I think I now know what it takes to make the Olympic Marathon Trials. It’s not 110 – 130 mile weeks. It’s not two to three speed workouts a week. It’s not getting up at 5 am to get the first of two runs in for the day. It seems like all those basic developmental components to running is what all Olympic Marathon Trial qualifiers have in common, but that’s deceptive, because there are a bunch more runners who don’t make the trials, but who undoubtedly could even if they ran the mileage, the workouts, the doubles, and so forth. The difference is, for some of us, that we commit to a great sacrifice and it is that sacrifice that allows us to train to a qualifying standard. It is when we choose to STOP sacrificing, or at least choose between our sacrifices, that we change our ultimate goals.
You might be thinking, “Isn’t all that incredibly difficult running a sacrifice? Isn’t that enough?” The thing is, all that running, all that commitment, isn’t a sacrifice at all. A sacrifice is when you give up something you desire, something you WANT to be doing for the sake of another. It may sound masochistic, but to those of us with the dedication to achieve a qualifying standard, the running is not a sacrifice. It IS what we want to be doing. All else are distractions and obstacles.
Those exhausting 110 – 130 mile weeks are exactly what we want to be doing with our time. Getting up at 5am to get in the first run of the day is what we WANT to be doing. Running 3 times a week to the point we can’t see straight from oxygen debt is supremely satisfying. Having difficulty staying awake at work and merely getting up a flight of stairs are not sacrifices. We don’t care about having energy during the day. All we need is the energy to get us through our workouts. We don’t sacrifice a young adult nightlife of dancing and partying because we ENJOY getting up at 6am to run 22 miles with speed. We sacrifice nothing, because running is all we want to do. We obsess over it when we AREN’T running. We can’t stop thinking about what we want to do to get faster and we wish every second of recovery could be spent putting in more work to get faster and faster. Nothing is sacrificed.
THAT’s the utopian outlook anyways. For those of us fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough depending on how you look at it, to not have any other aspects of our lives that outweigh running, then the only thing we need to do is focus on running. There is nothing to sacrifice because it’s the most enjoyable thing we could possibly think of doing with our days. If we somehow came across another endeavor that we enjoyed more than running, well, THEN we would have something to sacrifice.
In a very limited perspective, I deeply envy those runners with nothing to sacrifice. They have one thing they love, a goal to achieve and nothing to distract them from doing whatever it takes to get there. On the other hand, in a more realistic and rewarding perspective, I certainly DON’T envy them, because the components of life that make our days filled with an immeasurable sense of satisfaction (family, love, parenting, etc.), long after our bodies can’t run another mile, are missing. What fulfills them now won’t fulfill them later and I pity those that may miss out on that infinite reward of love and family.
So for those of us fortunate enough to have found committed love and yet also have a goal so lofty, such as qualifying for the olympic marathon trials, we undeniably DO sacrifice. I learned this the hard way.
When you run 110 – 120 miles a week you inevitably sacrifice the time you have to spend with your family. I went to work at 7am, before anyone was awake, and returned home at 3pm, only to get dressed and head out the door for at least an hour to an hour and a half of running before coming home to shower. By the time I was functional again it was 5:00, dinner time, and only 2 hours before my stepson would head off to bed. I was sacrificing a lot of time spent as a parent in order to get my runs in.
When you put in so many miles and so much intense speedwork you often completely sap your body of any excess energy, rendering yourself useless and sometimes incredibly moody throughout the day. I found myself sacrificing activities with my family in order to just sit and relax, trying to regain the energy needed to simply be functioning for work and ready to run again.
When you head out on a Saturday to meet up with your training partners in order to make your 20 mile runs seem less physically and mentally taxing, you end up sacrificing even more free time with your family on a normally completely open weekend day. No matter that I would get up at 6am to head out with my team for the run, by the time it was all over, I wasn’t back home until around 11 o’clock and I had sacrificed my normally relaxing morning with my family.
This isn’t even mentioning the time I would lose when I went off to visit my son in North Carolina, letting Michelle put the boys to bed so I could start my treadmill long run at 9pm…just to make sure I got my run in.
So yeah, I sacrificed. A lot and often.
But Michelle sacrificed more. Trying to be as supportive of my goals as she possibly could, she would simply suck it up when I was out running and not taking care of Noah or spending more time with the family. While I had my running blinders on, she was at home getting continuously swamped in the photography business and taking care of the homeschooling necessities with Noah. But my inability to be available, or even present when I was available, continued to place a greater and greater burden upon her and even though the conversation came up from time to time, it was always brushed under the rug as the unavoidable solution. So yeah, she sacrificed far more than I did and far more than any other runner going through the rigors of training does. I’m absolutely sure of that.
