Look Ahead. Look Back.

A conversation about perspective has come up with two runners I’m currently coaching. One admitted trouble in feeling the progress they’ve made until they looked back to where they started. The other is just beginning their plan and I conveyed similar advice, reminding them to compare abilities at the end of their training block to those at the beginning. The differences are astounding.

I’ve experienced this same revelation of comparison countless times over my years of running, looking back to see what advancements I’ve made in ability from the start of one training block to the end. Admittedly, it was sometimes difficult to see significant progressions when I felt like I was constantly pushing against the ceiling of my abilities at the get go, instead of starting from square one and building. The progressions, however, were there.

But now, with treatments and surgeries, the difference from starting a period of training until the point where the slate gets wiped clean yet again, are almost impossible to miss. Even so, my drive for progression and comparison with my “old running self” tends to cloud my vision, keeping perspective a little more elusive than it should be. The past few weeks, though, brought a clarity that has been as encouraging as it has been stark.

I stood in the locker room of the Y after my run, combing my hair in the mirror, when just behind me I heard the commentator on the TV say, “…Runner’s World Cover Contest.”

I whipped around to see they were unveiling this year’s winners on the Today show, and it was my fortune to be in front of a TV when this was happening. I watched the unveiling, the winner’s expressions, and compared their contest experiences to my own, which instantly brought me back to the time when my own cover was unveiled on HuffPro exactly one year ago.

One year? Has it really only been one year? Thinking about this after my run today, it seemed that it has been much longer than a year. So much has happened since this time last year that I’ve surely forgotten some of it, and yet, it also seems so close, like only a handful of months have passed since that crazy experience took place. One thing, however, was not forgotten amidst all the crazy that has gone down, which is where I was physically one year ago. Just one short year.

I could run…slowly, and not very far. A handful of miles necessitated walk breaks in order to get my heart rate down into safe territory. My body was still thin and frail from the ravages of surgery, my face showing more structure than is deemed sufficient and healthy. I was generally pretty weak, still battling my compromised lungs and needing to take deep breaths every time I bent over or kneeled down for some basic task. Just one year ago I was still completely wasted from the effects of surgery and chemotherapy…but I was getting stronger.

Little by little, I gained back strength, built capacity into my lungs, and pushed against the wall of my abilities as consistently as I could manage. Day after day, week after week, month after month…

Until two weeks ago when I put all that effort on the line at the Runner’s World Half and crossed the line in 1:20:02, validating all the effort, solidifying my strength, and proving the possibility for myself once again. I was able to confidently look back a year ago and say, “I’ve progressed. I’m better than I once was.”

Today I finished a 20 mile run in 2:16, my last long run before I complete a taper to the Monumental Marathon where I will be pacing either the 3:10, 3:05 or 3:00 runners to an ambitious finish. I stood at the end of my effort, worn, but strong, confident, and filled with the pride of accomplishment, not just for the ease in which I completed my long run, but for the efforts of the entire year prior that brought me from a weak, frail, post-surgery runner to the athlete I am today. This time, the perspective of where I was compared to where I am, is impossible to miss.

I don’t have to look ahead right now, to see the accomplishments I want to achieve, but can rest in the satisfaction of looking back, to see where I once was. It can be hard to remember to do just that, but no matter what may come, for any of us, the victory is in that effort, of reaching a new state of ability and remembering where you were in order to get where you are.

I try to never forget this lesson for myself and constantly remind my own runners, because sometimes you don’t FEEL stronger, especially deep into your training and when you’re always inching forward the boundary of your abilities, but to KNOW you’re stronger, can’t be undervalued.

At this point I still have 2 months to progress to some unrecognized degree of ability before my slate is wiped clean again (smashed to the ground is probably more accurate), but I plan to put the pieces back together and build and build until I can, once again, look back to see just how far I’ve come.

Then I’ll turn around and keep going.

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2 responses to “Look Ahead. Look Back.

  1. Congrats on the speedy time at the Runner’s World Half! I’m behind in my blog reading, so I’m looking forward to reading your recap(s). Usually I take a step back and see how far I’ve come during my taper after my body has had a few days to heal and rest. Then I can finally feel how strong I’ve become and get excited to see how that translates into a fast race. Anyway, good luck with pacing the Monumental, should be a fun time to help your runners achieve their goals!

    • Thanks Pete. I try to assess my fitness during taper period (if it happens..hah), but sometimes it’s entirely elusive until race day comes…or goes. I always remind myself, “Anything can happen on race day”.

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