are low on gas and not feeling like ourselves. You inspire us to become our best, eventually, one day, even if the journey seems far away. I will answer to the birdcalls echoing across Boston. The anticipation of sharing this weekend with Oiselle heroes from nest to flock to the highest flying is enough to keep me from giving up.

With gratitude,

Claire

P.S. Just because I had a hard time relating to the running community’s successes does not mean I went without any forms of comfort from a strong group of women. I know we are heeded not to compare ourselves to elites, but their stories of tough times are just like anyone’s, and I am grateful for the empathy and the sharing and the support that exists across the running world. Pros and non-elite racers are able to relate on so many levels, it turns out. This is a truly remarkable community. Here are several accounts among many that helped me cope with adversity:

Stephanie Bruce and her graceful encouragement to take things as they come, without judgement. Lauren Fleshman admitting that she also “feels like doo-doo” on occasion and has to work on her iron levels. I’m grateful for enduroTwerd’s blog, and her Valentine’s race recap read like something out of my head. I love the Twitter exchanges between her and Devon Yanko too.

And I empathize completely with this high flyer:

^I hope it is OK for me to showcase you all. You ladies and so many others are on a pedestal in the Oiselle community, and I thank you for your openness about struggling and questioning. Powerful and humanizing. Without people like you, I wouldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, or the opportunity to bounce back when I am ready. Finally, perhaps most significantly, I thank my Boston-bound friend Anna for the kind of honesty and support that only comes from an IRL friend. She has come back from a rocky college career plagued by anemia, food allergies, and, I’m sure, a lot of doubt to outrun us all. I can’t wait to watch your 26.2!

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