Yesterday, I charged up into the San Gabriels in hopes of getting out of my funk – the one I’ve been in since my disastrous showing at Worlds a few weeks ago. Since returning from Poland, I’ve had a hard time mustering up any excitement for…well, just about anything – even cupcakes. It’s not that Worlds was the most important thing in my life, it was simply that I thought it was a turning point. As I told y’all before, I had pretty much retired from running after Tim’s accident, so making Team USA again last year was a big, big deal to me. It made me feel like my dream of being a good runner was still alive and kicking. I thought I had turned the “emotional baggage” corner.
But this year, I’ve had one problem after another. I had to drop from Western States after seriously screwing up my feet. Then, my summer training, while grueling, was flat – just plain flat. I can’t explain what the problem was, but I went into Worlds filled with so much anxiety, that it now doesn’t seem so strange that I fainted. I think I was wound up like a crazy monkey, and any glitch, major or minor, was the proverbial straw that would break my back. And it did.
And it felt like I had wasted the second chance I had been given to do what I love.
I came back from Poland and started to train, but with little enthusiasm. What’s the point? I wondered on every run. Many runs turned into long walks. I signed up for two new races, hoping to jump start my enthusiasm, but I just kept phoning it in. I was tired. I was bored. Maybe it was time to call it a day and get a real life.
The problem for me, though, is that this is what I love to do. I love to run, up and down, and around and around. I love to swim – in the pool, in the ocean, anywhere there is water. I love to read about running, talk about running, write about swimmers, dream about swimming the Catalina Channel. Before I made the US Team for the first time, I never cared about my results, just that I was out there moving for as long as I wanted, in any place that I wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be good. It just wasn’t the reason I did it. I ran and swam because I felt compelled to do so. A lot. More than most people I knew. And it felt great, and weird, all at the same time.
So, to have failed again (AGAIN!), and this time at Worlds, just felt like I had used up all my chances. I will be 45 years old in 2 weeks. Enough is enough.
But I didn’t want to quit. I had so many things I wanted to do, to try, to see if I could achieve them. And yet I couldn’t make myself run, or swim, with anything close to enthusiasm. I kept asking myself, “What is the point? Why do I keep doing this?” And every flat run would thrust me deeper into my funk.
So, yesterday, in yet another attempt to snap myself out of it, I set out to do an 8 mile, technical trail run. For me, there is no pressure on the trails because I’m not very good at them. My only goal is to get the mileage in and enjoy – seemed like a perfect antidote to my bad mood. But it wasn’t. I was scared the whole time. The trail seemed to get steeper and narrower with each step. Even when I made it to the top, I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. As I had for the last 3 weeks, I felt…nothing. Well, that’s not true. I felt like every step I took was pointless.
After making it off the mountain, I drove home talking to the Universe/God. “Okay, I get it. I’m done. But what is it exactly that I’m supposed to do? Why do you give me something I love so much and then take it away? I’m willing to do something else, but what? What!? You keep this desire burning inside me, but I don’t know what to do with it. Am I supposed to quit? Give me a sign. Please!”
Yes, I know I sound like a delusional lunatic, but I was seriously frustrated and out of sorts. To want something so badly, your whole life, and to feel nothing for it, is devastating. I was willing to talk out loud in my car, no matter how crazy I looked, if that would bring me some relief, some closure.
But alas, I heard no voice responding (I guess, in hindsight, that is a good thing). So, I did what I always do, I went to work out. But this time, I went to the pool.
Because I don’t swim competitively anymore, swimming is the ultimate in relaxation. I can swim for hours with no thoughts, and no pressure. I don’t have expected mileage or times to complete, so I can let go and just move. And my mind is freed up from all the obsessive thinking that has taken over my runs.
And then there she was. A woman swimming lap after lap after lap, with a cooler on the side of the pool. And I knew in an instant who it was: Diana Nyad – my hero from childhood. Diana, at age 62, is still trying to swim from Cuba to Florida, despite 3 prior failed attempts. She is still in the pool. She is still swimming. And swimming. And swimming. She hasn’t given up.
After we were done, I asked her what she was training for (I wanted to confirm it was her). When she said Cuba, I told her how cool I thought it was that she kept going after it. She said, “At some point, you begin to wonder if you should just let it go and move on.” And I knew exactly what she meant because I was having that same conversation with myself only hours earlier.
“But if you quit, then the rest of us have to quit too,” I blurted. I have no idea where that came from, or why I said it (hey, no pressure, Diana!), but I knew I meant it. Not just about Diana, but about all of us. If we quit chasing our dreams because we are fulfilled, or ready to move onto something else, then that is fantastic! Well done! But if we quit because we are tired of the fight, tired of falling again and again, then we are cheating ourselves, and all those around us who are gaining inspiration from what we do day in and day out.
I don’t know if I’ll ever accomplish one tenth of what Diana has accomplished in her life, but I understand her need to keep trying, to keep doing what she loves to do. Maybe that is what it is all about – to keep doing what you love to do. And sometimes, if you just keep going, you will get exactly the help you asked for.