When Letting Go Feels Like Failure

Underneath the happy Boston performance lurks the truth. Image via salesnexus.com.

In light of many of our Salty posters opening up and getting really honest around here lately it is about time I step up to the plate. I signed on to writing for this site with the plan of opening up and being honest about my life outside of running and the effect it has had on me as a runner. Because of the timing of my initiation to Salty Running falling before the Boston Marathon it morphed into me being the comeback spice of sorts when that wasn’t really what I planned to talk about at all.

I have been holding off on writing about the dreaded D word because I wanted some time and space to respect my ex and to really understand how being a divorcee has affected me, and how it has affected my running. I know I am not alone and it is surprising how something that seemed so uncommon becomes so common when you go through it yourself. You begin to realize that many around you are also struggling. I have countless sub elite running friends that have gone through or are going through a divorce and I was really unaware of it before I went through it myself. I am not alone, and my process was probably much less painful than most, but man sometimes it brings a girl down.

I held off on discussing divorce with my ex and with anyone else for a very long time, even though I knew deep down something wasn’t working for me in my relationship. I loved my husband, but I was no longer in love with him. I thought friendship and a love of sorts was enough, that I could make it work. I grew up in a family where divorce was a rarity. My parents have been married for 30+ years, my grandparents for 50+ years. When I realized that I would probably never be able to say that, it felt like failure.

My ex is a wonderful caring man. He supported me, he supported my crazy running though he didn’t understand it at all, and he was a friend to me at my lowest and worst as well as my best. Hurting him was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to do. So I buried my feelings, and I ran harder, I ran faster, I trained like a maniac. I got so wrapped up in trying to get to the trials and ignoring every other problem in my life that I ran myself into the ground before I could reach that goal. There were several times last year where I had the fitness, but not the timing, and in the end I just couldn’t line it up. I failed to make it to the trials, I got injured, and I was forced to sit down and take a hard look at my life.

I for one did not feel like my divorce was something to celebrate and I'm glad it was amicable and there was no interest in a cake like this! Image via dengedenge.com

At 30 years old I realized I wanted a new start. I wanted not to move on, but to move forward with a different path. It was not easy and I handled it as best as I could, and I tried to be the fairest and most caring person I could be in the way I left my marriage. But at its core it felt like failure. I married young before I truly knew who I was and because of my desires I was causing another person pain. It felt like I had wasted 10 years of his life, it felt like I had failed.

And though I knew that in the end we would both be happier because of my decision it was really hard to get to the point where I could make it. And though I know divorce is common and that I didn’t intentionally do anything wrong, it is really hard to come to terms with letting go of something you built up for over a decade.

I am in a wonderful relationship now and my ex is also moving forward with his life. Getting to this side of divorce was not emotionally easy but it is plain to see that I did not fail, that I made a tough decision that in the long run will result in both of us being happier more fulfilled people. That I had spent over 10 years with a wonderful friend, and that was certainly not failure.

Right now I am struggling with my running again. Despite being in a healthy relationship and head over heels for a person who brings joy to me every day I am still conflicted about my training and goals. I thought that my running problems last year were driven by my need to get away from personal issues, but with that “fixed” I am not finding myself free to aggressively pursue getting faster. Instead I find myself back in that same mental state of borderline burn out, slight injury, and doubts.

And my conclusion is that perhaps in my pursuit of this one goal I lost myself, my running self, the self that enjoyed getting faster, but the self that also enjoyed trying new things and giving back. That everything in me has been quietly saying “you aren’t ready yet” for a while. That I miss a lot of the pieces of running that I had before I started trying to qualify for the trials. That maybe I am so afraid of failing at this one thing that I am not letting myself pursue running the way I want at all. That I love the idea of being faster, but that I am not in love with being an elite runner. That if I really wanted it I wouldn’t dread workouts or worry about how I am going to get in my mileage. And admitting that feels like failure.

My hope is that like my divorce, once I get beyond the initial shock of changing my path I will realize that I am not failing. That no one expects anything of me besides myself. That as long as I am happily pursuing running in whatever capacity that is, that I have not failed. But right now, it feels like failure, and it is hard to let go.

Sometimes I see my running dreams like this. If I let them go even for just a second, I might never see them become reality. Image via sockarch.com
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A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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  1. Even with a healthy new relationship, recovering from divorce takes time, and the trauma of that event sticks with you — in your heart, in your brain, in your gut — well after you’ve felt like it’s gone. It can affect every part of your timing, energy and motivation, without you ever realizing it’s there. Cheesy as it sounds: it’s like any other injury; there’s scar tissue. Give yourself time, Pep. Your new life is still young. Actively let yourself (your heart, your brain, your gut) heal before you expect things to snap back. You wouldn’t rush back from knee surgery! But above all else, never consider yourself a failure. Nothing about you is a failure. (Hugs)

  2. I whole-heartedly agree with GP. You’re awesome and you just went through something traumatic even if it was 40,998 x less traumatic than how you perceive other divorces to be it was still a loss in its own way. I never for a second regret mine, but I still have nightmares about it to this day! We all have this vision of how life is supposed to go and when things deviate from that path it’s a loss and needs to be mourned and accepted. It’s hard for something like divorce not to feel like a big black splotch on ourselves, but it’s really not.

    As for running, there’s no shame in making whatever choice you make. I love how you intersect your divorce with this decision. For years now you assumed you were going to go for the OTQ NO MATTER WHAT! But now as you are dealing with other life stuff you’re realizing that the lifestyle it takes might not be something you want to deal with again. Or maybe it is. Or maybe you could do something in the middle and hope to improve but be ok if it doesn’t work out. Who knows! The world is your oyster and the future is looking bright, lady!

  3. Love you E, wonderful post and thank you for sharing. You will find your mojo again and I 100% agree with what the smart ladies above said, it takes time to heal even if it was the right choice.

  4. You don’t sound like a failure to me. It is unfortunate and sad that it did not work out, but a failure would be not doing anything about it and living a life that doesn’t keep you fulfilled and happy. It is good that you are both moving on and finding happier places. Your feelings of failure re running are likely fleeting too. I have a feeling you have some great racing in you this year.

    1. Thanks Mint! Time will tell I am sure, but I am hopeful for a fun racing season still, perhaps just not the speedy one I anticipated!

  5. The parallels are pretty profound, if you look at it. I read about a study showing brain scans of a person going through a break-up and the results showing a pain response. So, you were going through a running injury and a relationship injury together. Also, looking at the balloon picture and your caption, it makes sense about being afraid to let go. Just like having running dreams, getting married brings hopes and dreams with it. Divorcing is like letting go of the balloons and the risk that relationship dreams may not come back to you.

    You are at a time of making new dreams, or re-making the old ones, for both running and relationships.

  6. Great post. It sounds like you are already that much happier by letting go of the pressure to train hard when your body and mind just want some time to heal.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story! Sorry to hear you went through all of this, but the key word to describe your path shouldn’t be failure, but courage. A lot of people stay in situations, whether it be marriage, work, etc because it’s scary to let something go–even if it’s not right anymore. It took a lot of courage to do what you did, and to share it with all of your blog followers. Through reading your blog over the past year, I’m sure you will make the best decisions to fit running in your life in a way that will bring you success and happiness!!