Let it go

She told me to think about Fruit Loops.  The red ones especially.  I guess it’s a thing.

I had gone back to the Crossfit gym for the first time in two months since rehabbing a couple injuries and was excited (and nervous) to get strong again.  We had an 8 minute EMOM of 3 power cleans today.  An EMOM for those of you who don’t know stands for “Every Minute On the Minute”.  It means you do a movement or series of movements at the start of every minute.  Your rest is the remaining time you have before the minute starts again.  A power clean for those of you who do not know is a movement where you pick the barbell off the ground, thrust your hips forward to propel the barbell up and it ends in a front rack position with bent knees, but without dipping into a full squat in the catch position.  Stand up, repeat.  Go ahead and imagine me THIS amazing.

Anyways, I was on about minute 6 when it happened.  I wasn’t cleaning that much weight.  It was ridiculously light actually.  But it happened, the mental block.  When this happens, it’s called Fruit Loops, as in, you’re supposed to think about Fruit Loops, something totally ridiculous and off-topic that your mind can free itself.  Like THIS.  I was told it works.  It didn’t.  I was stuck in Fruit Loops land and just stood there, looking at my near empty barbell and laughing my way through the last set.  I couldn’t even pick the darn thing up without freaking out.  I know what you’re thinking…I’m absolutely nuts.  First off, why all the crossfit talk?  And second, just do the damn movement, it’s barely 30 pounds and you’ve cleaned much heavier weight than that.  But that’s the thing, it was all in my head and sometimes, the mind is the muscle that when it fails, all else follows.

Back to running.  I fell off the wagon a bit after the Berkeley Half Marathon back in November.  It was supposed to be a good training run, a confidence booster heading into the meat of my LA Marathon training.  Instead it mimicked the anatomy of a complete race blow up pretty well.  I was moving fast and strong through the early hilly miles and when I got to the last downhill descending to the waterfront, something didn’t feel right, I wasn’t crushing that negative grade quite as fast as I had planned, or I could.  I was just letting gravity take me.  And then I hit the flats and the headwinds and all hope was lost.  I was a shuffling fool and then everything started to fall apart, my stomach started to hurt, my legs got incredibly stiff with the change in gait, my breathing was labored against the wind, the late morning heat started to settle in and I was running along this straight, flat path, my nemesis.  By the time the last mile of uphill arrived I was done.  So done I barely cared about my finishing time, let alone my morale.  I had already been mentally punishing myself for the past three miles.  This wasn’t the race I wanted, wasn’t the race I needed and wasn’t the race I was capable of.  In my heart of hearts I know I just made some mistakes and was capable of PR-ing that day instead of completely imploding in on myself, but that race got to me.  Fruit Loops.

For the next couple of weeks, I wallowed in my own self pity, trying to shake off the stale odor of a bad race by pretending like it was no biggie.  But it was, and maybe I wasn’t even aware of it at the time.  I gave myself a hall pass and quit running roads and doing speed work for a couple of weeks while I “regrouped” and “refocused” with some time enjoying miles on the trails with Chris and my friends.  Then I enjoyed Thanksgiving, then I enjoyed more trail time, less speed work, less tempo runs, less structure.  It’s exactly how I like my training, fun and free-form.  It got my mind off of Berkeley, which I thought was a good thing.  And then just like the dark clouds approaching across the horizon, someone mentioned there was only a month and a half left till LA.  SHIT!  Where did all that precious time go?!  Ok, time to re-refocus.  Hit the roads again.  Except this time, I was not so speedy.  I was downright sloth-like after taking 3 weeks off any kind of road training.  And then Berkeley got to me again.  And then my slowness hit an all-time low.  My body wasn’t cooperating.  So I did what anyone in my position would do, I forced it to cooperate with a series of back to back training weeks and long runs that I wasn’t nearly ready for.  I was punishing myself for a lack-luster half marathon long after that race had ended.  Long story short, this caused an injury in my lower leg which I panicked myself into thinking was a stress fracture.  Took more time off, got slower.  Tried to get back into shape, found out I was even slower.  And LA Marathon didn’t happen.

Most sport psychologists will tell you that there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is, it’s all in your head.  The bad news is, it’s all in your head.  Ever try to convince yourself NOT to think about an ex-boyfriend after a breakup, a curling iron you might have left on and plugged in right next to a pile of decorative hay, a typo that made it into your final draft of a soon to be published article?  The mind is a powerful thing and can be a powerful tool, but also a formidable enemy.  Reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book, How Bad Do You Want It goes into the nitty gritty of why we create these mental blocks and how the best athletes in the world get through them in order to reach their goals.  It’s incredible how common Fruit Loops is.  And how much harder you have to work to get your mind free than just repeat the mantra “Fruit Loops”.  It takes some athletes years to work themselves out of the quagmire they’ve been slowly sinking in.  Sometimes, it’s like a tar pit or quicksand, the more you struggle and the more overworked you see things, the deeper you sink.  I’m learning to let go.  Learning to let go of a bad day, learning to let go of the thought that my house might be burning down or I might have left the door to my car unlocked.  Learning to let go of a bad race, a bad workout and equally learning to not totally lean on the confidence that a good day, a good race, a good workout can give.  What’s done is done and each day is a new one.  A bad day today doesn’t mean a bad day tomorrow and a good day today doesn’t guarantee one tomorrow either.

Watching the Olympic Trials for marathon in LA this weekend (more on this later), I was so incredibly inspired–not at the performances that wow-ed us.  Not the Meb’s and Rupp’s and Desi’s.  I was inspired by Kara Goucher, who ran her heart out for 4th place, falling short of a team spot by one minute.  I was inspired by that guy in the white cotton tee shirt and basketball shorts that was running because he qualified somewhere, apparently, but ended up running closer to 4 hours that brutally hot day in LA, still managing to finish in a field where many dropped out due to the conditions.  He was still running long after the crowds left and security picked up all the trash cans and cleaned up the barricades.  They opened the street to allow cars though and he was forced on the sidewalk.  That guy was having a rough day.  Except he was running in the Olympic Trials, and finished.  So maybe he was having a great day too.  In the end, we all have those days: the days where you fall apart and don’t meet a goal, the days where your performance is in no way indicative of your capabilities, and the days when your best just isn’t good enough.  I’m still learning that just because you get through the tough days doesn’t mean they don’t take a toll on you long after the day is over.

It takes a lot of strength and mental will power to hold on when you’re running your heart out.  It takes a lot to stay on pace, to just keep holding on for one more mile.  I’m also learning it takes a lot of strength and mental will power to also let go.

Saturday night after the Olympic Trials race, Kara Goucher addressed a room full of her friends and Oiselle teammates (and totally random people like me who happened to get invited).  After a few niceties about it being an honor to run, she broke down and cried.  Overcome by emotion, she barely got the words out, “Today sucked”.  She was laughing and crying at the same time as she brought the crowd to tears.  Because regardless of whether we are an elite athlete or someone just trying to qualify for their first Boston, we know, these days suck, and it was the most honest and sincere thing she could have said in that moment.  I think this was her letting go of a bad day.  Fruit Loops doesn’t work for everyone, after all.

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