Back in September of 2018 right before my 40th Birthday I set a huge goal for myself, a couple big goals actually. I signed up for a 44km trail race with almost 4000 feet of elevation in bear country with very few people on the course. This scared me for many reasons only one of which was 44km is really freaking far and I’m terrified of bears even though I’ve hiked and camped and been educated about them for my entire life.
Fast forward a few months to March when I started my Run coach certification studies, I created a training plan for myself that was shorter than I would probably recommend to a client and I felt pretty good about it. Until winter decided to stay long past it’s welcome, I struggled with shin and feet issues and my lack of hill training became painfully apparent when I finally did attempt some hill repeats. Then I ran a half that was far from my best race, learned more about the course and said bears on course from those that have ran it and got sick for weeks which finally led me to the conclusion that I am not ready physically or mentally for a full marathon, let alone a one on a mountain.
So I made the decision to drop down to the half marathon distance which is still 21 km on beautiful trails (with the same bears) and around 2000 feet of elevation.
At first I beat myself up. I felt like I had failed. I felt like I was giving up on my goals. Things started unraveling in my business and personal life – I felt lost and depressed and irrationally mad. I felt like quitting.
Then I stopped and spent a weekend unplugged with those that matter the most to me and I just enjoyed the time with them. I listened to my kids without being distracted by my phone and didn’t rush conversations. I told myself what I would tell a client – this is not a failure, this is me deciding that it’s not the right time right now. That doesn’t mean that I won’t go after this goal again. It doesn’t mean I won’t train harder next year now that I know what I need to do.
There is a reason that most marathon training plans are 20 weeks or more, it seems like a long time until you actually start doing it. Life happens, you get sick, your kids get sick, work gets busy, family needs you, etc. The training for a marathon is time consuming and it should be. It shouldn’t be rushed. That’s how you end up injured or having an awful time at a race.
There are times when you should leap before you’re ready and times when you need to hold back and be patient and wait. If your mind is telling you that you need to wait out of fear, that’s when you should leap. But if your body is telling you to slow down – either through injury, pain or illness that’s when you need to listen.
A good coach will help you figure that out and will modify your training plans and goals accordingly. They’re there to check in with you both physically and mentally and can either talk you down from a ledge or help you walk across the bridge to a new path.
It’s hard to see things clearly when you’re in the middle of it all but when you stop and rest and unplug and really listen to your heart and mind you can see it.
So it’s not failure, it’s just a branch in the road or a temporary speed bump. Keep going after your goals, I know I will. My goal for next year is now to run a marathon (a flat one) and then once I know I can go the distance (and have a better understanding of what I’m up against on the mountain) I will add in the elevation and go for it my goal again. Until then I’m going to enjoy my less than 20km long runs and keep working on those hill repeats.