In three short days I will turn 40. That’s right! I’ll be officially
old a masters runner! Of course when you turn 40 everyone makes a big deal out of it. My 40th birthday inspired my best friend to convince my notoriously thrifty husband to send me on an expensive trip to Disneyland to see her. It also inspired my sister to drop everything and blow lots of money and time to meet me there. My mother has been hounding me about what I want for a gift and will be taking me out to dinner to celebrate. Maybe I’ll wake up to flamingos covering my lawn or open the door and find a scantily-clad singing telegram (please no!) Disney and dinner are enough from my loved ones! But, that’s not all I’m getting for this major birthday.
Here are 5 gifts I’m giving to myself.
1. Physical health. There’s nothing like turning 40 to realize how important physical health is. As I’ve watched peers struggle with chronic ailments, cancer, or even die, I’ve grown to appreciate my strong healthy body. But I’ve also realized that I’ve taken it for granted and that has to stop.
When I started seriously training, I worked really hard to be tough and to ignore my body’s signals that I was pushing too hard. If something hurt, I’d go out for my run anyway and hope whatever it was loosened up along the way. While I learned it usually will and will most certainly continue to do this, I’ve learned a lot of other lessons while incorrectly assuming I’m invincible. That weird heart beat thing that would happen to me occasionally that I would ignore? A dangerous heart condition. Running through extreme fatigue thinking it would pass? Digging myself deeper into iron deficiency. Running while recovering from illness? Overtrained a few weeks later.
So for my 40th birthday, I will not push myself if my heart is doing anything weird! If I’m unusually tired for more than a day or two, I will back off and get my iron tested before proceeding. If I’m sick, I will actually recover before pushing myself in training. If running is damaging my greater health, that running is going to have to change! How nice I am to myself!
2. Mental health. Running sure is important to all of us reading this post. It’s really important to me. I love pursuing excellence for myself! But, in that pursuit I have occasionally made myself miserable. I have stressed way too much about fitting in runs to a really busy week or I’ve robbed myself of joy by comparing myself to my old self, other runners or just got caught up in thinking I “should” be doing this or that with my running to the detriment of my happiness as a runner. Listen to me! What’s the point of doing any of this if it’s not making you happy?
There is none. Not one iota of a point. If running is subtracting from my happiness, then something about my running will need to change. For my 40th birthday, I am giving myself permission to put my happiness first.
3. Patience. Looking back, in my 30’s, I always felt time pressure to improve. Before I became pregnant for the first time, I felt like all the best running of my lifetime had to happen before I had kids. Then after my first kid, I felt like needed to cram in any bonus good running before my second and so on. But now, as my kids are growing out of the baby stage I see that there is no rush. I see good friends of mine who are a little older with older kids who suddenly have more time and energy to devote to training and are doing the best running they have ever done. I’ve tried to train like an elite runner while in the most physically demanding time of life, child-bearing years. The successive pregnancies, the years of nursing and little sleep are not conducive to running success! But these years are short. Every day gets a little better and while I am 40, there’s no reason to believe my best years of running are behind me. In fact, with never putting in more than a year of consistent training, with a little patience, my best years are certainly ahead!
But even so, I’m …
4. Redefining running success. PRs are glorious! They truly are, but they are not necessary to achieve running success. I have come to discover that huge PRs are not worth the constant flirt with injury and mental burnout that comes with a singular focus on achieving a major running breakthrough. Combine impatience with lofty race time goals and it’s a recipe for chronic injury and mental burnout. I’d rather undertrain and be healthy and happy than overtrain and not be running in a couple of years. For my 40th birthday, I’m leaving the hare approach to running success – harder, faster, PRs over all else – for a more tortoise-like approach – consistent, healthy, enjoyable.
5. Faith in myself. For years I worked with a coach whose training philosophies did not work for me. I respected him and still do, but his idea of what I needed to do to reach my potential resulted in injuries and burnout when I’ve never experienced those things before. Because I respected him and saw friends succeed with his approach, I second-guessed myself thinking that a lack of mental toughness was the only thing standing in my way of better running performances. I ignored witnessing other athletes suffer career-ending injuries and burnout and the little voice inside of me that told me I was also overreaching in training. Instead, after not achieving the results we sought, I doubled down and pushed myself harder. In the meantime, I was also always training with people who were considerably faster than me and always feeling like I had to catch up. So, I got down on myself thinking it was a personal failure that I couldn’t achieve the success that others had.
But I know now that’s not true. What works for some runners does not work for others and there’s nothing wrong with that. My former coach’s philosophies work great for some athletes, but do not for others including me. For those of us who did not succeed with his high-intensity training, it’s not our fault and it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. This was an incredible lesson for me and I’m glad I tried this method. I’ll never wonder what-if I had pushed myself really hard in training! Like anything in life, finding out what style of training works best for us is a trial and error process and I’m grateful for this lesson, which has helped me realize that I know myself better than anyone else and that I can trust my gut. For my 40th birthday, I’m restoring faith in myself to know what’s best for me and that I can find success in running on my own terms.