Monday, May 1, 2017

The Breakup

I hate this post. I’ve tried to write it no fewer than four times. Here’s number five—hopefully the last.

I fired my coach.

There. I said it. Now you know.

Not that I’ve been keeping it a secret, but it feels like a secret. It feels like I did something wrong. Even though I know it wasn’t wrong, it was right . . . and absolutely necessary.

Damn, though, it was hard. It still is.

I’ve never broken up with anyone before. Not a coach, not a boyfriend, no one. So while I’ve watched others do it numerous times, I have never had to experience the process myself: the anger, the sorrow, the paralyzing indecision.

There were just so many factors.

There was the fact that I knew J, my coach, was going through a number of life upheavals, between quitting his job and then moving across the country to a place where he knew virtually no one. I’ve made that move myself. I know how jarring and lonely it can be. Then, there was the fact that I felt frustrated—furious, really—at my own inability to perform: something that, coach or no coach, I knew was still up to me at the end of the day. And finally, there was the fact that J has brought me farther than I ever, in my wildest dreams, imagined I’d come.

Four years ago, I was a 3:21 marathoner. I did no speedwork, took virtually no rest days, had never eaten a Gu, and thought that running around a track sounded “boring and torturous.” Then I met J, who, after meeting me twice and IMing me a handful more times, said to me one day, “I could help you shave six minutes off your half marathon time.” Um, yeah right, I thought at the time, 6 minutes off of 1:30? I doubt it. But I was intrigued, and eventually I decided why not? I could try this coaching thing, and if I hated it, I could just quit.

Fast forward to 2016, the best racing year of my life. I PRed every single distance I raced, from the 5k all the way through the marathon. I broke the tape at my first race ever. And that six-minute promise he made? Well, I’ve dropped that and some, running under 1:20 in May.

That kind of progress is impossible to ignore, and even harder to walk away from. We had a track record together, a proven track record, and there is no chance—I repeat, no chance—that I could have dropped even a fraction of that time on my own.

And yet, coming into 2017, things were just not working. An absence I had felt vaguely throughout the last year became even more pronounced when he moved hundreds of miles away, and no matter how hard I tried to upend the pattern, we just seemed to be going in circles. Running was feeling worse and worse, and I was starting to wonder if this was the end of the road for me. Maybe 2016 was it. Maybe this big dream I had decided on, of chasing an even faster marathon time, was foolish. Maybe I didn’t really want it.

But I did. Deep inside, where we keep the truth protected from everyone and everything, even from ourselves, I did want it. I just didn’t know how to go after it.

I was stuck, and something had to change.

So I wrote, and I thought, and I wrote some more. Hesitantly, I reached out to runners I respected, and talked with coaches who were (and were not) willing to take me on. Eventually, I found someone—a new “J” in fact—who seemed like a good fit. He was local, coached only a handful of athletes, and had very definite, very different ideas about how to train. It wasn’t until we were sitting across each other and I was listening to him describe those ideas that I realized what I really wanted was a complete change. If I was going to make a change, I wanted to go all the way and change not just the coach, but the whole philosophy, too.

So finally, I did it: I had the hard conversation with J1 in person, when he was in town, and the next week I started paying J2. I have no idea if J2 was the “right” coach to choose or not—time will bear that out. But what I do know is that within a week or two, I already felt better. And, no surprise, I’m already running better again, too.

To speak in metaphors, when I look over my shoulder, the path behind me looks unimaginably long . . . it seems impossible that I could have covered such a distance. When I look ahead, I can’t see where this road goes, whether it climbs uphill or swoops down, whether it twists or turns or just keeps going on for endless, endless miles. I can’t see the finish line, but I’m not looking for that yet. Right now, I’m focused on a spot, a few yards ahead, where I can still see the seams in the pavement. I have a plan to get there, and I am going to focus on executing that plan. This is how I will proceed: a few yards at a time, little by little, step by step. Baby steps. But they’re still steps. And they’re moving me forward—exactly where I want to go.

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