This May Be The Worst Year You’ve Ever Had
Well, you’re a month into this new year.
The cacophony of self-help goal-setters from just a few weeks ago has since settled into a faint whisper. No rah rahs, no sis boom bahs. The roaring crowd has left the stadium, and it’s just you on the field now, both the offense and the defense.
The good news is that the shitty “2020 vision” puns are done bombarding your feeds; the bad news is that your 2020 vision (sorry) may already be trending towards farsighted, and we’re only one month into this thing.
As runners, we all had grand plans for this year. Most of us still do, and that’s how it should be. We have a clean slate in front of us (maybe a little smudged after the first month), and if we’re running, we’re bettering ourselves in some small way on a continual basis.
But for some of you out there, it turns out that running is a metaphor for life and your grand goals are not following the paint-by-numbers formula the way you’d like. Surprise–life doesn’t look as good as your Instagram feed.
For some of you, this may be a mediocre year. A bad year. Even the worst year you’ve ever had.
Personally, my hopes for 2020 are even higher than they were at the beginning of 2019. This, despite the fact that last year was a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad year.
Let me be clear: 2019 wasn’t the worst year I’ve ever had. Nobody close to me died, my children were healthy, and I made an awesome career change for the better. However, in running terms, the best way to sum up 2019 is that I took my Boston Marathon goal sheet off the fridge sometime in March.
For the entirety of the year, I was hamstrung. Literally. I struggled with high hamstring tendinopathy, a curse of an injury if there ever was one. Think chronic tendonitis at the top of the hamstring, making it difficult to run properly and making sitting down a literal pain in the ass.
Although the injury probably started sooner, the first time I realized it was a month out from my fall 2018 goal marathon. I’m in no way ashamed to admit that I went hard for a Strava segment during a long run based solely on the fact that it was Guy Fieri-themed.
(Before you judge me, have you ever been to Flavortown? ‘Cause if you’ve never been elbow deep in a pile of Parmageddon Wings, then you have no business casting stones.)
While I didn’t feel acute pain at the time, later that day on a 2-hour car ride I noticed that just sitting down was pretty uncomfortable. Almost a year and a half later, it still is.
At that time, I thought I’d just take a few weeks off after my marathon and everything would go back to normal, like every other injury I’ve always had. However, when I resumed running, it was still there in full effect.
Of course, like every runner you’ve ever met, I kept “running through it” because I stubbornly couldn’t let go of my 2019 goals. Even so, I managed to accomplish one of those by finishing my first 50-miler in June. But if I’m being honest with myself, it was a mediocre performance. My training was trash, I suffered through it, and I did nothing to take care of myself before or afterward.
I kept telling myself that somehow I could get through this. But I couldn’t––at least not by my measures. Over time it got to me mentally, especially since my job revolves around running. The dull pain in my glutes became a constant stressor in my life, a low static hum in the background of everything that I did. I researched and read horror stories of this injury lasting for two, five, or even 10 years. Terms like “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy” are testimony enough to its persistence. If I’m being honest, I wish I had broken my leg, because then I’d have a clear-cut plan on getting back.
Because I couldn’t give up on my goals, I didn’t allow myself to focus on truly getting better, which would have saved me months of pain and turmoil.
Instead, I gave up on myself and my running and let the specter of this injury overtake my long-term goals. I half-assed my physical therapy—if I wasn’t seeing progress in a month, I’d say, “Screw it, this isn’t working, I’m just going full-on running.” Which led directly to running jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
All that to say, I thought 2019 was going to be a standout year on a personal level. I’ve only been running for 5 years, so my PR’s were still coming in. I wasn’t ready to give up my goals on account of an injury, but the truth is, I needed to let them go to take care of myself in the long-term.
I think it’s often not said enough because we’re afraid to be perceived as weak or––even worse–– to lose our whole sense of identity, but here it is:
It’s okay to let go.*
Goals are great, but not when you’re wrecking everything in your life with your stubborn insistence on forcing them. I know it’s a cliché, but life happens– especially if you’re alive.
