(I wrote this the day before my first 50k of the year in the middle of February.)
At the conclusion of my run to Auburn in 2012 I spent a couple days thinking about my life, where it was going and where it had been. I had such an amazing journey to Western States, there was so much I learned about myself in the three years I had been running. I learned at a young age that when it comes to performing, I am going to go to the farthest depths that I can to get the result I want. I can push farther than your average Joe. Despite physical or emotional pain I have always had the ability to focus on the task at hand and get the job done. In my youth, I felt this was one of my best qualities. It made me feel studly and it gave the appearance to others that I was a tough SOB. These things were important to me because at the time I lacked self worth (am I worthy of that which I'm trying to attain or have been given) and self esteem (confidence that I can achieve). A double doozie for any young man to have.
I got a grasp on my confidence once I left the nest and went to college, as I suspect a lot of young men do. However, I still struggle daily with self worth. One reason I set so many goals is because I constantly feel unworthy. If I achieve, I must be worthy. If I do not, then I am not, pretty simple.
I had a revelation of sorts last night. I've never felt that my goal setting could be in any way unhealthy. How could it be? You set a goal, you achieve it. You move on to the next one. Setting goals in and of its self, is not a bad thing, but I now suspect the way I use those goals to make myself feel better is not the healthiest of ways to go about it. I make every goal so important that in many cases I continue on down the path of achievement against better judgement. I once viewed this as determination, and a positive thing. Now I'm not so sure.
Two weeks ago I injured my ankle at a race. I've been nursing it ever since, taking off Monday through Wednesday, lightly running Thursday, and getting long miles in on the weekend. I've kept the intensity of these workouts under wraps. Still, my ankle is giving me some trouble. I'm also apparently coming down with whatever bug has been going around and I'm generally feeling a little lethargic.
I have my first 50k of the season tomorrow. My goal is a sub 6 hour run. I made that goal because I want to feel like all the training I have been doing is worth it. I've been busting my ass since December first trying to actually run up steep hills rather than walk. I have this need to feel inside myself that I am worthy of the praise my friends and family bestow upon me for my running exploits. I consider myself an average runner at best. My family and friends do not, I am special to them. I just do not see it that way. My reality (perception maybe) is, I am part of a very small percentage of people, who for what ever reason, choose to run distances most people do not even like to drive. Of those people who do it, I'm average, and I'm working on getting better. To me, my special quality in this sport is pain and suffering, or rather dealing with it, not my running ability.
So how does all this fit into a revelation while sitting in bed at midnight unable to sleep last night? Well, I hurt enough and felt sick enough, that I had to start pondering if going to the race tomorrow was a good idea.
As recently as a year ago (I in fact had this same conversation with myself last January) I would look at this decision and consider it an easy choice. You go, you run hard, you succeed. You signed up, paid for it, told everyone you were going....you live up to your word. The outcome of that decision a year ago, and most of the others like that in my life to date, has been the same. I do go, I do succeed and I also end up broken.
Each and every time I pushed through relatively small issues only to find on the other side I made bigger ones. Just looking at the last three years of running, 4 times I have downplayed the importance of my health for the achievement of a relatively minor goal and each of those 4 times I was left sitting on the couch for months at a time mending wounds incurred.
It is funny, but last night was the first time I've put all this together. Do my self esteem issues hinder me in placing an importance on my health? Surely if true, I must do this in other non athletic endeavours. After some thought, I would say there are many parts of my life I downplay my health (mental or physical) in order to meet some arbitrary want.
I woke this morning to a familiar feeling, a sore ankle and a sore throat. I left for work positive it would all pass and made my plans for the race the next morning. My hour long drive to work affords me a lot of thinking time. I recalled my thoughts so early that morning and realized I may not be 100% unbiased in making this decision. Fortunately I have an ace in the hole. I'm fortunate enough to have for the third year in a row, a massively qualified ultra runner as a coach and mentor. After talking with her we both agreed that the goal of the year is TRT100 in July. She acknowledged how hard I was working and put a new spin on it. Basically, I know I'm in shape and the time to show that is when I am healthy. Pulling out a great race tomorrow is no where near as important as doing it in July. Skipping this weekends run will not instantly make me a sloth on the course, but going and getting seriously injured will. The benefit to staying home and swallowing some pride is worth more than being stoic, determined and injured.
So with that, I'm taking another step of growth. I can complete the race tomorrow, of that much I am sure. However, the risk in doing so is now too much for me to ignore. I'm going to stay home and recover as much as I can and push back the effort I was going to unleash tomorrow until next weekend, or the one after that. It is a tough decision for me to make. It sorta feels like quitting, but the reality is as bad as I may feel making this decision, I'd feel a whole lot worse for a lot longer if something happened in the race. Especially if I ended up hurt like so many other times these last couple of years. So with that, I'll take the DNS tomorrow and live to race another day.