Stop comparing yourself. Stop taking anything personally. Take it easy on yourself when you do.
It’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of why I fell in love with trail running. Much like the thrill of any new love, everything was exciting and there was movement in only one direction — forward. Progress felt effortless. I accomplished so many firsts and bests in 2018, then rather than enjoying an off-season, I decided to level up my training, creating fertile ground for a correction in 2019. As any relationship matures, you encounter hurdles that test your patience and commitment. For more than half of 2019, I was restricted from running, hiking, and many other activities due to Achilles Tendinitis. It was a major setback that tested my inner strength. I continue to be tested in this way and I will continue to fail until I get it right. What you’re about to read is the documentation of one particular failure in running relationships.
Stop comparing yourself…
As I’ve returned to 30+ mile weeks, something is still off, and it’s not just my IT band syndrome flaring up. There is a significant gap between my expectations and my reality. Just because I’ve gotten back to a certain number of base miles doesn’t mean my level of fitness has magically returned. Between topping out at about 15 mile long runs, walking technical descents I used to consider run-able, and frequent walk-breaks on douche-grade hills — I can say with confidence that my my fitness level has definitely not returned – not in the realm of endurance, vertical power, technical strength and agility, and certainly not speed. Somehow I keep finding myself surprised that I don’t have the level of fitness I had before injury.
Living in a town surrounded by elite athletes, I’m secure in the fact that I’ll never be on the performance radar even at peak fitness. I’m no stranger to running a moderate+ effort from the back of the pack while everyone in front of me is running at a conversational pace without feeling the least bit ego-hurt. That’s why it’s a bit surprising and hard to admit the turn my internal dialogue has taken lately when running with friends.
As it relates to the aforementioned failure, I’m about to admit some things that are highly personal, kind of embarrassing and likely to be perceived negatively. But they are feelings influencing my current reality. I can’t change them without acknowledging them, so here goes….
During the last several months, as my fitness has atrophied and my fat cells have multiplied, my best running friend has gotten strong af – which is AMAZING because I’ve watched her put in the hard work and earn it. I’ll also admit that our divergent paths have caused some internal tension on my part. I will genuinely and enthusiastically cheer for her all the way to the podium and beyond, so please do not misinterpret what I reveal here as begrudging her success. The internal tension is about my relationship to myself, to running and wrestling with my own demons. It’s about how circumstance magnifies my backward momentum and feelings of unworthiness and abandonment. Has anyone ever outgrown you and moved on? Do you remember the moment you realized it? That feeling is what this declaration is about.
Stop taking anything personally
I used to be the first to know about big plans, now I have to stand in the general admission line like everybody else. It makes me feel dropped like a big fat sack of stuff that no longer sparks joy. I feel demoted from bestie status. I also realize that these moments were probably unintentional and that it’s okay even if they weren’t. I realize that these feelings are my responsibility to get a handle on. So I retreat to recover and eventually will accept that that no matter how things change, it’s okay.
I am grateful to have been introduced to so many friends through trail running. I used to be a solo runner and once I switched to trail, I became more driven to run with others for motivation and inspiration. When inspiration turns to frustration and isolation, that’s a sign that it’s time to go within to re-evaluate and re-center. I’d rather run alone than hold anyone back. I’d rather socially quarantine myself than infect others with negative emotional contagion. Right now I feel like an infectious burden and I want to protect my friends from it, but I also don’t want to die of loneliness. It’s a precarious position to be in.
Full disclosure, I’ve been bed-ridden for two days with whatever lung infection is sweeping the nation as I write this and there’s a chance that it could be making my outlook a little more bleak than baseline.
Take it easy on yourself when you do
You know those posts that say things like “life is too short to be around people who suck the happiness out of you”? I’m secretly terrified that I’m that sucker – one of the worst things a human can become (aside from the obvious evils like serial killer, Kardashian, etc…). If it doesn’t feel like sunshine to be around me, then I must not be humaning right and I better put some distance between us before I destroy your short life.
By the same token, I have come to the conclusion that it’s okay to shield myself from people who inspire others, but trigger me. It’s okay to block, unfollow or choose not to be in the company of people even if no one understands. Until I have healed whatever wound is underlying my emotional reactions, it’s okay to take protective measures from further irritating it. It’s okay to give myself a break. Just because I haven’t evolved past my ego, my trauma or my insecurities, doesn’t mean I’m disqualified from living a big life, becoming whole or from being worthy of love and respect. Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t. But chances are, at some point you’ve struggled with equally hard-to-admit feelings that you’ve had to acknowledge before moving on.