Dreams, Disappointments and Diana Nyad

by Carilyn on September 26, 2012

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.

Now what?

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.


Juan escobar September 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

Sorry to read about your Funk for lack of better word. Have you thought about signing up and training for a triathlon. That may give you a new challenge and with your swim/run strenghts you would do great! All you have to do is ride a bike and that is the easiest part. The cross training is good for your body too.

Rob September 26, 2012 at 10:44 am

There are no coincidences; what a great story. As for the run, it might be something in the atmosphere in LA. My plans for the day, also in the San Gabriels, diminished during the day from 10 miles (from the comfort of my office), to 5 miles (as I was leaving the house), to a whisker under 4 miles when even the dog (who usually can crank out 20 in her sleep) started panting, making stopping seem like a good idea. I’m going for a do-over today.

Kate September 26, 2012 at 11:34 am

You know, I’ve had a few friends this late summer/fall who are just mired in a funk when they’re not loving their running, even while they’re still very good at it. Maybe it’s just a stage, or maybe you need to tackle something different (adventure racing?? :D) to bring some joy and excitement back to what you’re doing. Or maybe sometimes, if you keep going, eventually you’ll end up back where you want to be.

Carilyn September 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Thanks, Juan! Hopefully, things will turn around soon.

Carilyn September 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thanks, Rob. I hope it’s just something in the air 🙂 – the LA Funk!

Carilyn September 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm

You know I’ve been dying to try adventure racing, Kate! Maybe now’s the time 🙂

Marcia September 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

This was awesome to read. Our heads are in similar places. I love that you came upon Diana Nyad. Talk about a sign. I was telling my friend Jill this very same thing: I can’t just ‘not run’. Neither can you. I guess we need to make peace with where we are VS where we think we ‘should’ be. It’s why I’ve done so many destination races this year. Capturing the fun side.

Debbie September 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Ok, where in the heck do you swim that you bump into Diana Nyad? That is not your typical public pool!!!

Carilyn September 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm

It definitely made my day, Marcia! It was exactly what I needed, when I needed it! 🙂

Carilyn September 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Debbie, it is the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center – home of the Los Angeles Olympics swimming venue – so, it is not your “typical” public pool. It sure makes for a fun workout 🙂

Char September 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm

It’s bad when you’ve lost your passion for cupcakes.

Actually this post was so good for me to read. I will never be great. I will never make a running team. Sometimes it’s just so hard to run and I miss the days when it seemed almost easy. When I could knock out a 20k run without any doubts. And sometimes I wonder why I keep on trying. Why don’t I just walk my dog? But I can’t give up any more than you or Diana can.

Kent September 27, 2012 at 9:16 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you Carilyn for not being afraid to bare your thoughts, and you wound up answering the nagging doubts that have plagued you since the worlds. I really don’t pursue swimming in anyway, but Diana and her perseverance is such an encouragement to me as I continue to work through an injury that has trashed my first attempt at a marathon. I’m going to copy down what you said as a constant reminder to never give up. Yes, YOU are an encouragement to me as you push through your disappoinments and come out better on the other end. Please don’t give up! You still have too much to gain!

Carilyn September 27, 2012 at 9:45 am

I so understand, Char. Somewhere, in there, we are hardwired to move. And I guess we are also hardwired with the doubts – if not, there would be nothing to work for, and that would be tragic.

Carilyn September 27, 2012 at 9:47 am

And thank you, thank you, thank you Kent for continuing to read, even when I’m throwing myself a pity party. Knowing their a people out there who care enough to stop by and see what’s going on makes it all worth it. And I know you will recover and get another chance at the marathon!

olga September 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Girlfriend, you read my last 2 months worth of entries? 🙂 I really think God/Universe spoke to you when YOU blurred out “If you quit, we have to as well”. And you LOVE it! And funks are natural. Anyhow, I am the last soul to preach, but the most important question is – when is your birthday??? I’ll be 43 in 2 weeks! October 9. Lets celebrate! With a bang! And also, come run in circles to Austin for Run like a Wind 24 hr run – no PR, just for the soul – and for food they serve (1km single track). Hugs.

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

My birthday is October 10th, Olga, so we are Libra sisters! And we definitely need to celebrate! I did Run Like the Wind 6 hours a few years back, and it is still one of my favorite races of all times. I’ve already signed up for Desert Solstice 24 Hour, so my travel budget is shot :(. Thanks for the great note! Big hugs back! 🙂

Aleta September 28, 2012 at 11:28 am

Thank you for writing this. I’ve been struggling with lack of motivation. Not sure why. I love this piece that you wrote: 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.


Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Thank you, Aleta! I think we’re all in this together, even if sometimes we don’t know it 🙂

Becky September 29, 2012 at 9:45 am

Thank you! I keep trying to get the inspiration I need to get back into the pool everyday. I too keep fighting with myself and doing the FAILED Again talk over and over. I have gained back almost all the weight I had lost. If Diana Nyad is still training for Cuba then I know I can put in an hour or so a day to get to where I want to be.
Swimming has the same mind clearing effect on me. It seems to help you solve all of your problems and you get out calm and relaxed. Thank you again!

Carilyn September 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm

And thank you, Becky! I need to hear the same thing again and again! We keep at this together, so hearing from others is so motivating!

Jeff Dinkin October 3, 2012 at 12:15 am

As Rob said above, there are no coincidences in life. Diana was there at the right time to help you “reset” as it were. Your passion and “point” of what you are doing will be reignited and it will all have deeper meaning to you because of what you’ve been going thru.

As far as “failure” – bahhh, not the right term. I often think about Thomas Edison’s famous quote after he finally got the light bulb to work after many “failures” and many naysayers.

— “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” —

Keep on running!

Carilyn October 3, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks, Jeff! Funny things do happen in life 🙂

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