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What if I Never Run a PR Again? and other scary stories to tell in the dark

Shortly after I had completed my first marathon in 2:50:01, a runner friend of mine said, "just imagine what you could do if running was all you did."

I said no. I said there is no way that running full time would ever work for me. I said that I would probably get injured, that I would be miserable if I wasn't racing well, and that I would feel like a waste to society.

The truth was that I was scared. What if he was right? What if I had un-tapped talent and a limited window of opportunity? Even worse, though, what if I went all in and it didn't pay off? How would people judge me? How would I judge myself?

I've been sitting on some comments that someone made recently, saying that it seems like full-time runners just have a lot of time for Netflix. I get it. That's something I would have said, too, at a different point in my life. Leading into a big race there is absolutely a need to believe - without a doubt - that your individual lifestyle/training is the only way that you (or anyone else) can and will succeed. If not, you risk allowing doubt to creep into your head that will wreck your confidence.

I think comments like these, especially when they minimize the experience of others, are ultimately made out of fear, which I also get. Going all in is scary. It's a gamble. It might work for you, but it also might not. What if you make the wrong choice and waste a window of opportunity? For me, I had zero data points to tell me one way or another. So, as a scientist, I wanted to find out. As it turns out, going big while sitting at home was the best decision I could have made for my running career.

But, that doesn't mean everything has gone according to plan.

I haven't run a PR in over two years. This was my greatest fear. When I spoke negatively of others whose path I ultimately followed, it stemmed from this fear. What if I made myself completely vulnerable and I didn't achieve the level of success I was seeking?

What I have learned is that it's pretty easy to be a one-hit-wonder. I can't even begin to count the number of people who have beaten me in the past few years at a big race only to have never been heard from again. It's significantly harder to follow up break-through performances with consistent races. It's also really easy to expect breakthrough after breakthrough and overlook the value of consistency, thus creating unnecessary mental/emotional stress.

I have run the gauntlet of random things that can happen to you, from non-injury injuries to illnesses to black mold. Some of these were things I could control (regular bloodwork), others were from so far out of my control that it got to the point of being laughable.

Since I've been sick all week, I've had a lot of time to do nothing...and to think. Something that has crossed my mind: if someone could predict the future and say to me that I would never run another PR again would I continue to train full time?

The answer is undoubtedly yes.

Even if I knew- without a doubt- I would never run faster than I did in my 20's, I don't see myself stopping. I don't even know if I can say why. I suppose if I was never going to run faster, I would try to see how many times I could match my PR, or how fast I could run on the world's toughest course, or whether I could run faster at 32 than I did at 31. I mean, hell, the most money I've ever won in a race was with a time 90 seconds off my marathon PR, so it's kind of a moot point anyway.

Sometimes I wonder if knowing that I would never reach my goals would be freeing. Would I do things any differently? In some ways I wonder if I would push harder. How many times have you been in a race where you know the person behind you isn't going to catch you, or you know that you are way below your goal time, so you give yourself permission to push harder? (or is that just me?) Personally, I feel like I let myself be greedy when I know I have nothing to lose.

So, do I have a lot of time for Netflix? yes and no.

It has taken me a long time to find the right balance between work, life, and running. I consider myself to have 5 "jobs": running, coaching, R+F, dog mom/decent roommate, and freelance writer. I personally know very few (if any?) full time runners that don't have at least one part-time side gig. Most coach, a few do real estate, and I know plenty of others that are involved in some sort of direct sales like R+F.

So, I guess I haven't answered the question. Do I have a lot of time for Netflix?

Well, when I do everything in the day that I'm supposed to, I really don't.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my work days. These are the days I write, work on coaching plans, schedule phone calls or in-person meetings with my athletes, and do my R+F product research, follow-ups, and posts. This leaves Tuesdays and Thursdays for focusing solely on my speed workouts and lifting. Saturdays are off (from working), and Sunday is my busiest coaching day of the week.

The thing about having a lot of "free" time is that you find ways to fill it. In college, I always found I was busiest during the semesters I had 12 credit hours vs. 18. On any given Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I am running once or twice, napping, doing PT and core exercises, carving time for meditation, and doing some yoga.

