Without fail, at the end of every year I always seem to reflect and think “wow, what a crazy year.” So hang with me for a moment here when I tell you – 2016 has easily been the most tumultuous year of my life.
I am a software/test engineer and my job has always involved some amount of travel, but up until this year, that typically meant maybe a one week trip every 8-10 weeks. This year, that all changed. In the first third of the year alone, I was gone for half of January, the entirety of February and March, and half of April.
While I was on the road, I was also dealing with a pretty big breakup. I was in the process of ending a 9 year long relationship (I say in the process because as you might imagine, breaking up with someone is incredibly difficult when you technically live with them and yet are never home) and while it was something that had been in the works for a while, you don’t flip your life upside down like that without incurring some mental stress along the way.
I thought I was handling things ok, but as I look back – I was flailing. I was making the best of a difficult situation, sure, but I was staying out way too late, drinking way too much, making way too many “temporary friends,” all while claiming to be seriously training for the Utah Valley Marathon.
In March, I flew from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach for the weekend to run the Shamrock Half Marathon with Hollie. The weather conditions that day were tough, but I had been essentially living and training at altitude (SLC is approximately 4400’ above sea level) for months. I had secret hopes of a PR and ended up incredibly disappointed to run 1:38:10. “I’m a 1:38-1:39 half marathoner,” I remember grumbling to Laura. “That’s just what I am and what I’ll always be.”
Of course, Laura never lets me throw too much of a pity party and I’m eternally grateful for that. Chatting with her got my brain back into a more positive gear. Out of all the stories of weather related misery, I noticed that one person happened to PR at Shamrock. I also knew that Laura was seeing success and enjoying working with her new coach, and I knew that oh, coincidentally, Mary and Laura had the same coach. I finally realized that if I wanted something to change, I needed to do something different. That it was stupid to think I wasn’t fast enough for a coach. I gathered up all my courage and made a phone call. And then a day later, James became my running coach.
What happened over the next few months is something I’m still processing, and writing this post (and reviving this silly blog) is a way for me to do that. As I mentioned, I did end up running the Utah Valley Marathon but it became less of a goal race (I only gave James 11 weeks, I didn’t expect miracles yet) and more about getting another 26.2 under my belt and enjoying the time in Utah with my best friend. I might go back and recap it at some point, but that is for another day.
After taking some time to recover from UVM, the focus became Dublin Marathon at the end of October. I was still traveling quite a bit for work over the summer (and to Texas, no less – I have SO much respect for all you runners down south) but my attitude had changed. Workouts became a priority, if I had a quality session on the schedule I was doing everything I could the day before to make sure it went well. Nutrition was still a challenge due to some circumstances out of my control but I started making better choices when I could. (Long story short: I was working 16 hour days, unable to leave to go get food, and surrounded by donuts constantly. Damn delicious donuts ….)
More importantly, I started turning down happy hour invitations and I focused on getting more sleep. This all makes me kind of sound like a drag, I know, but I was really doing it because it made me happy. I won’t try and tell you it was all glitter and rainbows, but most days, I hopped out of bed completely PUMPED for my run that day – even if it was just an easy hour of jogging.
As Dublin crept closer, I had my doubts. There were some amazing workouts that had me feeling on top of the world and then there were some reality-smacking-me-in-the-face moments that had me wondering if a BQ would even be possible. I ran the Hartford half marathon in early October and while I did set a PR, I was minutes off of where I secretly thought I would be. That race would lurk in the back of my mind for the next 3 weeks until Dublin.
Even as James and I discussed the race plan for Dublin, Hartford was there whispering – “you’re a fraud, none of this is real, your watch is broken, you don’t deserve 3:2x.” And then suddenly, I was in Dublin. In the starting corral. And suddenly I realized if I wanted this, all I had to do was execute. The fitness was there. One bad race didn’t erase everything I had done, all that I had worked for. I could let my mind ruin it for me or I could just tell myself to just. shut. up. and execute.
I ran 3:22:56. A 4 minute negative split. And while I do intend to recap the race itself, I will say here – the second half of my FULL marathon was 1:39:22. Around the same time as I was racing HALF marathons earlier in the year.
It’s weird because in a way, it doesn’t feel like I did anything drastically different yet at the same time, I feel like a completely different person than when the year started.
As far as running goes, I loved the workouts I was doing, but none of them were totally foreign to me – it wasn’t like I was being presented with concepts that I had never heard of or hadn’t tried before. (That’s not to belittle the impact hiring a coach had — more on that later). I didn’t make any dramatic dietary changes, I still drank beer and ate desserts and all that jazz. There isn’t one major thing I can point to and say “that’s it – that’s how I ran 3:22.” It was really a lot of small changes that added up to something big. Which is not to say that it was easy, just that it wasn’t some huge overhaul.
And as my running and approach to running changed, I found my attitude changing about other things. I found myself opening up, accepting other points of view and opinions, allowing myself to feel and think and care about things again. I don’t claim to have it all figured out now, but I think I was frozen in a cycle of unhappy relationship – unhappy at work – unhappy with running – drink to numb the pain – repeat. Tackling the most superficial of those problems just happened to lead me down a path where I started solving the harder ones too. 2016 wasn’t just a breakthrough for running, it was a breakthrough for my life.
To wrap this all up in the cheesiest of ways, allow me to hop on my soapbox for a moment. If you’re unhappy with your life, it truly only takes a few small steps to start changing it. If you aren’t reaching your goals, reevaluate and try something new. At the end of the day, the beautiful thing about life is that YOU are the one in charge – you are the one who gets to set your own priorities and make your own decisions. I sat around waiting for my life to happen, to change, to get better, to refresh itself, etc, for far too long. 2016 was the year I realized — you have to change your own life.