Sunday, April 3, 2016

Faithful Failure

My life, in particular my running career as many are familiar with, has been painted with a great deal of failure. But despite this failure, I have always seemed to find a way to keep going, to keep growing, and to keep improving. All the while, I’ve gained a better perspective of who I am, developed a renewed understanding of what life is all about, and most importantly enriched my relationship with God and the greatness that comes with unrelenting faith in His plan.  

With each new life endeavor, my journey always begin with a great deal of inspiration, motivation, and excitement, which then leads to the formation of big goals, which often seem risky or lofty to some.  Regardless of how out of touch it may seem, it's the dream of achieving these big goals that serves as the catalyst that energizes and focuses me to the point of obsession! With this energy and steadfast focus, I formulate my plan. In running, my plan consists of a detailed outline of my 16 week running regimen, visits to local running stores to find the perfect running shoes, and a commitment to good lifestyle choices, which include lots of good food/fuel, hydration, and sleep. Once my plan is arranged and in alignment with conquering my goals, I execute this plan with the same level of energy and focus to the point of obsession! I don’t miss a single training run, treating each with the highest level of quality and importance, whether it is holding back to ensure it’s easy or not letting myself wimp out when it needs to be hard. I ask for advice when I need it, and try to focus on listening to my body at all times. But, as always, life always seems to get in the way during the execution of my plans. I never seem to get enough sleep, forget to hydrate as consistently as I should, and often am forced to shuffle my training runs around to accommodate the craziness of everyday life. 

On some special occasions, regardless of what gets in the way, my execution leads to amazing, visible accomplishments. And when this happens, I’m a “success! and am elated beyond belief! I have to work hard to stay humble as "success" typically comes with lots of praise, shiny medals, and prizes, all of which serving as tangible evidence of hard work paid off. Whereas other times, I’m left side-lined. Not where I expected to be. A “failure.” No shiny medals. No tangible evidence of hard work paid off.  And instead of praise, I’m inundated with ridicule, judgment, and rejection.  I have to work hard to avoid feelings of shame and humiliation, and wake up each morning and move forward, when crawling into a corner of sorrow and self-pity feel like the best option. It’s at this point of “failure” that I’m lead to a new point of obsession: the looming, potentially rhetorical question, “Where did I go wrong?”  As I try to derive the answer to this question, I have to put aside all the shame and rejection, keep my focus logical and objective, and find a way to learn from the experience.  

It has been upon going through this type of failure over and over again that I have learned that the term “failure” we use to express our inability to meet our own expectations should perhaps be called  the “hard way;” God’s way of teaching us through life experiences how to do things His way, the true “right way.”  So maybe we should call it “God’s way,” because no matter how uncomfortable or unfavorable it may seem in the present, in hindsight it always seems to be the “right way.” But, it’s certainly not the easy way, and it’s most certainly not the way that will win lots of praise and accolades. 

I’m continuously asked, “Are you still running? What race you’ve got comin’ up next?” After my years of running experience, my new reply is always accompanied with “God willing,” no matter how confident I feel about my goals, how perfect my training plan appears to be, or how fresh my legs feel, as I have learned that all of my plans are truly in His hands.  After a strong comeback this fall, I was feeling fully confident in my ability, and more aware of how unaware I still remain of my running potential. It only felt natural to consider attempting the marathon this spring, although I had strong reservations of whether or not I was truly ready and could make the commitment. After all I’ve learned throughout my marathon training journeys, at this point in my running career, attempting another marathon is 110% about quality or it is not worth the attempt. The days of running marathons for the sake of enjoying the experience have been numbered; it’s go hard or go home! I was unsure if I would be able to manage big running goals with an already full plate and some difficult challenges I was already loaded with, along with the expectation of life inevitably throwing curve balls at me along the way. Despite my worries, my gut was telling me to just try and see what happens. So with the plan of making this the quality, defining marathon of my running career, I set my target goal of a sub-3:03, a 7:00min/mi, with the hopes of possibly getting close to the 3:00 mark. Audacious, tenacious, but in my heart completely realistic, I knew if I had the right plan I could make this happen…God willing!

So, feeling extremely inspired, motivated, and energized after paying close attention, before, during and after the Olympic Trials Marathon in January, I had my McMillan Training Plan all set out with my ultimate time goal set for the Cleveland Marathon on May 15, 2016! I was above-and-beyond dedicated to executing my plan, God willing, while simultaneously dedicated to listening to my body. The first week of training was extremely difficult. I faced a great deal of life challenges, and my attempt to use running as an outlet was just not clicking. I had pretty excruciating upper back pain and major GI issues during and after each run, and contemplated calling it quits. But I couldn’t quit yet, I kept going…and the back pain subsided! And eventually, so did the GI issues! I felt unstoppable, and confident that if I kept pushing, I was going to get where I wanted to be…God willing!

