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It's Okay to Call it a Comeback

I never wanted my running career to get to a point where people had to ask, “Hey, are you still running?” For nearly 20 years, my schedule has been so filled with races that if you knew me even remotely, you would know the answer to that question.

Even worse, it’s a totally legitimate question right now. It kind of kills me that I know people now who legitimately have no idea my history, and the Aries in me dies a little bit inside over it.

For one, it has been over a year since I’ve had a race result I was remotely proud of. It has also been literal years since I haven’t been dealing with a setback. It’s unfortunately reasonable to wonder if I’ve hung up my racing flats.

Here’s a quick recap for those following along at home:

Late 2017 – mid-2018: mysterious symptoms eventually linked to mold in our house Nov 2018: put together an incredible effort to qualify for my 2nd Olympic Trials 2019: completely burned myself out while training for 2020 Olympic Trials 2020: covid / mysterious glute/ham injury April 2021: raced Carmel marathon to disappointing 2:54 the rest of 2021: plantar fasciitis March 2022: my dad’s first of 15 extended hospital visits Spring 2022: low iron, get an iron infusion, won the Indy Mini 5K, ran 5:02 for a mile on little training – feeling like I’m on the upswing Summer/Fall 2022: back to back to back trips home to help with Pointer (my parents’ 15 year old incontinent dog) while my dad was in the hospital Winter 2022: decided to train for a marathon Later Winter 2022: spent 8 weeks fighting insurance over another iron infusion I badly needed and never got one. Raced the marathon anyway. Ran an EXTREMELY disappointing 3:17 March – June 2023: house was under construction. 2 weeks displaced turned into 9 weeks July 12, 2023: my dad was released from the hospital into palliative care. I went home. He passed way August 8th and I returned to Indy August 19th.

Drinking coffee and listening to a radio show on the deck on my birthday. I was very fortunate for our 2 weeks displaced to turn into 9 weeks before my dad got really sick.

I feel like I sound like a broken record at this point but: it has been a long few years.

While I have largely been able to run through the last few years, I really haven’t been able to train. It has been so frustrating to watch everyone around me chase and achieve their goals, while I have been on the sidelines. I’ve thrown myself into other things, like animal rescue, but deep down what I’m missing is competing. And being in shape to compete.

When the hospital visits first started, I could maintain 40 – 50 miles per week. This time last summer my dad was in the hospital and I was able to drop my mom off at the train station and go run 6 – 8 miles with 10 – 12 on the weekends. As the hospital stays became more frequent, my running became more sparse. During the final 6 weeks, I made a priority of running 10 minutes per day, with 5 minutes of core. It’s actually kind of incredible how much fitness you can maintain on doing the bare minimum. It was the most that I could wrap my head around at the time, and I am a huge believer in doing something. A slow run is better than no run. A short run is better than no run. There are also plenty of core routines you can do in 5 minutes that leave you surprisingly sore.

Did you know that 5 minutes of Bulgarian split squats can leave you sore for a while?

I think the hardest part of the last year has been knowing that everyone is sad, tired, and a little miserable, and literally the only way out is for someone you love to die.

I have always struggled with liminal spaces and the in-between. I am someone who hyper-focuses, so if I can’t do everything, I tend to do nothing. The last year+ of training, where would I get fit for 6 weeks, then have 2 - 4 week periods of intense stress, and then try to train again knowing it’s all going to happen again in another 4 – 6 weeks, was really tough on me. We also knew earlier this year that my dad only had 6 – 9 months to live (he made it just shy of the 6-month mark), which gave me the reality that training for a Fall marathon (or anything really) was pointless.

I’m in, unequivocally, the worst shape of my life right now. Through grief, I have also lost weight, so it might not be easy to see on the surface, but I ran 5 miles and lifted on Monday and I’m still sore. I don’t think I could run a mile at my marathon PR pace right now to save my life.

It’s hard to keep all of this in perspective. There’s a major part of me that says, hey, I have 20 years of being an elite athlete under my belt. Should a few years of ups and downs really affect me this much? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. While I WANT the answer to be no, that would also mean that the years of hard work I put in really didn’t matter. And that would suck too.

It really sucked having this photo pop up in my memories the other day, knowing at one point in my life I was pissed about running a 20K at 5:47 pace.

So where am I now?

Well, I’m not qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Trials. That’s a fact. I have zero races on the calendar.

Motivation when you’re out of shape is hard. Running and racing are super easy when you’re at your peak….not so much when you’re digging yourself out of a deep hole. I want to put a race on the calendar and have it motivate me, but when I’m nowhere near even being able to do a 5K at tempo effort, it’s a bit hard to go from 0 to 60, especially when you’re used to your “rock bottom” fitness level being maybe 45.

I’m using an approach with myself that I’ve had success with for my athletes, and that’s choosing a workout to work toward, and once I can hit that workout I will know it’s time to sign up for a race. For me, I’m choosing 8 x 400 @ 80 seconds (5:20 pace) before I sign up for a 5K. This approach eliminates the “do or die” stress that can come with signing up for a race and hoping for the best, and it’s also something I know that I’m able to work toward. I know exactly what workouts will get me there, and I know exactly how to make adjustments and set fitness checks along the way.

I feel like I’m working toward something, but on my own terms and with a flexible timeline.

So, to answer your question, yes. I am still running. There will be a time when I blow up your timeline again with gratuitous photos of me in a sports bra and buns. There will be blog posts about the most trivial things, like what I ate for breakfast the morning before a marathon and how many times I peed myself. There may even, hopefully, be a time when I stop recounting all the things that have gone wrong and talk about all of the things in a training cycle that have gone right (one can hope, right?).

As for now, I’m taking it one small process goal at a time. I can’t run 8 x 400 @ 80 until I can run 8 x 400 @ 90. I can’t run 8 x 400 @ 90 until I can run 4 x 400 @ 90. I can’t run 4 x 400 @ 90 until I can run 6 x 200 @ 45. I will get there. The cool thing about humans is that we are resilient. It’s okay to call it a comeback.

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