Three and a half years. I haven't "really" ran in three and a half years. Why? Because I haven't. Sure there are reasons, excuses and multitude of other blah, blah, blah's I could throw out there but the bottom line is simple. I got lazy, lost the desire and mental focus that it takes to compete. The thrill of the challenge and the drive to exceed self imposed expectations haven't been prevalent for a while. The VOICES have been eerily silent like an old friend who I've lost touch with. It's been kind of weird and awesome all at the same time.
It's easy to live in the past. The glory days. The best of times. We all do it at some point. The ex-jock from high school that needs to talk about the 5 touchdowns in one game. The former high school track stud that set all the records. The genius in college who could make a bong out of play dough. The stud Marine that never got into trouble. I was none of the above but I did okay in a lot of races from 5k's through 100 milers back in the day. A couple of sub 3 hour marathons and a handful of sub 24 hour 100 milers made it easy to fall into this trap. As time goes by the way these stories are told change.
Back "in the day" I never bothered to tell a story about a race or feel the need to proclaim my PR to somebody I just met. Nope. No need. I just showed up, ran the race, collected whatever award if warranted and went home. I was never what I considered as fast but it was good enough to win a few local downtown ladies auxiliary pie auction and 5k races. Over time this evolved into a reputation in the area as a "fast" runner. I never thought I was but one day, after a 10k, the runners who I considered as fast gathered for a picture with their medals and trophies. I was told to jump in but declined saying something about the fast runners. One of them said, "Dude, you just ran a 37 minute 10k, you ARE one of the fast runners."
Okay. 37 minute 10k isn't fast by many standards. People will tear me apart for my "huge ego". I get it. But the fact is this- sometimes a 37 minute 10k IS fast. Sometimes a 17 minute 5k does win. Sometimes a 2:58 marathon, 4:20 50k, 7:31 50 miler and 19:37 100 miler is considered fast. The 7:31 50 miler set a state record in Missouri for the 35-39 year old age group in 2011. It still holds the record for 39 year olds. The other ages have fallen to faster times but they have been on flat, dedicated courses. Mine was on a hilly road course with heavy traffic, unmanned aid stations and 85-90 degree southern Missouri humidity temps. Not that it matters.
Okay... this is the kind of nonsense I am talking about. Buying into your own legend. It's a joke but it happens. My first marathon was good for a Boston Qualifying time and I just assumed that was what was expected. I once ran a marathon with pneumonia and finished in 3rd place. My first 1/2 marathon was ran with the flu but I managed a 5th overall with a 1:30 time. I limped 50 miles with a knee that looked like a football and still came in top 10. My first 50 miler was a climb over Mt. Pinnacle on the Ouachita trail in Arkansas and netted a 3rd overall. I finished 4th overall at one of the oldest established 100 milers, the Arkansas Traveller, on a rainy, miserable day. My first 100 miler was on a trail in Texas during an an ice storm and I finished in under 21 hours. I have ran five 100 mile -true trail- races in under 22 hours. 60 miles on an old, busted up asphalt track in a pink tutu. More that once. Started a dumb little running club that turned out okay. I did some unique, at the time, fundraisers for the ACS and raised over $50,000. Blah, blah, blah...,
3 years ago I fell. Not literally. I had fallen many times on trail runs before then. I fell. I had trained for a 100 miler with the goal of 18 hours. Race day weather took its toll on me and the humidity won. I finished in 21:30 and felt like a failure. Looking back it's stupid to consider a 21:30 finish a failure but whatever. A couple of months later I was smoking a 30 hour timed event in Oklahoma when I slipped in the snow covered clay mud and pulled a calf muscle. I knew I would win this event and the forced decision to stop messed with my head. Once I was able to run again, really run, the desire to compete was gone. The focus was gone. I lined up at the Leadville 100 later that year out of shape and with a big ego thinking it was only 100 miles and I could fake it. After a mere 40 miles I pulled the plug and recorded my first DNF.
My daughter was born roughly two and a half years ago. She is what my wife and I call the" bonus baby". Unplanned and unprepared for. You would think at 42 and 45 we would have known what could happen but.... Her birth changed my life. My two boys are amazing and I love them more than life itself but the new Princess? Oh yes. She is a game changer for me. So things slowed down on the running side. There were months when my total mileage was less than 20. Considering I had averaged 250 mile months for almost 10 years this took its toll. Combined with crappy nutrition and a general dismissal of strength training, the overall result has not pretty.
Did I mention that I coach baseball, basketball, soccer and football for my kids? Or that I am the head coach of a semi-pro football team? Or that I serve as president of a youth football league? Or that I coach runners from all over the country - and across a few borders? Or that....who cares? Excuses. Things that I choose do. I had always managed to find time to train in the past regardless of work or other obligations. I had simply lost my focus and the drive to compete. It was easy to claim that there weren't any challenges left and I had already proved that I could do anything I set out to do. My life was full of schedules and activities but it was also empty.
Try being a "legend" on social media for a while. The things you did in the past are celebrated for a while. Then they are talked about some. Then they are unknown. Soon the only people that know are the people that used to look up to you but can now kick your ass in any distance. It kind of sucks to be honest. My ego is not fragile or huge like some may think but I do have one. We all do. And it kind of sucks when you think people don't care or respect what you have accomplished. It's silly but it's real. Especially when you know the only reason you have become "Fat Elvis" or "washed up" is because you no longer care. There is no physical impediment or injury holding you back. It's all about heart. It all comes back to Eye on the Prize.
Eye on the Prize. Focus. Determination. Grit. It's all the same. Decide on a goal. Resolve to accomplish it. Do the work that sucks to make it real. Don't chase shiny objects. Make it happen. Seems so simple when I type it. Putting it into action is much more difficult. Thankfully, I have finally reached the point in my personal journey that I understand what it takes to crawl out of the funk and back onto the trail. I have remembered WHY I want to run. WHY I want to train. WHY I want to compete. Along with that I have found a renewed desire to "do the work-no excuses".
Over the past few months, I have begun working with a purpose. I have Coach Jeff back on the job scheduling my training and keeping me in check. I have put in consistent base building mileage. I have found that old burning motivation to get up at 3 a.m. and run 1-2 hours before going to work. I have figured out ways to squeeze strength or yoga in after work and before my kid's practices. I have the focus to run 10 miles or more before coaching football all day. I have signed up for a few short-ish distance races with the goal of chasing buckles again soon.
I don't expect to ever run "fast" but I do expect to prove to myself that I can run long and be proud of my accomplishments. Will I ever run a sub 3 hour marathon again? Or a sub 20 hour 100 miler? What about state records? Don't know- don't care. The goal is to do what I can while I can and not ever live in the past again. The glory days may be over but that doesn't mean I don't have some pretty decent days to look forward to. Eye on the Prize is still my favorite mantra. I have realized that Fat Elvis is still Elvis. Just go do what makes you happy and life is good.