And she tried to be supportive during all her sacrifice, because she knew what it took to get to the Trials. She was well aware that there was no compromise or alternative in our sacrifices. Either I did everything I could to make it or I didn’t. She knew there was no scaling back in mileage or skipping every other day of running and I knew it too. I knew, though I didn’t want to verbalize it, that in order to reach the Trials I only had to run more and more often. Running is about progression, continued progression. It’s about always making the extra effort, taking the next step until you reach your goal. If you can’t do it on 100 miles a week, you try 110. If 110 doesn’t do it, you try 120 and so on. This obviously doesn’t lend to an effective compromise or solution the sacrifices we were both making. It’s all or none and I didn’t want to admit that there was no solution except either I continue sacrificing family time for running or I sacrifice running for family time.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t comfortable with either, but knew where my allegiances lay. I don’t mean to come off as selfish and insensitive, but it was just being SO CLOSE to qualifying for the trials that it was hard to take the blinders off. I just thought, “Ok, if I can qualify at Chicago in 2010, I can back off and devote more time to the family. I just need to reach this goal. And if I can’t make it in 2010, I just need one more year and that’s it. Then it will all be over.” But my aspirations had no bearing on the realities of what Michelle had to sacrifice and what stresses she was dealing with, so when she finally laid it out to me, I had no choice but to make a decision.
I had to recognize that either I selfishly sweep the discussion under the rug yet again and hope to carry on with my running while she continues to bear a greater and greater burden, in effect risking the solidity and cooperation of our relationship, or I put aside my selfish aspirations and give attention to my family and the responsibilities of being a husband and father. Again, in the end, I know where my allegiances lie.
This isn’t to say I didn’t try to make it work for both my loves, for both my responsibilities to my running goals and to my wife and child. Whenever Michelle expressed her frustration to me about the constraints of my running I would try to find ways to make it less problematic for her. Instead of going out to do my long run with the team on Saturdays, I began leaving straight from home and doing the 20 miles by myself, returning by about 9:00 to spend the morning with the family (and Michelle’s amazing pancakes). I began taking every opportunity to leave work early and get my run in before Michelle and Noah came back home from the day, so my running wasn’t interfering with our time together (shhh…don’t tell my work). When I had to start doing 2 runs a day in order to get my final weekly mileage in, now in the 100’s, I would get up at 5am to try to do my longer runs in the morning before work so my shorter runs wouldn’t cut into our time together. I did all I could, hoping it would be enough to ease the stresses on Michelle, but they were such small measures really.
Finally, It came to a head the morning of our honeymoon. I had a 14 mile moderate run on my training log and I had to get it in before we left for Colorado, so I got up at 5am and headed out for my run. When I got home Michelle was trying to finish enough photography work before we left that evening, but was still visibly frustrated at the heated debate we had about my running the night before. She was swamped with work and I wasn’t able to devote the time to taking care of Noah and giving her more chances to get caught up, and soon enough the discussion continued on. We were both more frustrated than ever before, her at my inability to devote time to her and Noah and me at my inability to find a solution to make it work, and I left for work in a fit of frustration. Then it was all over.
I don’t know why that morning, of all the mornings I had to consider the dynamics in front of my face, my blinders came off, but they did. I had 9 blocks to get to work and only halfway there I had made my decision. “I’m done. It’s over.”
It was a quick decision, but not a snap decision. For months and months, every time this discussion came up I would state my case, try to come up with ways to ease the burden on Michelle and then let it get swept under the run until the next time. I knew, and Michelle knew, that there was no way to deal with this except for me to stop running competitively. She didn’t want me to do that and I didn’t want to either, but neither of our wants did anything to ease the burden on her and the workload that continued to pile up. That morning, however, I made the decision to address this with myself, openly and honestly. I couldn’t drag on the attempt to make the trials any further. It had to end there. Not because I begrudgingly couldn’t come up with an alternative, but because my love for Michelle and my family far outweighed my temporary goal of making it to the trials. For so long I had been sacrificing the time with my family that not only weighed on me, which I could deal with, but more on Michelle, which I couldn’t deal with. I simply couldn’t let my selfish interests degrade her quality of life and so by the time I made it to school I had abandoned my goals of making it to the trials in order to concentrate on helping taking care of Noah and giving Michelle both the time to work and play that she had sacrificed for so long for me to achieve my dream.
