Last Friday night I’m lying in bed, heart pounding, sweat pooling up on my eyebrows, and of course, wide awake.

To put it lightly, I’m freaking out.

Without warning, a Trump sized (aka, huge) wall of pressure for the next morning’s Black Mountain Marathon comes crashing down on top of me …

… The race is run on my local trails, and suddenly I feel pressure to do well for that reason.

… Many of my local running friends will be running, and suddenly I feel pressure to do well for them.

… I’ve been talking the race up on Trail Talk and here on the blog, and suddenly I feel pressure to do well for you.

… This is the first race of an action packed race season, and suddenly I feel pressure to do well for myself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This story really starts last September, so let’s back up a bit.

* Cue rewind sound effect *

After the worst race of my life, the Steep Canyon 50k in September, I’m scraping the bottom. For the first time since I started doing it seriously, I’m unable to tap in to the fun and excitement of trail and ultra running. “Blah” is a pretty good word to describe how I feel about my running and training, and I’ve begun questioning where to go from here.

I pull myself together enough to get through and enjoy the Sky to Summit 50k a month later, but that one leaves me covered in poison ivy … and well, doesn’t cure my poor race hangover.

An Attempted Reset

So I try to take my own advice and attempt a reset.

Armed with an Excel sheet and the internet, I set off to find inspiration — races that will give purpose to my training, inspire me to push hard, and challenge my limits. In the process, I also decide to adjust my training by introducing more cross training, road running, and additional speed work.

The theory is simple:

Mountains, challenges, and adventure are what inspire me, but my routes and routines had become monotonous. So I had to mix it up. If I force myself to do the less obvious things (i.e. road running instead of trail running) at times, I’d break from the monotony loop and treasure each trail run that much more.

And that’s what I’ve done for the past several months. I set an ambitious race schedule, and started mixing in roads, the pool, or the bike about as much as trail.

Which brings us back to Friday night.

Heart pounding and sweat dripping, I begin to question this whole stupid idea.

What if I totally blow it?

What if this race is just as miserable as the others?

Where could I go from there?

Lows Aren’t the End

Whenever you fail at something, or when expectations go awry, you can handle it a couple different ways. You can,

  1. Give up. Call it quits and move on. Or,
  2. Reassess, adjust, and continue forward.

Let’s assume that when it comes to running, the best option is always #2.

Some people are motivated from failure. They use mistakes for inspiration and drive, and fight harder than ever before. Depending on the situation, that’s usually a good thing.

But what about when failure isn’t so cut and dry? Like when your running consistency fizzles out. Or when you quit having fun with your training. Or for me, when I’m struggling to find the inspiration.

It’s those less obvious struggles — or failures — that give runners the most trouble. Unfortunately they’re also the most difficult to recover from.

When taken care of, however, when reflected upon and seriously addressed, those lows (even the deepest of lows) aren’t the end of your story.

They’re the new beginning.

Embrace New Beginnings

I’m not going to lie, Friday night I’m questioning this theory.  I’m dreaming up excuses for not even trying.

But I want it too much. I love endurance running, and the trails, mountains, and adventure far too much to give up because I’m scared. So I take a warm shower and eventually drift to sleep.

The next morning I’m greeted by the community of runners I love. We hit the trails at mile 3 and I’m having a blast. Miles 7 through 20 are mostly covered in snow and ice, slowing things down but adding to the excitement.

My head stays focused, and as my legs tire (quicker than I would have liked, I should note), I compensate by adjusting effort and staying on top of nutrition.

It wasn’t my dream effort, and it isn’t a run I’ll be bragging about or sharing with my grand-kids. But it was the end of the first chapter of this new beginning.

We can hide from what scares us, or we can embrace it.

By embracing we’re opening ourselves up to disappointment, further setbacks, and failure.

But also our dreams.


My Next Several Months

While I’ve mentioned a few of these on social and Trail Talk, I haven’t officially posted about my race schedule and plan for the next several months. Why not do it today?

I have to admit, after this past weekend, I’m pretty stoked. So here’s my run/race schedule through my first A race of the year in May:

And so it has begun…

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “Tapping in to New Beginnings

  1. Glad you got over your freakout! It was fun to see you out on the trails! (I hollered “Go Doug!” at you when you were on the way back and I was still on the way up to the parkway.)

    I didn’t have a freak-out but I had a terrible sleep/stress week and drove to Asheville Friday night straight from a health conference that I helped to coordinate and was working at all day (meaning all day on my feet before an almost four hour drive.) Not a good pre-race day/week so it took me 5-6 miles to get into the race. While I don’t have a widely followed blog like you, I also sometimes feel that pressure since I’m known by my friends as the ‘badass trail runner/ triathlete’ which seems a lot to live up to sometimes. But I figure even if I don’t have a strong race, I’m still doing what I love in places I love, and that is a mindset I can always rely on.

    Have fun at the Biltmore, Daphne puts on a great race there!

  2. I’m glad you got out of your funk! I went through a brutal one last spring and ended up dropping out of all my planned races for the spring/summer and just running for fun for that time period. By the end of the summer, I was back to running for why I started in the first place – because I LOVE it. It was a LOT harder to come back from not getting enjoyment out of running than just a bad race, so I feel you, and I’m glad you’re excited again!

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