Chaos, Control, and Choices.

(You’re going to have to forgive me for being single-mindedly focused on this damn marathon right now.

A week away, and then I’m SURE I’ll find something else to talk about.)

A friend on DailyMile recently posted about why he runs and what he wants to get out of running. And it’s had me thinking, pretty much non-stop about why I run.

The honest truth is that I started running because I wanted to lose weight and do something awesome. And truly, if it weren’t for my friend D’s insistence that I could, in fact, run a half marathon… well, I’d probably 30lbs heavier and even MORE of a headcase than I am today.

Because running plays really well into my need to control The Chaos That Is My Life.

When you sign up for a race, it’s chaos and panic. Holy shit, what have I done? How will I manage the distance? No fucking WAY can I run [insert distance here].

Then there’s the planning mode. The research of running programs. Is Hal Higdon’s better than Running World’s program? How about we cobble together BOTH of them?

Then putting it into a spreadsheet (I SO love my spreadsheets) and printing them out to post at h0me and in my office.

And then logging the times for my training runs.

See, the data keeps me honest. On the mornings where I don’t want to get out of bed at 4:30 to run – it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed. I have a Plan and if I don’t follow it, I won’t be able to run [insert distance here].

Yet this tendency also puts a lot of pressure on me. I’ve really seen it this training cycle. If I skip a run, I’m not going to make my weekly mileage goal, and OMG I can’t possibly run a marathon if I don’t do the miles. And then, even on a run, the goal is to better my times, to get fitter and faster so I can be a real, legit runner.

I’ve been very fortunate in that this single-minded focus on a training plan hasn’t gotten me injured. Because this sort of behavior is ripe for injury – pushing through the pain because I need to do what the numbers on my spreadsheet say!

Ironically, I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist.

I’m starting to realize that maybe I am.

The past week and a half of taper has really brought things into focus. I was SO TIRED last week, and just couldn’t pound out the mileage like my training plan told me.

And everything I’ve read has been that taper should equal rest. That it’s one of the most important things that so many runners ignore. And if I focus on resting, it’ll help me have a better race than if I showed up at the start on tired legs.

This concept has set off a war between Jekyll and Hyde in my head. I skip a run because I focus on rest, which at the time feels like the right decision.

But then the OCD chick in my head second guesses that decision all freaking day, because I have a plan and OMG I didn’t follow the plan! Chaos!! I can’t handle the chaos!!!

And I’d love to tell you that I don’t listen to the OCD chick in my head, but too often I get sucked into her mindset.

Because uncertainty is scary.

I don’t KNOW for certain that I can run 26.2 miles all at once. I’ve never done it before.

Trusting uncertainty is hard. That’s why my OCD chick exists. She tries to remove uncertainty, to control the uncontrollable.

Maybe I need to learn how to let her go.

7 comments on “Chaos, Control, and Choices.

  1. Turia says:

    I don’t know if this is helpful assvice or not, but I ran my second half-marathon to within two minutes of my goal time (ran out of gas around kilometre 16 and had to back the pace down a touch), and I was following the Running Room’s plan. I NEVER did the five runs a week they had on their schedule- I only ever managed four. And I NEVER did one single burst of speedwork. I did concentrate on the long, slow, runs and prioritized them. With the rest I did the best I could. Clearly if I had followed their preparation to the letter I would have blasted my goal time out of the water.

    A couple of missed runs here and there will not affect your training.

    You sound incredibly well prepared. You will be able to run those 26.2 miles.

  2. Rachel Caine says:

    I went through the same sort of thinking as I trained for my first marathon this summer, too. I would write “Completed” next to the runs on my PLAN when they were done and “FAILED” next to the very very few I couldn’t complete or didn’t start. I even tried running with food poisoning, twice, because of the OCD chick in my head. But you know what? sometime during the last week of my taper I found this sea of calm and restfulness. And I ran the s*it out of my first marathon and totally melted into tears at the end of it. And the week after when I had no more PLAN to follow, I found myself dancing and laughing and skipping on my runs. I loved sticking to my PLAN, and it took the week following my marathon, a week of joyful, run till i don’t want to any more, runs to realize how much I had gained from sticking to a PLAN than just completing my first marathon.

  3. Kate says:

    Ah, yes, in two weeks time….you will either A) think you were crazy for ever running a marathon in the first place and vow never to run one again (only to change your mind months later); B) be so psyched that you’ve already signed up for another marathon and don’t know what to do with all your free time. It’s hard as a first time marathoner as you don’t *really* know what your body is capable of doing, so you focus on the training. After you run this marathon, you’ll see that training is about hitting the perfect plan 60-80% of the time and making sure you don’t get injured.

  4. Deborah says:

    I feel like all your other commenters are real runners, so I’m almost afraid to post. But here are 2 things:
    1 – you inspire me. This morning when I was trying to run my little 3 miles and I wanted to stop at mile 1, I thought of you and how often you say wanted to stop but you’ve pushed through and found that groove later on. And I kept going and felt happy. And every time I have a bad run I think about you running a marathon, and how everyone has bad runs sometimes. Maybe I just don’t know any other serious runners, but it helps me.
    2 – If I were you, and I liked to plan everything, I’d find some way to make the indecision into a plan itself. Make a plan with some wiggle room (if x then y), or plan how you’re going to decide whether to run or take the day off. Then you still feel like you’re planning, and controlling the outcome.
    Good luck!!

  5. Mel says:

    I am so glad you are writing again. And that you’re running. I want to try for a marathon, but I find that whenever I hit a groove with running, if I skip even one day, I start skipping a lot of days. It’s almost as if when I give myself a tiny out, I rip open a huge out. So I get why you need to also stick to the spreadsheet; keep to it as if it were set in stone.

  6. Bea says:

    I have long seen you as a perfectionist. And you know, there is a place for OCD chick, the real trick is to keep her in it. I can’t wait to hear how you did in the marathon.


  7. I just found your blog (a friend shared your Penn State letter on FB), and I’ve been reading with great interest. This post really clicked with me. I’ve only run 3 races in my life (10Ks, all of them), and I’m the same way with the training plans, the spreadsheets, the feeling of failure and “OMG how will I manage to finish the race” if I don’t do a scheduled run or training session as scheduled. The most recent 10K I ran, I pushed through pain to train, and it’s come back to bite me in the butt. (Really, in the hip.) I haven’t run in nearly a month, and have exercised very little, and my first PT session is tomorrow. I hope I can get it figured out, because NOTHING has been helping.

    I’m also leaving a profession I have felt passionate for (of late, my passion has been my children more than my career) to take up accounting. Go figure.

    Looking forward to reading more. 🙂

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