If it's a Tuesday or Thursday, my workout will require 1.5 - 2.5 hours plus a 30 minute lifting session. I will nap, then run again for 25 - 35 minutes. I will also do PT exercises and yoga.

The things I do every day include walking Sadie twice (if Dave is out of town), cooking/preparing meals, tidying up the house, deep cleaning one area every day, replying to texts/emails from my athletes, and checking their training logs before I go to bed. Once every two weeks I either have a PT or massage appointment, and approximately once per month I have a phone call with Coach Dean to gossip or talk about the current state of my mental game. In a typical week, Dave and I watch one or two shows of our series du jour each night. We just finished Twin Peaks and it.was.amazing. But, I don't think that's any more Netflix than a normal couple with full time jobs?

There was a point in time where I worried people would judge me if I lived this lifestyle and wasn't producing results. Like right now. There probably are some people who have opinions about me, especially when I make posts about how I still have $34k in student loans and I haven't exactly run fast enough this year to be getting offered any shoe contracts. But, one of the best lessons I've learned is that you get to decide how many fucks you give toward other people. I mean, I think it's annoying when people have opinions about my life, but their judgment is more amusing to me than, uh, maybe watch Netflix sis instead of wasting your time thinking about me?

But I digress.

4 years ago the scariest thing to me would have been the situation I'm in right now. I'm at my freelance limit, I'm nearing my athlete limit, I just DNF'd a US championship race, I haven't run a marathon PR in 3.5 years, and I haven't run a PR at any distance in just over 2 years. Yet, I'm okay. I mean, there's obviously the frustration that things haven't come together at the right time for me yet. But, that's compartmentalized. There was definitely a point in time where this frustration would have spilled over into every aspect of my life and

It turns out I grew up.

Here's the thing: if you have a dream, go all in to the greatest extent you can. Sure, it's scary. And sure, people might be dicks. And sure, you may never achieve a quarter of what you want. But if you allow the what if's to consume you, you might wake up and realize one day that you've lost your chance.

There are times when I wish I saw myself the way others [favorably] see me. Sometimes I feel like I don't do enough or work hard enough. Then there are times when I look at my life and think, woah. I have built something that is all mine, and I have created the opportunity to chase down goals that I may never achieve. and that is really fucking cool.

I'm sitting on my deck with my dogs right now and thunder is rolling in. The weather went from warm and uncomfortably humid to pleasantly cool and a little breezy. But, it's about to storm.

and that's kind of what all-in running is like.

One day you might be miserable and uncomfortable, but then the next you can be on top of the world with a blow-your-mind performance. Yet, just when you think everything is optimal storm clouds can roll and in and rain on your parade [or put you in a sag van].

that is why I'm willing to build my life around running

When I sometimes feel like I'm not doing enough, I have to know that I controlled everything I could. This is so much less about running [which, in all honesty, I laugh sometimes at how much pressure we put on ourselves to run through streets or in circles, half naked, faster than the other half naked person next to us] and so much more about living an adventure. I know running isn't exactly the punk rock of sports, but in some ways it really is. We torture ourselves only for the opportunity to inflict an unimaginable amount of pain onto our bodies and hope that we don't break in the process. To me, that is beautiful.

I will never be the person who excels at living life moderately. It just so happens running was the sport that gave me the most shiny objects, and it was fortunately a dragon I learned to chase before I was given the opportunity to experiment with anything else.

It's very easy to look at a list of recent results and say I'm not where I want to be. It's significantly harder to look at the big picture and see that the average time of every half marathon I've run in the past 3 years is 5 - 6 minutes faster than average of every half marathon I had run 3 years prior to those. It's harder to see that the number of miles I've logged from 2015 - 2019 is THOUSANDS more than from 2011 - 2015. That I'm stronger. That I'm smarter. etc., etc.

At the end of the day, it's easy to not have the day you wanted and say, "oh well, considering ________ that was a great attempt" (as I frequently did with grad school). It's much harder to have a bad day and have to face the fact that you did something wrong, didn't communicate as well as you should have, ignored advice someone gave you, etc. But, when I look back in 30 years and tell my dogs stories about who I was, I want to be able to say that I looked the life of high-risk high-reward right in the face and didn't back down, no matter how challenging it was at times.

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