2016 was a real soul questioning cluster, at times leaving me confused, self-doubting, stretched thin, and frequently benchmarking against the previous scale by which I’ve measured my former successes. From a running perspective, I walked into 2016 with the mantra, “I will run for fun, I will run to free my soul.” I had made a vow of returning to the road for the love of the sport, and I was hell-bent on a season of easy targets and finding the existential freedom that judgment-free pavement can do for the soul.
Coming off the most painful marathon of my career in New York’s November 2015 season, I was ready to throw in the competitive towel and quite literally put my feet up for the year (forever?). I was a bucket list marathoner, I’d reminded myself. The fact that I kept signing up seemed like some sort of masochistic subconscious that I was dying to shake. In my third 26.2 mile race with a time mere minutes over my “under 4 hour” goal, I was beginning to think my body just didn’t have the mental endurance to carry me 4 minutes faster. 4 minutes. That’s 240 seconds over the goal time I’d now attempted three times and failed.
A bit of a baseball watcher, and certainly a fan of Disney’s Aladdin, three seemed like a pretty perfect number to walk away with a strikeout and give the genie his freedom. I’ve admitted many times that I’m a middle-of-the-pack runner, and I’d proven time and again (and again) that I wasn’t capable of reaching that mystical goal.
In 2016, I expected to run less, but more vividly, and to watch the other areas of my life excel without the added pressure of BQs, PRs, and various other competitive banter. I wanted an opportunity to wake up on a Saturday morning and say “screw this, we’re going to the beach” instead of panting through 14 sunny miles. But when it came down to it, I didn’t do that at all. I kept up with my training regimen with the same intent and half the stress. I went to multiple practices with my running team on both weeknights and weekends, and in the small window I’d decided my competitive career was in countdown, I PR’ed the Brooklyn half marathon and ran a sub 3 hour twenty mile training run.
Of course, the races were painful. The practices took a toll on my body, but for the very first time they were only reassuring to my mind. Then, it clicked. I wasn’t afraid of pushing myself. I wasn’t tied down by my training routine. I was simply afraid to truly put myself on the line for the risk that I would voice my expectations and then miss them by mere seconds.
That was the summary of running in 2016, hell...that was 2016 in general. It was a year of realizing fears in the wake of failure, and making a pledge to be the type of person that doesn’t lose sight of the fact that running - and life - is and will always be a personal sport.
With this mindset, I signed up for and was granted lottery into the 2017 Chicago marathon. In 2017, I will return to the road with a new goal to find my “absolute max.” I’ve heard time and again professional runners talk about a lack of race regrets because they “left it all on the road.”
“What does that mean?” I would think. What it was it to give my true all? ...even more so what did it feel like to leave it all? At this point, I still don’t really know. The runs of 2016 and before were a careful calculation of “all-enough” to make sure I couldn’t fail. Not anymore. I am and have been in pursuit of my personal best, a far more internal record than a personal record.
And suddenly it’s not really the road that’s freeing, but the incredible turmoil of possibility which comes from unbridled exertion in pursuit of a new challenge. So bring it, 2017, with your expectations, judgements, comparisons, and benchmarking. Bring your muscle soreness, tired eyes, and double shots of espresso. I feel empowered for your arrival as I never have before, ready to take the trying times of 2016 and use them to fuel a year of great charge.
Author at thehappyrunnerdiaries.com