Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Failure Feeds Success

The impetus for this post came courtesy of Beammco, whose March newsletter called for funny or inspiring story submissions from runners. It's been awhile since I've written a long, thoughtful blog post. It's been awhile since I've had cause to think about training and where it's taken me. My running is so different these days than it used to be, and this felt like a wonderful opportunity to reflect.

It's hard to choose just one story to share. Do I go with the funny story (maybe the time a baby squirrel fell on my head mid-run), or do I tug at the heartstrings? In the end, I have to go with inspiration, because more than anything, I think inspiring others to overcome obstacles is what runners truly have to offer the world.
In 2014, I ran my first full marathon. I diligently followed a training plan and avoided setting a goal because everything I had read advised against setting a time goal for your first marathon. I ran it; when I crossed the finish line, I was a different person than when I crossed the start. But this story isn't about my first marathon.

In 2015, I felt I knew what I was made of. I decided to run another marathon and I decided that this time, I could set a time goal. My training was perfect; I shocked myself by checking off every workout and owning the long runs. I felt I was truly capable of PR'ing. However, as race day loomed, something became clear: the unpredictable weather that is December-in-Florida threw off my plan. I tried to take it in stride, but that was basically impossible. I came dangerously close to quitting at the halfway point; I fought through it and finished my second marathon with a significantly slower time than my first. I was disheartened. I was embarrassed. I doubted myself in a way I hadn't in years.
But that's not really what this story is about, either.

What this story is about is my comeback marathon.
Every year, I run a specific race that falls on my birthday weekend. That year, 2016, that race was a mere two months after my disastrous second marathon. I planned to run the half, and I half-heartedly trained for it. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I should run the full, since I was basically trained up for it. If anything, the two months between Marathon 2 and Race Day were like an extended taper. I had every reason not to upgrade my race distance: I was burned out. I was still mentally raw from the last marathon. My foot kind of hurt.

I talked the ears off all my running friends, who gave me sound advice, but I was still undecided. Then, the night before the race, I went to pick up my bib. I took it from the check-in table and, without giving myself time to think, immediately walked over to the line where I could upgrade my half marathon to a full.
I didn't really tell anyone except my parents, husband, and one or two of those advice-y running friends.

I want to tell you race day was perfect. It wasn't. It was hot and incredibly windy; at one point, I really thought I was going to get blown off-course. The high winds made breathing difficult, and the sun cooked the asphalt from mile nine to 26.2. But there were so many highlights, and as I passed by the turn-around for the half and went on to the full marathon course, my heart felt light. My mind felt clear. I felt totally at ease.

At mile 20, my sister met me with a Coke. (If you look through the full recaps for these races, you may start to wonder if Coke sponsors my finisher pics.) At mile 22, I glanced at the pacing tattoo on my arm and knew I was going to get my PR. At mile 24, a seagull caught in the gale nearly hit me on the head. At mile 26, I heard my husband cheering for me. And as I crossed the finish line, I began to cry.
This marathon proved something to me: progress is not perfect, and failure feeds success. We can grow, we can get stronger, we can take risks and face fears and tackle hurdles and still fall short. But we have to keep going. Nothing worth fighting for comes easily.

The day after that third marathon, I turned 30. I said goodbye to my 20s with a lesson I think all young people should learn: we may have setbacks, but if we fight for glory  whatever that looks like for each of us, personally we can prove to ourselves how strong we are, and we can inspire others in the process.