About 6 weeks into training, after a 5k of 19:17, 6:13min/mi at the SnoBall 5k and 32:16, 6:27min/mi at the St. Malachi 5-miler, I again felt like something wasn’t clicking. I just couldn’t take off the way I normally do. It’s hard to explain, but it just felt like my stride was off. I was finishing hard workouts and racing not feeling “finished.” It’s kind of like feeling like you have to sneeze…and you think you’re going to…and then you don’t. In fact, a bystander at the St. Malachi 5 miler approached me immediately after the race, calling me out for not racing hard enough. He said, “You’re hardly sweating!” My initial thought was, “You should have seen me pushing through that uphill near the Brown’s Stadium!” But upon more reflection of his observation, I knew he was right. Something with my stride felt off in my work outs and in my racing, and someone besides me witnessed it firsthand. I had had some foot pain in my right foot and calf, and assumed this must be the issue. I thought that new shoes would be the cure, and then I’d be good to go.

Into Week 9, I decided to switch back to my original shoe brand, Mizuno. They were shiny and beautiful, and almost immediately into wearing them my calf pain went away. However, the pain in my right foot persisted. In fact, it started getting worse. The top part of my foot, down to the ball of my feet, and up to the tip of my right toe hurt before, loosened up a little bit during, but REALLY hurt at the end of my runs. And by the next day of each run that week, I was really uncomfortable and started having difficulty walking without pain. When my 3 year old nephew started imitating my slowly progressing limp, I took his observations as confirmation that something was up. I had an 18 mile long run on my agenda, and my gut was telling me that it wasn’t going to happen. But I wanted to at least try before I quit. I decided to do this long run on the treadmill, to ensure I didn’t run myself  out to the point of no return. And within in 2 miles, the pain was inevitable. Old MP would have ran through it, and I contemplated doing so. But, I just couldn’t ignore my gut telling me I needed to stop. And so, I listened to my body and sheepishly hopped off the treadmill . I felt like a total loser, but I knew it was the right thing to do. By the next day, my foot felt dead, I had a nice little Frankenstein limp going on, and so scheduled an appointment  with my orthopedic on the Friday of that week. The days leading to my appointment were filled obsessive-compulsive Google searching what the condition might be, and I had to work hard to avoid the self-loathing feelings of pity that crept into my ear. I forced myself to keep faith that stopping that 18 miler was the “right” decision, not the weak one, and that this was all a part of God’s plan, bound to be better than mine! 

On Friday morning, I saw my orthopedic doctor, Dr. Cohn. I had a child-like sense of humility and fear walking into that office, but I kept reminding myself it was the right thing to do. He took an x-ray of my foot and examined the inflammation. From my description of the pain and his examination, he said he believes it is tendinitis . From what he can see so far, it looks like there is not a stress fracture…WOO HOO! I was extremely grateful to hear that news! I will be in a walking boot for the next two weeks, will be taking a prescription anti-inflammatory, will complete physical therapy, and  will be seeing him in two weeks, when he will assess whether an MRI is necessary and if he will be sticking with his initial diagnosis. In the meantime, I will not be running and it appears that is God’s will for me to hold off on my quality marathon debut this spring. Although I feel disappointed, I’m so above-and-beyond grateful that the situation isn’t worse! I can drive, I can walk, and I can cross train to maintain fitness. LIFE IS GOOD!

In years passed in this situation, I likely would have ran through the pain and finished my training. I would have ran a mediocre marathon, maybe placed in my age group or better, but I would have been holding myself back from reaching my fullest potential. The route I’m taking this time comes with no medals or accolades. There is no “You made it through a tough 9 weeks of training to end up side-lined” award.  I also know that ridicule and judgement from others, as I’m doing the Frankenstein limp in my walking boot, is inevitable. However, I’ll take the ridicule and judgment; injury is a part of the sport. It’s something you have to accept if you want to chase risky and lofty goals. With that said, if you want to achieve these goals, you have to listen to your body, know when it’s time to stop,  find a doctor you trust, and be willing to give yourself enough time to properly heal. It’s then they you achieve more than just “success,” but rather true GREATNESS! 

Perhaps this attempt to 26.2 may be viewed as a foolish failure to some. And that’s okay.  As said in the Colossians 3:23, “Whatever it is you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.” So, in that light, I choose to see this failure as the “right” way, “God’s way.” God willing, I will heal. In the meantime, I will reflect on my training over these past 9 weeks. I will revise my plan. I will keep going, keep growing, and keep improving. I will be stronger. And, God willing, I will be at the start line of the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 8, 2016…ready to conquer! All the while, gaining a better perspective of who I am, developing a renewed understanding of what life is all about, and, most importantly enriching my relationship with God and the greatness that comes with unrelenting faith in His plan.   

Happy failing, everyone! 


MP :-)

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