Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When Things Don't Go As Planned

One of the greatest lessons of adulthood that I've learned is that we have more control over our moods and feelings than we think. Sure, particular events may initially make us feel sad / angry / depressed / anxious / worried / etc., but it turns out that if you'd really rather not feel that way, it's mostly within your power.

Becoming aware of this has probably changed my life more than anything else. Yes, it takes practice to make it a habit and it's easier in some situations than in others, but there's a great sense of security and calm that comes from knowing that you're the one in control of how things affect you, rather than believing that your emotions and attitude are at the mercy of whatever happens to you in life.

As with most other parts of my life, this way of thinking has changed *everything* about my running. In high school, I treated my runs / races / training weeks / seasons / whatever the way football teams treat the outcomes of games: there was a 'W' column and a 'L' column, and everything went in one or the other. It was either a "win" or a "loss." Good run / bad run. Race to be proud of / race to be disappointed in. Training week that left me feeling great about myself or training week that left me feeling terrible about myself. I got it done, or I didn't.

I think this attitude is no small part of why I quit running competitively after high school and barely ran at all during my first two years of college. Looking back on it now, I'm reminded of a quote from my teaching years:

In those days I defined success so narrowly and so specifically that I spent a lot of time feeling like a failure. It wasn't until I was able to expunge from my vocabulary the phrases "bad run" and "bad race" and "bad week" that I was able to redefine for myself what successful running looked like in a broader way, and get back to engaging with it in a way that didn't put me at risk of feeling unhappy or disappointed with myself every few weeks or so. Because let's face it--

  • Runs and weeks and races that don't go the way we wanted are inevitable.
  • Feeling bad about them--unhappy or disappointed or ashamed--is optional.

Optional, but--speaking from experience--pretty destructive in the long run.

* * *

This week did not go at all the way I'd hoped. I'd been feeling kind of wrecked the week before--my muscles felt worn out, I wasn't recovering well day-to-day, and my glutes and hamstrings in particular just felt like they weren't firing, no matter how much effort I put into my form. I got in my 22 miles for the week, but my last two runs (including the 8.7 on Sunday) were Just. Utterly. Exhausting. I know that was partly because of the weather, but I also could feel the same exhaustion in my muscles that I'd had for days.


Karate / light strength only. I skipped a.m. spinning to give my glutes & hamstrings a little extra recovery time, which was apparently a smart move because I was barely out of bed before I realized that my hip flexor--the one that I originally wrecked back in May--was definitely unhappy. I actually really wanted to go to lunchtime yoga and stretch it out but couldn't make it because of a meeting. I still felt tired and achey and broken at karate.


4 easy + light strength. Risking a track workout seemed like a bad plan, so I reasoned I'd just do a few easy miles as long as my hip felt okay. I got through them, but they felt significantly harder than they should have, and about an hour after, my hip was aching again. At that point I decided to get aggressive about rest days and not run again until it felt completely, totally fine.


a.m. strength work (including ~1.5 miles of accidental running), p.m. karate / a little more strength work. On Wednesday, I went to Coach Robert's 6 a.m. (gaaaaaaah) strength class for runners for the first time. The hour sucks ass, but unfortunately I can't make it to Nate & the Triathletes every Thursday morning because of work. So on those weeks I've decided to see how well my body tolerates going to bed early (hahahahaha yeah right) & getting up at the ass crack of dawn before dawn.

The class is about half devoted to runner-specific mobility & stretching (sitting in a squat for a while, aggressively opening the hips & hip flexors, grinding out quads/glutes/what have you) & easy strength work (push-ups, sit-ups, KB swings, etc.), & half devoted to running-specific strength work. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was more running that day than I was expecting (5 x [300m run/8 KB squats], no rest), and not wanting to wuss out at my first class, I (stupidly) did the whole thing & just tried to focus on my form & not to push too terribly hard. If nothing else, it was at least gratifying to beat every other woman there except one as well as most of the men, considering I didn't really know what we were doing at first & just kind of followed everyone else. My hip, however, did not thank me. Ow.


6 extremely unsatisfying bike miles. Having vowed not to run for the rest of the week, I decided to try to bike 10 miles after work on Thursday just to get *some* form of cardio in. Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about this workout is that I did, technically, break a sweat. (A tiny, tiny one. As in I wasn't entirely sure my clothes counted as dirty.)

Given that after 25 minutes my hamstrings were nearly incapable of continuing to pedal while my heart rate was barely elevated, my original assessment seemed correct: I've been pushing the posterior muscles hard and asking a lot of them, and they're just worn out. I finished 6 miles in 30 minutes, which is probably equivalent to running like 2 miles.


Rest / bake (since that's what I do when I can't run)

Don requested these pumpkin chocolate chip squares & was a big fan of how they turned out. So that was a bright point at least!


Light strength work / house cleaning / laundry / watch Stanford kick the living shit out of WASU.



5 easy. With nearly 4 non-running days under my belt, I decided to give it a try Sunday & see how my hip felt. Something is still definitely not quite right, but I did make it to 2.5 with only a little tightness in my hamstring. It loosened up some on the way back so I probably could have gone to 6 or 7 without too much trouble, but didn't want to push it.

Grand Total: 10.5 miles, all easy

This is not what it looks like to train for a half marathon in which you are sub-seeded. But right now, it's reality.

So I have a choice. I can be high school me and write it off as a "bad week" and spend this one feeling nervous about my two upcoming races and disappointed that my hip hasn't healed faster and frustrated that I haven't been able to build mileage more quickly.

