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No Guarantees

You would think that after 14 years of doing something, you’d have it pretty dialed. Yet somehow I still find myself reflecting on days, sessions and events, coming to realizations I’ve not yet stumbled upon. We never have it all figured out. None of us, ever. That is a part of life. It may be a frustrating part, but it’s a very important part and I believe an essential part to constant self-improvement.

This past weekend I tackled the San Antonio Half Marathon. I won’t lie; I wanted to run sub-1:15, the Olympic Trials standard. While the training had been brief (about 5 weeks, with a 1-week layoff due to a tweaked lower back) much of it had been very solid. I tackled a few workouts where I surpassed the goal; always a good feeling. One workout entailed 5×1 mile intervals (goal of 5:15-5:25) whereby I managed to come through in 5:13-5:19. They felt amazing. Even running 5-6 days a week (quite a bit for me), my running legs felt strong and zippy; less fatigued from all the ‘other stuff’ (cycling and swimming). I was optimistic that 5:43 pace was completely within reach. I’ll admit, a part of me felt like it may be a stretch; I’m not sure why, maybe the lack of tempo runs (3-5 miles sustaining goal pace) or the back tweakage. But, I figured go for it…I never like to miss an opportunity and I never want to wonder “what could I have done?”. I figured, what is the worst that can happen? I run a 1:16:xx and I’m a little off, but still a good training day. I had a chance to run with the Big Girls (read: famous, professional runners) and I was excited to mix it up and see what I could do. That is one part of racing I love; we never know what our bodies will give us on race day. Little did I know, my body had a big surprise in store for me.

The morning dawned an ideal day; clear skies, upper 40’s, ideal weather for fast running. I stomached some oatmeal, half a banana and coffee a few hours prior and jogged a few miles over to the start, doing 4×90 second build efforts/openers. The legs felt good; not great, but good. Soon enough the gun shot and we were off. I took it out at what felt strong, but not too hard. Mile 1: 5:52. Ouch. About 10 seconds off the goal pace. At this point, I tried to pick it up a notch, to figure out if I had just started too conservatively or if I was really at the pace I was going to settle in at today. Mile 2 I rolled through in about a 5:50. Still off. In hindsight, I probably let my head get the best of me at this point, thinking “If this is what you’ve got today, you’re way off the mark.” Lesson learned; that self-talk did not do me any favors. I came through 5k in just over 18 minutes, and it just felt strained. I rolled through 4 miles and I began to walk. It was time for a quick gut check. I told myself “You walk now, you’ve got 8+ miles to get back to your hotel. And you’ll get there on your own two feet because you’re fine. You are just not running as fast as you’d like.” Soon after, I began to run again. I relaxed, stopped looking at my watch, and I just ran. I hit the hills mid-course; they were tough, but I kept pushing. I enjoyed the downhills (kind of). I eventually caught a girl I had been running with prior to The Walk, and the joy of running started to come back to me. I’m fairly certain I even put in one or two miles pretty fast (I’ll admit, I looked at my watch again) but by Miles 10-11, the body started to crumble again. I popped a gel and kept on moving. I saw another girl who had been ahead of me the entire race pull off to the side and start to walk at Mile 11. It was that reminder… we all have these days. The final 2 miles; they hurt. They hurt like hell. They were not fast, but I was moving, I was still racing, and I was finishing.

Despite feeling terrible, I have to admit; Rock n Roll San Antonio does an amazing job with the finish. Bruce Springsteen was serenading me with “Born to Run” as I entered the final stretch. I tried to enjoy the last push, because even though I was disappointed, I was running. Some days, we have to remember; being out there doing it, some days, that’s enough.

I walked through the finish and proceeded, without stopping once, to walk the 1 hour back to my hotel (I got a little lost; it was a long 3 miles). I had no phone, and I knew nobody; which was actually nice. I needed to be alone with my own thoughts for an hour. I felt sorry for myself a bit; I will admit, my ego hurt. I went out there thinking I could run a fast race and I got mightily bitch-slapped. I later talked to my husband Derick (and coach) and he didn’t seem too fazed. He told me that I needed this; a good, hard, 13 mile run; fast or not, it was just one race. Drive home to Austin, put it behind me, and move forward. Logic – it’s a wonderful thing.

I tend to internalize things a bit too much. But I realize, the reason that this race hurt me (emotionally) was because I put not only hard work but passion and heart into it each time I step up to race. But we all have ‘off’ days. It’s what we do with them that matters. I thought about the training I had done, my expectations, and what happens next. I realized that just because I had banged out a few stellar workouts, and just because “I’ve done it before”…didn’t guarantee in the slightest that I’d do it again. If there are no guarantees in life, then there sure as hell aren’t any in sport. Sport reveals us entirely; the good and the bad. We know this; but it’s good to be reminded.

So I ruminated for a few hours, then I chose to move on. I chose to Accept; this is me! I’m strong, imperfect, driven, fumbling, and honest. But I own myself. I’m proud of myself. Because there is only one of me in the entire world. Relish in this. Perfection is fleeting and unrealistic; success is relative. The race we work years for? It shouldn’t come to us easily. We have to work for it. Be imperfect, but be dedicated, persistent, and true to yourself. If we do this, then there’s always another opportunity just around the corner.

2 replies on “No Guarantees”

Raw, honest, real. That’s you Kelly. Always enjoy reading your posts. Keep your head up. enjoy some time off and get ready for next year. You will com out stronger than ever.

Though we share a very similar name, our journeys are quite different. I am older than middle-aged dirt, and all too often lazier than I should be. I’ve let some physical issues (an accident where I almost lost my leg, and the surgeries since) discourage me. A job loss two years ago gave me too much free time, and I filled that space with TV & junk food… it took me 6 months to get out of the starting blocks. And so, though the only thing where we are quite similar is our name, I can still fully relate to your article.

I am a freelance photographer. Most days the work is routine…. portraits, primarily. Some photo shoots are unusual or more complicated than others. That might be because of the environment or lighting, other times because of the subjects in front of my camera, sometimes the moms’ chastising those in front of my lens!

Invariably, just when I think I have a particular location or type of shoot figured out, a monkey wrench enters the scene and I scramble to make it all work. Sometimes it just doesn’t. And then the negative self-talk begins… (I’ll keep that conversation private but it is loaded with doubt and discouragement.)

Sometimes – God blesses me with ‘accidents’, candid moments and CRAZY circumstances that bring amazing results from situations that seemed doomed from the get-go. I enjoy those and recognize how rare such moments can be, and use them as fuel to try the next gig that seems like too big a stretch!

On the discouraging days, I’ve learned to get outside myself. I connect with a mentor or peer whose work I admire, or tune into a workshop online and like a sponge – pause to soak it all in, and learn a bit more… aiming to be even better the next time. I volunteer and give back, twice spending time in Kenya during the past three years. All of these actions have begun to make the difference and I hear less of my own doubt as the non-verbal white-noise in my head. I smiled during one of my recent photo shoots, recognizing that the new ‘soundtrack’ in my head is tips replaying in my mind, and client KUDOS and praises – rather than my old self-criticisms.

Thank you for your transparency. It is nice to know even those with a great deal of success don’t have it all “dialed in”, all the time.

I appreciate this post and will continue to cheer you on from California. I couldn’t be more proud of someone named Kelly H. Williamson

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