I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and stared down the long stretch of road before me. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I was staring up the road. I told myself “…and then when you reach the second intersection with the flashing lights, you can turn around and come back!”
My running coach is a tiny pixie of a woman, and she has an endless reservoir of enthusiasm and energy. She runs 100-mile races…barefoot. She is both the most amazing and most terrifying person I know. She’s smiling broadly; she’s excited for me to take on this challenge.
I am grim-faced. Even on the best of days, I do not naturally sport a smile. But today, I am staring imminent pain and misery in the face. I feel my expression souring. I’m nervous. I am staring up at what I would later learn to be approximately 1300 feet in ascension, somewhere in the middle-of- nowhere-countryside in Upstate New York. I followed the directions my coach sent to me in an email, without knowing my destination until I was literally staring it in the face. Some people might laugh and tell me doing such a thing was naive. I like to think it is my love and respect for her that gives me such blind faith.
The goal today? Twelve miles of running, most of which will be up a significantly monstrous hill. Why? I am training for a half marathon—my comeback half marathon, in fact.
I am a runner. Running brings me joy and excitement. It fills me with purpose and motivation. Running defines me–a day without it seems directionless.
May 24, 2015 is a date that has haunted me for two years. On that day, I raced my second half marathon…and I failed miserably. I had completed my graduate program the week before. It had been an emotionally challenging semester, as I was balancing family medical concerns with studying for my comprehensive exams. Running has always provided me with comfort in times of adversity, but my schedule barely allowed me to increase my mileage appropriately in preparation for my race.
Despite not training as appropriately as I could have for a half marathon, I did not feel concern. Running had never let me down before. I was sure that no matter what, I would be just fine. Just another run. Just a two hour jog around my favorite city, right? 13.1 miles later I was in a lot of pain—plantar fasciitis and a stress fracture, I later learned. I was embarrassed by my time, by my rookie mistake, by my hubris.
When you run as much as I do, when you enjoy running as much as I do, “quitting” is actually a pretty miserable task. I felt like a failure. Each time I tried to lace up and give running another shot, I would sit on the curb half a mile later and remind myself that it was not worth the effort. I would remind myself that I would just fail again. And so I let that define me. I hung up my running shoes for over a year.
It was not until I accepted a new professional position and moved to Albany, New York, that I had the inkling to try it all again. I found a coach, joined up with my #runsquad, and spent a year focusing on goal races, improving my strength, working on my nutrition, and rebuilding my running fitness (and confidence) from the ground up.
I needed to fall flat on my face in 2015 to learn that I can rebuild and redefine myself. That one slip did not have to discourage me from trying again. Failure is incredibly human, and it does not have to decimate the self-confidence you have spent your life building.
Through this comeback journey—through this training cycle—I have been afforded the opportunity to learn so much about myself, and how I used to let failure define me. I’m now able to look back at the fear and disappointment I carried with me. I want to tell the girl that I used to be that significant growth lies in the unknown. There is beauty and change in the fear of failure. I want to tell her to embrace a challenge, to let it be her chrysalis, and to emerge from challenge with pride in the attempt alone is bliss.