The fact is, none of the gurus who were shouting at you a few weeks ago about “2020 Ways To Crush Your 2020 Goals” know your life.
Maybe your training will be going perfectly, goal paces clicking off until you slip on a patch of ice and throw out your lower back. Your spring marathon will be scrapped, and maybe even your fall marathon as well. You will miss your friends, your community, even just the feeling of being outside.
Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that you’re just a stubborn ass like me, thinking that you don’t have to cross-train or condition and that you can just “run through” the pain. Before you know it, a riptide of mediocrity has trapped you in the same place for the last year.
Whatever the case, I’m willing to bet there’s a good chance that your life is a fucking mess like everyone else on this spinning orb, and that running is the only thing holding it together sometimes and you just have to keep it going and you can’t let it go, you just can’t…
But there will come a time when you need to.
Looking back, I realize I needed to. With a couple kids under the age of three and more of my headspace and calendar space crowded by running, I needed to reset. Doing so allowed me to see things I had missed in my “running bubble.” Like good conversations with my wife (that don’t involve running), or literally just micro stages of my kids’ childhood that slip silently from one frame to another, memories I might not even remember except for the knowing that I was there. The regret level of missing those things is a bit more than missing a long run.
Does all this mean you shouldn’t make goals? Absolutely not. Make them. Dream big, sure. But remember that we are living life—and while running is a beautiful part of that, it should never be what defines you.
Running is a thing, but it really isn’t everything. (Honestly, it’s kind of just a lame attempt at holding onto some remnant of millions of years of our past).
So put your evolutionary nostalgia in the backseat for a second, and make sure the people riding shotgun are the ones you love, and that the person driving is doing okay.
Life isn’t constrained to a year. It’s a rolling of seasons, some lasting longer than others. Keep your hands on the wheel, and you’ll get you to your goals, one way or another.
*(My wife tried to get me to put in a Frozen reference here, but I refuse to do so because that Let It Go song is legitimately terrible.)
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Brilliant, Robbe! Hopefully not prophetic though. Ran the 10K of my life on Jan 4. Felt some achilles pain the next day, but hey, that’s normal right? Have run 3 miles since. Just took Eugene Marathon plan off my refrigerator. So I hope it’s ok if I put this piece up instead. I might need to read it a few more times…
Thanks for reading Bill! Hope you recover quickly.
This piece rings so true with me. I tweaked my hamstring doing one too many 1K intervals. Backed off and hoped for the best for the next month until the 2019 CIM. At mile 8, the hamstring went and I limped another 5 miles debating whether to drop or not. I decided to DNF and avoid surgery. Doctor agreed it was the smart move. I was pretty bummed because it was my first DNF in 50 years of racing. Doing the rehab exercises and running slowly now.
Nice timing. Haven’t run in two weeks, although I have pool run. “Sudden” shin splints or possible stress fracture. Sudden pain caused me to walk home in middle of a run 🙁 It sucks. Going to work on my noodle arms and upper body for awhile. Not sure if trip to walk-in ortho/sports clinic is worth the cost.
Yikes. Yeah, take a break, do some strengthening. Anything to avoid the insane costs of ortho.
I can’t tell you how aggressively this popped into my feed at the right time.
Just before my fall marathon in Nov, I thought something was wrong with my hip. But I’d spent 6 f-ing months running/suffering through a brutally hot summer and I wasn’t about to waste all that effort. Race day, at 13.1 of 26.2, my left leg gave out. I essentially dragged it the second half of the race. Similarly, I figured if I took some time off it would ‘get better on its own’. Nah, brah. Finally I begrudgingly got some recommendations on an ortho, who assigned PT – but after a month of doing physical therapy, the PT believes the true issue is a Labral tear in my hip, something that may need surgery. SURGERY?! I got into Berlin this year! I wanted to qualify for Boston! My running buddy and I signed up for my first 50k in October, and were just talking about 50 milers! And now THIS?! This recent past has been Runner’s Hell. But now I know I’m not alone in this, & maybe I do need to chill out, let it go*, and just reset.
