Failing Forward: Lessons Learned Through 2022 Racing

After the Eugene Marathon in May, I knew I needed a break. Physically my body felt burned out, and mentally I was struggling with wanting to continue to train, even during the marathon cycle itself. I had just run another sub-par marathon and felt like I wasted another 4 months of my life in pursuit of a goal just to epically fail in front of so many people who had watched my journey and knew the goals I had for myself. I found out later that week that I likely had covid when I ran the marathon which would explain the result, and although that gave me some peace of mind, the road to recovery after that was a lot more challenging than I was expecting and it took me about 4 months to feel more like myself running again. Getting covid was just the tip of the iceberg, however. Looking back I know I was on a track to burning out much earlier than that but kept forging ahead knowing that I could take a break once the marathon was over.

Taking a break from structure and paces on the trails in summer 2022.

Initially I hadn’t been planning on running a spring 2022 marathon, but after the NYC Marathon didn’t go so well, I wanted redemption. I initially picked the Illinois Marathon to go after a sub-3 goal which was special to me because it was where I ran my first marathon and where I went to college. Because of its smaller size, I also time-qualified to have table service which meant I’d be able to put bottles out on the course and be able to time my nutrition needs. I was excited about this race and all of the amenities that came along with it. I had also just quit my corporate job and taken coaching full-time so I had full control of my schedule and was looking forward to seeing what I could do with ample time to recover, get enough sleep every night, and have time for training more.

I had such mixed emotions after NYC and remember being sad taking these photos the day after the race but knew I’d regret not taking any later on.

This winter was pretty frigid and it made training less enjoyable when every day it would be windy, gloomy, and downright bone-chilling. In mid-February, the Illinois Marathon emailed us to let us know that they would not be able to support a marathon at the end of April and it left me questioning if I should proceed with my cycle or not. I wasn’t particularly enjoying training through the winter and with a death in the family in January, was dealing with my own grief and the grief of my family around me. Emotionally I was pretty drained, but I had invested a lot into this training cycle so I found another race that was on the same weekend as Illinois and had a similar elevation profile and continued to chip away at my goals.

I did a lot of runs on the treadmill in winter 2022 because of how cold it was outside. I set a new treadmill “PR” running a 20-miler in February indoors and it was a PR I never hoped to make!

I won’t rehash the whole cycle, I talk about it in past posts, but what I haven’t talked about much is that I think ironically by having more time to train and recover that I put even more pressure on myself than I had before to succeed because there was seemingly no excuse anymore. I also felt pressure to perform to attract more athletes who would want to work with me since coaching was my full-time job now, because as much as we don’t want to admit it, results do boost business (after some of my bigger PRs I’ll get an influx of interest forms for coaching so the proof is in the numbers; can you tell I used to work in data analytics?). It became a recipe for disaster – overthinking every workout or result and it quickly stole my joy for racing and training.

After Eugene, I took a couple months away from structured training, running when I wanted and what I wanted, struggling quite a bit in the post-covid recovery. My heart rate was pretty high even at easier efforts and I felt like I was trudging through cement on every run. I put a lot of focus on strength training during this time because I didn’t have the same issues in the gym that I was having on the roads since my heart rate wouldn’t get as high not doing cardio. I kept running, however, not because I had to, but because instinctually it’s what I felt called to do. It didn’t feel great for a long time and I was concerned that I’d never get back to the level I was at pre-covid, but something inside me kept wanting to lace up anyway, and I honestly think it was just out of consistency having run for the last 15 years of my life and not knowing a world without running.

I remember this track workout well. I tried to run 1000 meters at tempo pace and felt like I was sprinting at a pace I had once run 3 miles at a time at. The post-COVID recovery was very long and challenging for me.

In August I ran a 5K at 6:23 pace as a rust-buster while visiting friends. We hadn’t been planning on racing initially when we were going to visit but an opportunity to run for free came up and I jumped on it. It was a low pressure, low expectations race, and ended up being one of the best paced 5Ks I’ve ever done. Most of all, it was so fun, and I wanted to do it again! I kept training throughout August and September and somewhere along the way my body started feeling a lot stronger and better on my runs, which enabled a lot more confidence. Every week was not perfect and sometimes I’d feel like I’d make good progress one week just to take a couple steps back the next, but I put a big emphasis on listening to my body, shifting workouts when I knew I wasn’t feeling quite right to give myself a shot when I’d feel better (and also to keep my confidence going in the right direction). I ended up closing out my season of speed this past weekend running a 6:18 paced 5K, a PR pace for me in the distance, and the week prior a 5:38 road mile. It would be tempting to keep going now that I feel like I’m on an upward trajectory, but this cycle served its purpose in restoring my fitness and my confidence and I want to hang onto that going into training for Boston later this year, and also recognize that it’s important to take scheduled breaks between training blocks even if the race is much shorter than a marathon!

5K in August that kicked off a season of speed. I had so much joy crossing the line that day!

Over the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my year of running, and though I initially described my spring marathon as a failure, what I didn’t recognize at the time was that I failed forward. In Eugene I ran a time that only 3 years ago I would’ve dreamed of running, but my perception had shifted as I got faster and the bar had been raised. Today, my “bad race” is a time that previous me would’ve been thrilled with, and that’s a sign of progress even if in a roundabout way. We don’t wish for failure and we prepare to succeed, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in 15 years of running it’s that failure is part of the process and success is often just around the corner if we are patient and consistent in showing up. Riding the lows in running can be hard, especially when they last for a couple years at a time, but if I gave up when it got hard, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Fit and ready to push my limits again training for the Boston Marathon, this time keeping fun at the forefront and doing it for me.

First-place female in a local 5K this past weekend, closing out my training cycle.

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