Or I can do as Harlan Coben says and "bring [my] own weather to the picnic." This week & the hip issues happened, and feeling crappy about it won't make them un-happen. Instead, I choose to tell the story this way:

  • September makes four months of increased mileage in a row.
  • This is only the second week during that time that I haven't increased mileage.
  • Cutback weeks are healthy under normal circumstances; they're probably an even better idea when you have an injury that is not fully healed.
  • I have been teaching half of the karate classes this week, which probably means I did a little more than I should have given how run-down I'd been feeling. Lesson learned; this week I'll take it easier.
  • Doing the running Wednesday morning was probably not a HUGE deal, but also not the best choice. Lesson #2 learned; this week I'll be more careful.
  • I haven't been to my PT for a while because of some insurance drama. Time to go back & get an updated opinion now that that's all sorted.
  • It's still 3 weeks until Let's Go 510 & 8 weeks until Berkeley Half, which is a good chunk of time.
  • Just finishing these two races will be a huge victory.
  • The real prize is NVM in March--don't compromise that by trying to do too much now.

Hopefully it's clear that choosing your attitude about a given event or situation is not a matter of denying the facts or simply telling yourself to "cheer up & be positive!!!! :D" It's about digging into the facts and letting them be complicated, rather than simply "good" or "bad," about understanding the situation, analyzing it, and seeing it as an opportunity to learn and move forward constructively.

So I don't feel bad. I refuse to write this week off as a "bad" one & just stick in the "L" column. Instead, I'm putting it in context and seeing it as part of a bigger pattern. I choose to be optimistic about my running in the long term (even if it's hard to be optimistic about this week or this month), regardless of the parts that aren't going like I'd planned.

I have one more quote for you.

The first time I heard this (or something like it), it made me want to gag, so I won't blame you if that's your reaction at first as well. But when I ran across it several years into Real Adult LifeTM, I kind of went, "You know.....that's really true."

So as difficult as it is sometimes, I invite you to try it out the next time you have a week or a run or a race that doesn't meet your expectations. Instead of writing it off as "bad," try to think through it in a neutral, non-evaluative way, & then see if you can re-write the story of that experience in a way that's constructive and forward-thinking rather than evaluative and backward-looking. I know for a fact that if I hadn't learned this skill, I would not still be in this sport, and I plan to be in it for a long, long time.


  1. Do you go to SF Crossfit for Nate and the Triathletes?

    1. That's awesome. Nate's a really good friend of mine and I go every now and then -- but RARELY in the morning. I was going to this class he had over here in Marin with me + all high school kids.

    2. Oh cool! Yeah, I've really enjoyed it & gotten a lot out of it even though I'm not a triathlete. He's great.

  2. Before this year started I thought this years Stanford team had a shot at being the best team in school history, and I still think that. The team is so well balanced, our only weakness is pass coverage (if we have a weakness). That game on Saturday was simply insane, we made Washington State look like a high school team!

    As for running, you sort of touch on it in this post, but I think you could do well with less analysis of your running status all the time. If you worried less you might just be able to enjoy what you are doing. Maybe I'm to the point of being aloof about it, but I guess I try not to care as much about the results and just enjoy being out there. And if you don't have as good a race as you think - so what. You are not a professional runner.

  3. Great way to put a positive spin on an off week. I try to do the same when I don't feel so positive about how my training is going. On the bright side you did get in some workouts, you weren't laying on your couch. Your pumpkin bars look really yummy too. Pumpkin is the BEST part of fall. Also WSU sucks. Glad they got their asses kicked!

  4. Did you write this for me? Because I'm still a little gutted at being so far off my HMB goal time and kind of put it in the 'Bad Race' box. (Even to the point where I'm now refusing to race again in my green top because that's the second bad race where I wore it. And that's stupid).

    Any thoughts on how you salvage a 'bad race'? If you were a while away from your goal time, how do you reconcile that in your head? I can think of lots of good things about Sunday, and I'm focussing on them, but if someone asks me how my race went, I make a sad face still!

    1. Yeah.....I think this happens to all of us. I think it is normal to feel disappointed when you don't meet a goal, so I don't mean to say that you shouldn't *let* yourself feel that way or that it's bad to feel that way. When I have had races where I really, really thought I was going to meet a certain goal & didn't, I think I usually have two ways of thinking about it.

      1) I remind myself that the reason I feel disappointed is because I honestly thought a super-sweet goal was within reach, and (unless I'm being delusional about it), to feel that close to such a significant accomplishment means that I've been doing something right. I try to think about one/two/three years ago and what my times and goals were then, and the progress that I've made, and remind myself that the place I'm in now is still a pretty good one.

      2) I try to analyze what happened. I do think you can over-think things & go down the rabbit-hole of blaming yourself & going "What did I do wrong?????" so I'm not advocating spending TOO too much time on that, but I have found it helpful in hindsight to say, "Did I give myself the best shot I could in every way? Is there anything I'd do different next time?" Also I try to pin down anything that was out of my control (course, weather, other people, physically not feeling good for whatever reason, etc.). I think as long as you do this constructively & put a definite end-point on it, this can be useful.

      I don't know if that helps, but I feel like those are some things that have helped me try to understand, appreciate, & learn from races that don't go my way. I hope some of it's useful!!

    2. There's a lot there that makes sense, thank you.

  5. Keep up with this attitude! I am recovering from a hip injury myself and just finished a half marathon race this past weekend after not running for a month. No need to mention that I was not happy about the finish time but just being able to run again and finish felt good. Try always look for the positives and set yourself up for improvement, no matter how fast/slow you go. It's the runner's journey that matters. Good luck with your upcoming races!

  6. Hahaha...I put that Jack Sparrow quote on my Pinterest not too long ago. It is definitiely the truth!