*I promise no Frozen reference intended.
That’s seriously a bummer. I really hope you don’t have to get surgery, but definitely get an MRI. I was recommended to an orthopedic surgeon after an MRI (cause my hamstring was torn), but wanted to give aggressive physical therapy a go first. Turns out that was the right move, as I’m feeling much better and stronger and can run mostly pain-free at this point.
Me. Me. Me. Only my tendonitis started 3 weeks before the 2017 CIM. I still ran it (me, also a stubborn-ass) and probably screwed myself up more as a result, but I’d do it again. Now it’s 2020, I’m finally starting to feel some progress on the tendonitis after a meniscopy last year. I’m hopeful for 2020 and I’m not giving up, but yes, I’m dialing it back, adding in more strength training and enjoying the fact that I CAN run rather than how fast I can run.
Great strategy! Hoping for the best for you.
Just wanted to say how much this resonated with me. I’ve been dealing with high hamstring tendinopathy since September. It has been mis-diagnosed multiple times as ITBS, hamstring strain, patellar tendonitis, and PFPS. I’ve literally told doctors that I’m almost certain it’s this condition, and still gotten those diagnoses. I’ve been feeling like it’s impossible to get on the right path to recovery because of this.
I trained through it and crushed my 2019 goal of a sub-3 marathon, thinking, exactly as you did, that the post-marathon recovery and ease up would erase the injury. It did- for a bit- but now it’s back and more debilitating than it was.
I’m wondering if you found a recovery plan, because I’m all ears at this point. I’ve been working on medial glute strengthening and core strengthening, and have cut down my mileage significantly, but I’m wondering if I should just stop. Running is pretty miserable now, and I want to enjoy it again.
Because it only happens in long-distance runners, most doctors don’t even know about it. A lot of physical therapists don’t either. There’s hardly any research on it, and there’s virtually no consensus on the correct therapy. Email me at rreddinger at bigrunmedia.com and I’ll help you out with what I’ve been doing. I’m feeling almost 90% better at this point, so I’m cautiously optimistic for 2020. I know the hell of it, so I’ll help you in any way I can.
Wow, this hit me hard, but it’s good to know I’m not alone. I took a DNF in my December marathon because I didn’t properly hydrate and ran the first 15 miles too fast, leading to 5 trash miles and calling it at the 20 mile marker. Most embarrassing day of my life, I’d say. Since then I’ve gained 10 pounds and have had a lower back injury from years ago flare back up so 2020 has been off to a rough start. I’ve got a half marathon in March that will hopefully get me back on track going into spring/summer but right now it’s just a weird time.
That’s rough, man. It can get real depressing, real fast. I know we all hate doing it, but aggressively doing strength exercises and foam rolling is huge. Also, maybe see a sports chiropractor as well. Hope you heal fast, my man.
This post really hit home for me, as well! I pulled my hamstring in November, after my mediocre fall marathon performance-probably some signs presented themselves prior to the full pull… but I ignored them! I actually dealt w/ the initial blow quite well and stopped running for 6 weeks to let the hamstring heal, as I’ve pulled 2 quad muscles in the past and know it takes time. However, at the end of December I threw on a compression sleeve and started a walk/run back to it. Things were going fairly well, but I was so disappointed in my SLOW pace! I had to come to terms that I have nothing to prove to anyone as a runner, I need to run for me. However, I just recently started feeling a strange feeling in my glute, running down my hamstring- like a nerve! Not sure what’s going on, but sounds strangely similar to your description in this post. But if that’s the case, I need to breathe and realize this to shall pass. I am a wife, mother of 2, teacher and so much more!
Did you have a crystal ball or something?!
Some have called me a prophet, others just call me a pessimist 🙂