Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wasteland

If you have been running for any amount of time, you know the Wasteland. Maybe you are there right now. It's the place where you feel stuck. Your Wasteland may be a string of bad races, an injury or even unrealistic expectations. The Wasteland is where you feel hopeless—as if you will never attain your goal, as if you are stuck in the mire and no matter what you try, you have been unable to free yourself.

I have been in the Wasteland. In January, I was making great progress, I was ticking off 7:45 minute miles relatively easily and I had just finished a 19 mile long run averaging 8:30 pace. I was getting excited because it felt like I was right on the cusp of achieving one of my goals: breaking my marathon PR of 3:50! I was doing well, but I was tired. I could feel the brittleness of my connective tissue and muscles. (No, really, I could.) But, I had a trail 1/2 marathon the next weekend, so I decided to run it. It was a little slippery and hilly so I used ice spikes. Everything went well, until the end and I felt a twinge in my right Achilles Tendon. Before I knew it, I could barely walk because of the pain. I thought it would heal relatively quickly, but no dice. I was completely out for three months. Three months!

I am now running again and have finished two marathons since the injury (Albany Snickers Marathon and Lansing Marathon), but I feel like I am still struggling through the Wasteland. The marathons were slow because I was still recovering and haven't regained my speed, but I still feel hopeless that they can get faster. The thought of running 8 miles at under 8 minute mile pace seems so foreign that it seems akin to impossible. I gained 10 pounds. I feel like I lost so much.

I haven't though. There is no permanent injury. I was fast enough at one point and though it is insanely tough, I can be that fast again. I finished two marathons (one on an extremely sore Achilles tendon)! My second marathon was 30 minutes faster than my first one! My body is healing and I am seeing some signs of quickness starting to return. I have come through the experience a little wiser about the signals my body is trying to send me. So why do I feel like I am still in the Wasteland? It's my mind.

I think our minds are the last to leave the Wasteland. As the old saying goes: "My body will only do what my mind tells me is possible." Our minds get used to our fragile state and disappointment threatens to keep us from hoping. We have to make a conscious effort to hope—to tell ourselves that our situation has changed, to believe that the impossible is possible. I am in the process of doing that. I am telling myself that my body is ready to make some big strides. I will listen to my body, but train as if my body can handle it. I will believe for big things.

If you find yourself in the Wasteland, join me as I try to change my mindset. Tell yourself that there is a way out. Let yourself hope. And who knows, maybe we will even start to believe it!

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