Space and Grace
Last year I decided to train for and run my first ultra because I needed to snap myself out of what felt like a running funk riddled with comparison and expectations of linear progression. I had fallen into a dangerous (and really really dumb) trap of checking my splits for a workout from the previous training cycle before I headed out the door for the same workout in the current training cycle. And worst of all, I cemented in my mind all sorts of ridiculous correlations about those splits, convincing myself that I had to run the workout with faster splits if I wanted to run a faster marathon time, and that if my splits were slower this time around then all my hopes were dashed and I should prepare for a terrible race (even if the race was still weeks or months away). I think I was aware of how flawed my reasoning was, but I couldn’t quite get the monkey off my back. So I decided to try a bunch of new and different things that didn’t carry the weight of expectation - trail running, rock climbing, and ultra running. (I wrote all about it here, and just re-reading that makes my heart sing with the joy and possibility that come with being a beginner.)
Now that I’ve been racing trails and ultras for a little more than a year, I’m starting to see the temptation of comparison sneak up on me. Last month I ran a 15k trail race that I had run last year, and I was devastated to finish seven minutes slower this year. Nevermind that this year’s 15k was three weeks after my goal 50-mile spring race. And today, I ran a trail half-marathon that I won last year despite missing a turn and running a bit extra, and I was frustrated to finish third and almost 5 minutes slower this year (and the correct distance, to boot!). In my post-race frustration this morning, I started flipping through my training journal from last year. I thought it would make me feel better to see that I was just at a different place in my training at this point last year. I had already recovered from a very early spring marathon, rebuilt a training foundation, and started some heavy mileage and big workouts. The irony is that even in my attempt to console myself about my race today, I was still comparing! Still trying to find the answer in the numbers. Still not living in the moment, and still not letting myself find joy in this run and this life TODAY. It reminded me of those warnings in this age of social media, about not comparing your own behind-the-scenes life to someone else’s perfectly staged and filtered highlight reel on Instagram, except I was comparing my behind-the-scenes running efforts to my own damn highlight reel and coming up short. I was finding myself not as good/strong/worthy as myself. What a total mindf*ck!
Right around those same training journal pages detailing all those solid feel-good workouts and high-mileage weeks from this time last year, I came across this gem:
There I was, a year ago, leaving my future self a nugget of wisdom, and a reminder that frustration is a choice. I can’t fully feel the joy of my current self if I’m dwelling in frustration from attempts to go back to a previous self.
My new goal is to stop using my past as my measuring stick, and start accepting and finding joy in where I am today; to “give myself space and grace to get stronger.” Stop comparing, start exploring!