My successful return to running, with all the failures too.

I have to admit that I’ve been delaying this post for a long time. In fact, I have had so much internal discussion about the topic that I couldn’t even decide between the two possible post titles:

1. My non-success as I returned to running.
2. My successful return to running.

The truth is that after the Ironhorse Half Marathon (October 14th, 2012) and before the Detroit Marathon (October 21st, 2012) I sat down three different times to write the blog post, but it was only turning into a post that described why I didn’t accomplish a single goal I set out to accomplish back in March. That is depressing as hell, so I basically said “screw it”, people don’t need to hear all of that.

The fact that I have always been open with my successes and failures, in all areas, was lost on me at the moment. So was the fact that I had some amazing successes in my running life that came through in 2012. It was just hard to see those through the deep feelings of failure I was having based on the data and results.

I’m going to share both the good and the bad, starting with the bad – but to find some framework for how I finally found some positives here are two posts:

1. My personal lens, that I’ve obviously had difficulty maintaining as my “true north” the past 3 years.

2. Brad’s Detroit Marathon Race Report, the weekend was awesome and pulled me out of a self pity funk

The Failures:

One of the things that I hate most in life is failure. I have shared before how the fear of failure can be crippling to progress. This awareness is something I have worked on over the last few years. To embrace failure as a learning experience, the key is to learn about those failures quickly. The faster you learn something is not working, the sooner you can:

a – do something completely different that is working
b – change the strategy so that your original goal is still an option

To learn quickly, it requires that you have check points along the way. Here’s a little secret, this doesn’t only apply to endurance performance – in fact the “fail fast” thinking is an idea I stole from Brad Feld and put it into the context of running and triathlon.

How was I monitoring my success or progress? What were my check points?

Training Data – I know what the training looks like in order to continue to improve, so I was tracking the running data in fairly specific ways: TSS, CTL, ATL and # of days off per month. I was also following: miles per week, miles per month and hours per month.

Outcome Data – 5k race results. The plan was to track 5k race results, 10k race result and at least one if not two half marathon race results through the end of 2012.

Outcome Goals – 1:18:30 or better at Ironhorse Half Marathon, it’s a tough course but I felt it would be the indicator that I needed to meet my 2013 marathon goal. I also thought that a 1:18:00 or better on a flatter course would be something I’d shoot for if I needed additional assurance I was on track. My 2013 marathon goal was to shoot for a 2:54:46 at the Lincoln Marathon in May. Why that? Because my first marathon was Lincoln in 1999 and I ran 3:54:47 and going sub 3 hours on that course is achievable.

The information was good to start out, as the training data was positive. You can look back and see all the information in previous posts. I did a 5k in late April and one in early May, neither were great – but I could feel a little zip in the legs. I also did the Ragnar Relay with some co-workers from Retrofit in early June. While it was still obvious I was nowhere ready to compete, the flat terrain of those runs gave me a lot of confidence.

That is about where things stalled out. The training peaked at about that time and while I was able to maintain the fitness and speed I had built to that point, I could not get things to move forward. Training runs didn’t show any progress and I didn’t even have the courage to run the Bluegrass 10k after seeing my training data.

I know that some people would say “jump in and do it, you never know”. I should have run the Bluegrass, I agree. I also believe that runners can achieve amazing things at times. But I don’t believe in great races being done on “hopes and dreams”, they start with that – but they are accomplished through a lot of hard work. The truth was the information was showing I wasn’t getting in the hard work and my fitness was getting worse not better.

I also started using a Zeo Sleep Monitor in the summer to try and help manage my training and life stress, and I was regularly seeing scores of mid 50′s and low 60′s. I just couldn’t shut my mind off for weeks to actually rest. This was the result of positive things going on, not anything negative resulting in insomnia. I was just dealing with a new job that was resulting in an enormous amount of creative thought and energy and I was really struggling with a good way to harness it. I spent a lot of nights on the coach, lying there awake.

At the end of August (a fairly poor month of training) I looked at the data and knew that September had to get better, so I put in a personal objective to get it done. September turned out to be my worst month of the year. I had intended to use Runkkeeper to generate some social pressure but I quickly felt frustrated by my workouts.

The final data point that made me realize that I just wasn’t making progress came during the Bourbon Chase Relay (same idea as the Ragnar I did in June). On my third leg, I ran 4 miles with the majority of it on the Ironhorse Half Marathon Course. My average pace for that leg was a 6:12 / mile. I have not looked to see what the normalized graded pace was, but it was a true test. Performance is always the best indicator. There’s no way I was going to run a sub 6min pace for the half marathon, if I couldn’t manage a sub 6 for 4 miles – even if it was the last leg of the relay.

Proof – you can’t hide from the results.

So with the data proving that my desire to return to racing wasn’t going to happen, did I feel that I had failed? Yes, of course I do.

But, there are some positives and I want to share those too – because they are more harmonious with what I say is my ‘true north’.

Positives:

1. I don’t believe in achieving a perfect balance in life, as I’ve shared in the past I think it’s mostly a bullshit idea that causes too much depression and anxiety in our society. People don’t achieve this mythical balance, then they start to develop guilt because they feel like they are not doing something right. I believe in setting priorities and living into them. We set priorities and give time, attention, money, effort and energy to what matters; you need to give yourself permission to let the non priority stuff fall away.

The good news for me is that I realized that achieving the performances I wanted was not likely, they fell down the priority list significantly in June. Once the data started making that apparent, while it bothered my ego – I have at least been able to get back into a “maintenance mode”. I’m 34 and I know I have probably a decade to have a few truly great performances. But that will require that I don’t ruin my body when I know performances are not going to happen. Learn fast and adapt.

2. The second lesson learned is a little bit bigger of a life lesson that I’m taking away. I got into endurance sports for a variety of reasons, but the biggest reason was ultimately about self improvement, empowering myself to become a leader of people through educating, coaching and inspiring.

When I started running, I never knew if I could accomplish some of the things I have – I certainly didn’t know that 13.5 years later I would be a much healthier, fitter and yes – even faster athlete. I only knew that at that point in my life one of the most satisfying things I had done on a personal level was coaching group of 7 grade basketball players, trying to inspire them to something bigger than winning a basketball game was a lesson I learned (as senior in high school). I somehow wanted to do that for many more people on a bigger platform.

I had the idea that it wasn’t about just running, it was about fulfilling our personal potential. And at the time, I was using up most of my potential doing very little positive, so running a marathon made the most sense to me personally.

That is why I can look back on 2012 and find a lot of successes. Athletics has given me a lot of things and I owe a significant amount of my personal and professional happiness and achievements to the running and triathlon communities.

When I look back at the last 10.5 months, I find successes that are not my own but of those I helped in some ways big and in some the smallest of ways.

I should probably list the people that I owe those successes and this happiness to. I think I will just point back to Brad’s race report from Detroit. Sometimes, it is just about being able to do some really cool stuff with people that are fun to be around. When you can take those feelings and experiences and pay them forward so others can also find that joy – well, that is all I can ask for.