It’s been a weird year. It started with a half marathon PR followed by the Olympic Trials Marathon, the biggest race of my career.
Then 2020 took a massive turn as COVID-19 ravaged the world, and destroyed every bit of “normal.” Our collective mood flipped to anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness. With all the uncertainty, upended routines, and canceled plans, here’s how I held onto normal, but mostly how I let it go.
Early on as COVID was on the rise, there was still some (unrealistic) hope that fall races would take place. Though deep down I knew this was highly unlikely, I wanted to look forward to something and have a reason to train. Even without a race in sight, I stuck to my same weekly training structure, though at lower volume and intensity, including midweek speed workouts and Sunday long runs. The goal was to maintain fitness, and ease the transition to training once races returned. However, with the repetitiveness of each week, and no breaks or tapers for races, exacerbated by other stressors in my life, I eventually burned out.
But while everything else around me changed, running was still my constant. My run was the only time of day when things felt normal. It felt like a peaceful oasis surrounded by the dumpster fire that is 2020. I was grateful to breathe fresh air, and to feel free. For that short time, I let go of stress and anxiety; I was distanced from the news and work emails filled with grim and constant reminders of how the world was drastically changing. It was a break from my work, where I try to help others who are struggling, all while trying to hold on myself.
Running was and is the only part of my day that feels like it always has. Races might be postponed, but I am so grateful to have a sport that isn’t cancelled; One that brings me relief and happiness in a world where that seems hard to find.
As a healthcare provider, my work hasn’t stopped. There is no working from home. Our clinic procedures have changed, and I wear PPE all day, but the work I do daily, treating patients, is unchanged. So although working at a hospital has brought significant stress this year, much of my work life has stayed the same. I am also very grateful to still have my job, when others are not so lucky.
I also love time outdoors. Luckily this year, despite cancelled vacation plans, and postponed races, I was able to escape to the wilderness to camp and hike even more than usual. I am very fortunate to live in Colorado, this year more than ever, because wilderness adventures are just a drive away. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, things felt normal and simple. Life in a tent or on a mountain was unchanged. I was off the grid and isolated in the best way possible; No news, social media, or emails. Every trip to the wilderness is a deep, calming breath of fresh air.
But in more ways than not, I’ve had to let go of my ‘normal’ in 2020.
Over the past few years I’ve learned (and am still learning) to be adaptable and positive, in running and in life. Those skills have been essential this year.
As the pandemic worsened and reality set in that life would not return to normal anytime soon, I chose acceptance, and focused on what I could do instead. So I spent 2020 challenging myself in new ways and focusing on things I normally wouldn’t do if I was competing.
I love the wilderness, camping, and hiking, but during race seasons I prioritize my training over other activities. However, this year instead of prioritizing long runs and workouts, I spent most of my free days in the mountains of Colorado. I climbed 12 fourteeners (peaks above 14,000ft) over the past 5 months, (22 total so far) and have plans for more. All but one were solo adventures. I camped the night before each climb, finding peace and silence in the wilderness, sleeping under a blanket of stars, and gazing in awe at the Milky Way. I ventured outside my comfort zone, climbing class 3 mountains which required new gear and new skills. I pushed on through fear, harnessed my adrenaline and nerves, and did things I had never done (carefully of course).
One mountain (Mt. Antero) was exceptionally long at 15.5 miles round trip, so instead of hiking, I decided running would be more efficient. Yep, I decided to run 15 miles up a mountain 14,000ft high. I learned a few things that day, and for several miles I regretted my decision. But I made it to the summit, and demolished my quads on the way down. I learned that I can do hard things. And just for a day, I was one of those trail runners who I onced called crazy.
In April as the country started to lock down, our clinic closed and I was furloughed. It allowed me to visit my family back in MN, and stay longer than I will ever be able to again. I cherished the time with family, and our dogs. It was a welcome silver lining to my upended routine.
While I was home, with no obligations or schedule, I decided to tackle a new goal. If there was ever a time to attempt 100 miles, this was it. With my typical work schedule and training, it’s just not doable. So for one week I ran twice a day every day, exhausting myself physically and mentally. On my final run through the rain, my GPS beeped for the hundredth mile and I just smiled. There was no finish line, no award, no incentive. Just the self-satisfaction of accomplishing a goal and doing something I had never done.
When I resumed work in the clinic, our routine had changed completely with new schedules and protocols in place. I took on more roles, aside from my job as a healthcare provider. I treat some of the most complex patients in Denver, and now my patients had even more challenges--mentally, emotionally, financially, and socially. The daily toll of trying to help others, while also trying to manage my own stress and anxiety during a pandemic broke me. It’s like treading water, barely keeping your head above the waves, while trying to save the person drowning next to you.
There were moments this year when I watched other elites training as if nothing had changed, and finding ways to race or run PRs. Some asked what was next for me. And my honest response was: nothing, for now. Although I miss my sport deeply--I miss competing and the daily grind of training toward a concrete goal--there are bigger things that need attention right now. And sometimes it's all I can do to just get through the day and go for a run.
So adding the demands of training would, and has, sent my body over the edge. Stress is stress no matter where it comes from, and this year there’s extra to go around. I’ve been burned out, and I don’t have the ability to train and rest when I want. There were times this year when I felt like I was just holding on. And that’s okay.
Wherever you are this year--mentally, physically, emotionally--it’s okay.
My priorities changed in 2020, and I had to let go of the goals I had set for the year and redirect my focus. I could mourn my losses, or I could let go and pivot to something else. I challenged myself in new ways, and had the opportunity to do things that I normally wouldn’t have pursued. And I have some good memories from 2020 as a result.
Silver linings are hard to see in darkness. Sometimes you have to look really hard.
And sometimes you just have to create them for yourself.
“If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward.” - John Wooden