Well, you’re a month into this new year.
The cacophony of self-help goal-setters from just a few weeks ago has since settled into a faint whisper. No rah rahs, no sis boom bahs. The roaring crowd has left the stadium, and it’s just you on the field now, both the offense and the defense.
The good news is that the shitty “2020 vision” puns are done bombarding your feeds; the bad news is that your 2020 vision (sorry) may already be trending towards farsighted, and we’re only one month into this thing.
As runners, we all had grand plans for this year. Most of us still do, and that’s how it should be. We have a clean slate in front of us (maybe a little smudged after the first month), and if we’re running, we’re bettering ourselves in some small way on a continual basis.
But for some of you out there, it turns out that running is a metaphor for life and your grand goals are not following the paint-by-numbers formula the way you’d like. Surprise–life doesn’t look as good as your Instagram feed.
For some of you, this may be a mediocre year. A bad year. Even the worst year you’ve ever had.
A YEAR FROM HELL
Personally, my hopes for 2020 are even higher than they were at the beginning of 2019. This, despite the fact that last year was a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad year.
Let me be clear: 2019 wasn’t the worst year I’ve ever had. Nobody close to me died, my children were healthy, and I made an awesome career change for the better. However, in running terms, the best way to sum up 2019 is that I took my Boston Marathon goal sheet off the fridge sometime in March.
For the entirety of the year, I was hamstrung. Literally. I struggled with high hamstring tendinopathy, a curse of an injury if there ever was one. Think chronic tendonitis at the top of the hamstring, making it difficult to run properly and making sitting down a literal pain in the ass.
Although the injury probably started sooner, the first time I realized it was a month out from my fall 2018 goal marathon. I’m in no way ashamed to admit that I went hard for a Strava segment during a long run based solely on the fact that it was Guy Fieri-themed.
(Before you judge me, have you ever been to Flavortown? ‘Cause if you’ve never been elbow deep in a pile of Parmageddon Wings, then you have no business casting stones.)
While I didn’t feel acute pain at the time, later that day on a 2-hour car ride I noticed that just sitting down was pretty uncomfortable. Almost a year and a half later, it still is.
At that time, I thought I’d just take a few weeks off after my marathon and everything would go back to normal, like every other injury I’ve always had. However, when I resumed running, it was still there in full effect.
“RUNNING THROUGH IT”
Of course, like every runner you’ve ever met, I kept “running through it” because I stubbornly couldn’t let go of my 2019 goals. Even so, I managed to accomplish one of those by finishing my first 50-miler in June. But if I’m being honest with myself, it was a mediocre performance. My training was trash, I suffered through it, and I did nothing to take care of myself before or afterward.
I kept telling myself that somehow I could get through this. But I couldn’t––at least not by my measures. Over time it got to me mentally, especially since my job revolves around running. The dull pain in my glutes became a constant stressor in my life, a low static hum in the background of everything that I did. I researched and read horror stories of this injury lasting for two, five, or even 10 years. Terms like “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy” are testimony enough to its persistence. If I’m being honest, I wish I had broken my leg, because then I’d have a clear-cut plan on getting back.
Because I couldn’t give up on my goals, I didn’t allow myself to focus on truly getting better, which would have saved me months of pain and turmoil.
Instead, I gave up on myself and my running and let the specter of this injury overtake my long-term goals. I half-assed my physical therapy—if I wasn’t seeing progress in a month, I’d say, “Screw it, this isn’t working, I’m just going full-on running.” Which led directly to running jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
All that to say, I thought 2019 was going to be a standout year on a personal level. I’ve only been running for 5 years, so my PR’s were still coming in. I wasn’t ready to give up my goals on account of an injury, but the truth is, I needed to let them go to take care of myself in the long-term.
I think it’s often not said enough because we’re afraid to be perceived as weak or––even worse–– to lose our whole sense of identity, but here it is:
It’s okay to let go.*
Goals are great, but not when you’re wrecking everything in your life with your stubborn insistence on forcing them. I know it’s a cliché, but life happens– especially if you’re alive.
The fact is, none of the gurus who were shouting at you a few weeks ago about “2020 Ways To Crush Your 2020 Goals” know your life.
Maybe your training will be going perfectly, goal paces clicking off until you slip on a patch of ice and throw out your lower back. Your spring marathon will be scrapped, and maybe even your fall marathon as well. You will miss your friends, your community, even just the feeling of being outside.
Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that you’re just a stubborn ass like me, thinking that you don’t have to cross-train or condition and that you can just “run through” the pain. Before you know it, a riptide of mediocrity has trapped you in the same place for the last year.
Whatever the case, I’m willing to bet there’s a good chance that your life is a fucking mess like everyone else on this spinning orb, and that running is the only thing holding it together sometimes and you just have to keep it going and you can’t let it go, you just can’t…
FIND YOUR BALANCE
But there will come a time when you need to.
Looking back, I realize I needed to. With a couple kids under the age of three and more of my headspace and calendar space crowded by running, I needed to reset. Doing so allowed me to see things I had missed in my “running bubble.” Like good conversations with my wife (that don’t involve running), or literally just micro stages of my kids’ childhood that slip silently from one frame to another, memories I might not even remember except for the knowing that I was there. The regret level of missing those things is a bit more than missing a long run.
Does all this mean you shouldn’t make goals? Absolutely not. Make them. Dream big, sure. But remember that we are living life—and while running is a beautiful part of that, it should never be what defines you.
Running is a thing, but it really isn’t everything. (Honestly, it’s kind of just a lame attempt at holding onto some remnant of millions of years of our past).
So put your evolutionary nostalgia in the backseat for a second, and make sure the people riding shotgun are the ones you love, and that the person driving is doing okay.
Life isn’t constrained to a year. It’s a rolling of seasons, some lasting longer than others. Keep your hands on the wheel, and you’ll get you to your goals, one way or another.
*(My wife tried to get me to put in a Frozen reference here, but I refuse to do so because that Let It Go song is legitimately terrible.)