On Disappointment and Trust in Running and Life

Barley struggles with trust after disappointmentsRunning our best requires trust. We have to not only trust the training, we have to trust our mind to hang on, our body to know what to do, and that we won’t break.

The last few years I saw many breakthroughs in my running, and I assumed that had to do with consistency and better training. While that’s certainly a big part of the success I’ve had so far, I’ve also realized that learning to trust myself might be the main ingredient to that success. Whether it was trusting my own race plan even when others questioned it, trusting myself to rally and do back-to-back marathons, or trusting my body to do what I knew it could do. At times it meant trusting myself when I felt like I could trust no one else.

In fact one of my greatest breakthroughs, my first sub-three marathon, came when I had to trust all the training I put in and then trust myself to execute a smart race plan, as my coach disappeared out of my life a few short weeks before the race. After I smashed my goal, I saw how the loss of my coach helped me realize how much I appreciated my own good judgment, work ethic, and physical ability.

After the sub-three, I went on to PR the 5k and the half marathon without a coach and on my own terms. I even ran my half marathon PR without a watch after I lent it to a friend. I accomplished that one solely though trusting myself to know the right effort!

This year, that trust has been harder to come by. It started on such a high note. I was feeling great, training strong, and found a new coach I really liked. I was running my workouts faster, easy days slower, and racing like I never had before. I ran two five-mile and two 10k PRs by the end of March. My old 10k PR was a few years old and is now a 38:37. I also ran my second fastest half marathon as a workout, while running relaxed and at a controlled effort, paced a few other runners and cruised in the last few miles like it was nothing. The trust was there in my new coach, still there solidly in myself and I was setting myself up for another year of breakthroughs. My body was doing what it should, I was focused, staying healthy and getting stronger with each run.

Then, a few days before the Boston Marathon which I was training hard for and gunning for a new PR, I found out I was pregnant. I went and raced it anyway, which was a test of my ability to trust. I trusted my doctor who told me I’d be fine, and I trusted my body to tell me if I needed to back off. It did and I did. Despite what happened in the weeks after Boston, trusting was the right thing to do. 

I planned to recover in the following weeks, which was perfect for simultaneously adjusting to the new normal. Time to enjoy the fatigue, nausea, and all of those fun first trimester things. I trusted that I was doing everything I could to support a healthy pregnancy, and still believe that most days. But a little shy of two months after Boston, when I was 12 weeks pregnant, we got the news I’d never wish on anyone. Not only did losing the baby break my heart, all that trust I built with myself and my body came crumbling down around me. I was angry, I was sad, and I felt like everything was different.

And it was. I wanted answers that I would never have, and it’s hard to maintain trust without knowing what happened, which rarely anyone knows after a miscarriage. When I started running again after losing the baby, it was challenging in a million ways, made harder by the fact that I didn’t trust myself or what I was doing.

It took time for running to feel like it used to, and eventually it did, but even so, my body was still not on the same page. My hormones were out of whack and I often felt like I was going crazy. I spent two weeks in August feeling certifiably ragey-PMS-miserable 24/7. I felt like I was being punished, which only reaffirmed those “what did my body do wrong” questions from earlier in the year. That trust I worked so hard for was gone.

When I raced my first 5k after the miscarriage, I couldn’t find that gear to push because I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t completely fall apart if I used it. I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t just keel over and be done right there. A few weeks later and I slowly started to gain some trust back, trust in my body but also trust that I would be okay even if things didn’t go as planned. I ran a half marathon, not a PR but a solid race and good performance on a tough course. I was questioning if I really could come back for a marathon this year, but this gave me a bit of hope that I could. Deep down, I still didn’t trust it though. It wasn’t my coach, it wasn’t the people who love and support me … it was me

Then, two months before that marathon I was training for, my period didn’t show up on time. I didn’t think anything about it. I assumed my body was out of whack too. I had reverted back to a place where I assumed the worst, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I had spent years getting away from being that person. Trusting myself and having self confidence had made me a much more positive and generally a stronger person; it took losing that trust to appreciate all the work it took to get it in the first place.

A few days later, my bad attitude faded into what-if. That what-if came true in less than two minutes after peeing on a stick in a Wegman’s bathroom. I had to know, because I could not trust enough to wait. 

I wish I could tell you I instantly made up with myself and felt a million times better. The reality is, I think it broke my trust even more.

Not again. I spent years working on believing and knowing my body could do some really freaking awesome things, but doubted its ability to grow a human. That loss was so fresh. And with a positive pregnancy test, came fear that I was right to abandon that trust.

The first few days after that September pregnancy test were probably the hardest. I didn’t run for four days because I was too preoccupied. Finally, I went for a run the day before our first ultrasound. It was slow and short but that was all I could handle. The next day, we went for a very early checkup that the doctor graciously scheduled for me to alleviate my anxiety. Hearing a heartbeat emotionally overwhelmed me. 

In the following weeks the symptoms of pregnancy intensified, but the anxiety didn’t go away. I couldn’t trust my body not to fail me again. But, slowly, with each doctor appointment, I grew a little more confident. I was feeling sick most days, dealing with lots of symptoms which under normal circumstances I would complain about, but this time I appreciated them as a good sign of a healthy pregnancy. I was running very little at this point, about once a week, partly because of exhaustion and nausea, but also because I was scared. I felt it was safer to curl up in a recliner then to head out on the roads.