It was the right thing to do. No matter how much it hurt and confused me, it was the right thing to do. So what more can I say?
Yes, I envy those individuals with nothing in their lives except running. I envy that sort of simplicity. But I also know how fleeting it is. I know I’m not a fresh out of college runner with so much time for the possibilities of life to play out for me, having the freedom to pursue selfish interests before I pursue more meaningful ones. I know this.
I also know how incredibly rewarding it is to parent a child and direct them towards making good decisions and spending quality time showing them the world. I know how satisfying it is to share my time with my wife and allow her the time to pursue her own interests. I love when she goes out for a ride or to the gym and comes bounding back with a smile full of energy and playfullness on her face. I live for those moments. And even when Noah has complete emotional breakdowns and I successfully handle dealing with him in those trying moments, I know I made the right sacrifice.
And yes, It’s hard to leave behind a goal I was so close to acheiving. It would have been one thing to make another attempt or two and fall short, then say, “Well, I tried my hardest.” I could have answered that question, but now that question lingers in the air, like a carrot on a stick. It’s hard to shake that stick off my back let me tell you, but each day I manage more and more, and I still know I’ve made the right sacrifice. So, again, what more can I say?
It took me a long time to write this, to find the words that explained the situation, partly because I wanted to craft this well enough, but also because I wasn’t sure what parts to tell you about. I could go on about how, since I made my decision, I struggled (struggle) with my identity as a runner and capabilities, how I began to feel physically after giving my body an incredible time to rest, how much more enjoyable my relationship with Noah has become, how I’ve felt so relieved to allow Michelle the time to get out and enjoy her passions, how much it hurt to see others running around me and going after their goals. I could tell you about all that, but it’s not of much consequence to me anymore. Water under the bridge. I’ve moved past all that, as painful and enjoyable as it all was. There is only now and where I go from here. And I am going somewhere, because running….I can’t quit you.
Sure, my lofty competitive running goals are no more, but I won’t say I’ll never run another race. And to think I can just quit running is akin to saying I’ll quit breathing. I can only go a few days before open roads get my legs twitching, before seeing others running almost has me jumping out of my car to join them, before some unexplainable urge takes over my mind and body and I think, “I just HAVE to run right now”, and I go bounding out the door. It is a part of my being and identity I just can’t leave behind and coming to understand my full abilities leaves me with a sense of irresponsibility for not utilizing them in some way. It just feels wrong.
So I am running, every chance I get, and doing my best to incorporate all my lessons learned about running fast. I’m still doing workouts whenever I can and refusing to become a mere mortal. I’m putting in 20+ mile long runs on the weekends and sometimes during the week. I’m doing tempo runs, predator runs ending at 5:10 pace, etc. etc. etc. Like I said, running…I can’t quit you. But I also feel a sense of obligation with my running, to really use it for something of a greater good and that brings me to my latest project.
If you aren’t privy to it yet, I’ve decided to finally act on an idea I’ve had for a long time, but could never bring to reality because I was spending every waking moment concentrating on my Trials qualifier. I am going to do a benefit run for the Herron High School cross country team, the specifics of which I won’t go into here. But if you go over to the blog roll, you can find out more on my other blog I update frequently. Moreso, I’m also going to be coaching the cross country team to some degree, essentially developing and running the program even if I’m just the assistant coach (long story). I can’t even explain how excited I am about the possibilities of taking this project on. I mean, I get to actually teach these kids about running, running culture, training, how it feels to be a superhero and everything that goes along with it. Now, not only do I get to indulge in my running interests, but I get to have a direct effect on these kids lives in a positive way through running. I get to be an influence in their lives, using the lessons that make us amazing runners to guide them into lives filled with quality and excitement, and in that I feel like all this work I have been developing leading to the trials has an even greater reward. My knowledge and experience will extend far beyond any selfish moment and effect the lives of developing talent and developing character for years to come.
So, in the end, I switched my sacrifices, instead of family for running, running for family. But in the process I’ve found the joy of both, of which will last far beyond the finish line I once craved so deeply.
Friends, I hope you understand and support my decision. It’s been one hell of a run and although I took an unexpected turn from the course, it’s going to be all worth it in the end…if there is an end. Thank you for everything.
If you want to carry on with me though, please visit my other blog where I’m continuing to post about running, nutrition, the benefit event and everything else that comprises my running passions. It’s all here – www.herroncrosscountry.wordpress.com – and I hope to see you there.
Run fast. Run vegan.