But as I neared the end of the first trimester, I found myself worrying again. The exhaustion and nausea were my lifeline to that trust. The thought of them going away terrified me. The only time in life you ever actually want to be exhausted and nauseous!

I realized that I had no choice but to actively work to rebuild my trust in myself. This internal battle was holding me back, keeping me from feeling the joy and excitement that I should be focusing on instead of the worry. I had to find ways to work with myself on this, I needed to find ways to be happy and realistic but also work on rebuilding that self confidence and trust that had gotten me so far.

***

Trust is hard, and something I think we all struggle with. Injuries. Illness. Life stress. Bad races. Bad runs. They damage that internal trust, and that affects us more than we realize. But the thing is, we have to learn to work through it especially when it comes to trusting ourselves. We’ve all had those moments where it is overwhelming trying to push past the fear of letting ourselves down. In a race and that negative self-talk kicks in. Or mid-workout we worry that every little pain or twitch is a career-ending injury. We worry we will fail, or miss our goals, we worry how it affects us and those around us. We struggle not to let one little thing derail all of our trust and faith in how things are going.

file_000-12As I move through the second trimester and into the third and eventually onto the real fun of being a parent, I know there will be moments, days, weeks of struggle and worry if I’m doing okay. But if my experiences the last few years and especially this year have taught me anything, it’s that it isn’t just about trusting ourselves to make everything ok. Sometimes trust means knowing that you will find a way to be okay, even when everything else is not. As heartbreaking as our miscarriage was, I found my own ways to work through it. Despite the hurt, I made it to the other side in one piece.

As Chicory put it, while heading into her recent marathon, she needed to accept that it wouldn’t be easy or perfect and that hard moments would happen. She trusted herself and prepared herself to get through those moments. As I think about the coming months and years being a parent, a runner, and an adult in general that is how I want to approach things.

I want to accept that things are going to happen that may not even be in my control. I accept that there will be hard moments, and times my trust will falter. But I want to prepare for them as best I can. Maybe I’ll need a mantra for workouts, races, and parenthood: I’m doing the best I can. Maybe it’s looking at a plan or schedule and knowing what days will be hectic, what workouts will be hard, and what times we will need help and reminding myself to accept both the challenge and the help.

Whatever comes my way, I trust I can handle it.

An Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that "running/life balance" unicorn. On tap Next: Training to be a first time mom, time for 3rd trimester...ready or not!

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24 comments

  1. Love this piece! I went through infertility prior to my first child which was somewhat linked to my training – I felt like my running and my body had betrayed me. It was so healing when I came back to running after my daughter was born. Wishing you a healthy pregnancy!

  2. This is lovely. Congratulations on baby Barley! That preparation and trust in yourself will become even more essential on the parenting journey – there’s always someone who’s going to judge your parenting and push you to second-guess your own decisions. Tough days will happen, just as there are tough moments in any race; you just have to trust that you’ll be able to make it work.

  3. I loved this! It truly hit home. Trusting the process has been so hard, as we’ve talked about. I think trusting that there will be bumps in the road is so important. Life would be too easy if there wasn’t for those bumps. I think as runners, we like that challenge, though somedays, we hate that we like it. I am so excited for you and Brian, and baby Barley! Thanks for sharing your story with us

  4. This is beautiful, Barley! I experienced so much anxiety during both pregnancies because there is so little that was within my control. But as the kids grew, I learned, like you, that I can handle what comes my way. And you can too!

    Totally cheesy but when baby Barley is born you’ll quote Disney too-this is from Moana: “I will carry you here in my heart/you’ll remind me/that come what may/I’ll know the way/I am Moana” (substitute Barley for Moana)

  5. For me, the idea of having a baby is terrifying because of all the things I can’t control — including all those things with my own body, the body that I command to do things that at times seem impossible. You’ve done that — you’ve taken that leap. I’m so thrilled for you guys and I can’t wait for Baby Barley to join the next generation of Saltines. Thanks for making me sound wiser than I ever intended in my rambling race recap, too.

    1. Thank you!!! To me, a great race recap is one that I can pull something from. Maybe it’s a race trick, fueling strategy, or maybe it’s something like this where it was a little deeper and meaningful. But that is what makes it awesome, being able to learn from someone else experiences!

  6. Laura, I love this so much. I know that feeling of being terrified after loss- I was so afraid if something like what I went through happened again, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I am so happy that all is going well for you and Brian and baby and I am very excited for a baby Barley!!! :) <3

  7. I have been there too – lost a pregnancy in between the two beautiful children who are with me now. The doctor checked my thyroid at that point and it was all out of whack. I was so angry at my body for failing me and the pregnancy. Took a long time to come to terms with it. Different but similar situation now, after reaching a big running goal in 2014, I had a really miserable 2015 and lost faith in my abilities and my training. After throwing out the watch and spending months trying to let go of expectations, I’m hopeful for better things to come. Congratulations to you!

    1. Sorry for the loss you had previously experience Jen, I definitely can agree with the whole Angry at your body sentiment. We did so much testing and bloodwork after almost hoping to find something like Thyroid so we had an answer, but honestly having one or not having an answer doesn’t change it. It’s still so incredibly hard.

      Having a tough year is only made harder after a breakthrough year, I think taking some time to let go and just run was a great move though and I hope things start to turn around for you. It’s not easy when we aren’t doing what we know we are capable of, hang in there and trust that those breakthroughs are far from over!!

  8. This is so beautiful, and your point about trusting yourself is so true for pretty much anything worthwhile in life. Congratulations!!!!!!