The Art of Unlearning

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

What seems like forever ago now, on April 21st whilst in London for the marathon, I had the awesome opportunity to be a part of a Women Run Strong panel, hosted by Kelly Roberts and Susie Chan. Over 100 women and a handful of men, joined in for a shake out run and question and answer panel. It was so cool to be part of, so many interesting questions and great connections with people that I might not have had the opportunity to make. Personally, I don't love public speaking, but in the question and answer format, I felt like for the most part, answers came easily and I was able to share my thoughts and experience in a way that I am proud of and possibly was helpful to those at the panel.

There was one question that did hem me up. It was the self-introduction, the question of "who are you?". I awkwardly mumbled something about "I'm a runner, I own a bakery....yep that about sums it up." Thankfully, Susie had mercy on me and bragged a bit on my behalf. I found it to be an interesting moment for me. After such a hard few months with injury, setbacks and personal struggle, the question of self-definition is in fact a hard one. And I realize now, maybe it always has been. After that evening, I realized that I needed to unlearn somethings about identity, self-definition and how confined self-definition can be limiting. And over the last month, I've thought about this a lot.

Before I was in London, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. I had arrived there two weeks prior, hoping that perhaps some time away could help me reset after everything, especially after the month of March. I had hoped I might find some peace, some resolutions and mostly my mojo. I had hoped that I might start picking myself up off the floor of the arena and doing the real rumbling I needed to to get back to myself. Oh, and race one of the biggest and more competitive ultras in the world, Two Oceans. It was going to be that easy, I would just get on a plane and fly about as far as I could away from everything.

But of course, it wasn't. I got off the plane and was met with terrible jet lag, insomnia and face shredding and swiftly descending depression. The earthquake that was my month of March had passed, but I was not prepared for the tsunami of emotion that would come in its wake. It flattened me. One of the major problems I now faced in my mind was one of self-definition and identity as it pertains to racing. Though I don't self-identify as "Devon, the 2:38 marathoner and 14:52 100-miler, etc, etc", when I show up to a big race (like Two Oceans) I don't view myself as "participant", I view myself as a "competitor". And yet, I realized, I was not in a place to race or compete in Oceans. I was not in a place to run a fast marathon in London 8 days later. I was hoping to complete the races, I was hoping to simply not hate every step. I had got on the plane because I simply couldn't bear the month of March, heck all of the preceding 6 months, to cost me a visit back to a place that very much holds my heart. I hadn't thought about the implications of racing until I was nearly toeing the line to do it.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One of the errors I had made was skipping the middle part of recovering from injury. The process should go: get healthy, train, then race. I had gone from get healthy to racing. I had internalized some pressure to get back to racing and cause me to rush once I was back running. And now I was toeing the line with a foot that had broken a month earlier, fitness that was questionable at best and a mind that was trying to wrap itself around the very real possibilities of not just slow times, but struggling to even finish. I was limiting myself by my competitor self, I knew I had to mentally be at peace with every available outcome. And I didn't want to go into the race afraid of any outcomes because I knew I would miss the experience. It would be hard and I would hate it, I would leave myself and I would fail myself, and likely be miserable.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

I didn't want to be miserable in my experience at Oceans or London. And so through a lot of reflection, and a lot more friend time, especially with my lovely friends Kim, Susie, and Nic I started to understand that accepting who I am right now is not a failure. Accepting where I am now and what I am capable of right now, doesn't mean that this is who or what I will be forever. If I run slow now, then I simply ran slow, nothing more. If I run slow now, it doesn't mean anything about what I am capable of in the future and certainly means nothing in the scope of my career. I finally found a way back to my core values that drive who I am as a person: passion, patience, hard work, perseverance, intelligent stubbornness and fight, so much fight. And I realized that those who matter don't mind, and those who mind (how fast I run), don't matter. I am enough, just as I am.With that, I found my mojo, my peace and my perspective.

The two performances that followed made me so proud. Yes, I ran my slowest Two Oceans, but I ran far faster and stronger than I had expected in my wildest dreams. And I recovered so quickly and well, I was shocked how good I felt. I followed up 8 days later with a 2:54 marathon in London. It was hard, I suffered, but I fought and far exceeded the "best case" scenario 3 hr finish that was expected. Most importantly, I discovered a part of myself that is scrappy, unafraid. A part that celebrates how hard I fight for the day I have instead of a time on the clock or a place in the results. Between these two races, I started to redefine myself as "Devon, the warrior" instead of "Devon, the competitor". Yes, I love to compete, but if I am going to race for a long time (I've been doing this for 12 years and hope I get another good 20-30+!), I have to connect with my own journey and my own battle for the finish line above all else. Yes, I can have audacious big goals, but I can also race just for myself and against myself. My wallpaper on my phone currently reads: "You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way" and I believe it.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

I returned home to California invigorated. Mojo found! And started training in earnest for Comrades, which will be held in a weeks time, June 4th here in South Africa. I had a solid 4 weeks of training, averaging over 100 miles per week, but that is by far not the most special part about this training block. To me, the most important part of this training block has been waking up every day and simply doing the best that I can with what I have. Gone is the instinct to compare every run with a former fastest self. Instead, I was finally able to see myself getting stronger each day, feeling better each day. I stopped lambasting myself for not being fast enough, doing enough, being skinny enough, etc and started to see that each day I was doing the work, hitting the milestones I needed to and most of all, enjoying and being excited by the process. This is the first training block, perhaps ever, that I have done, where day in and day out, I've celebrated where I am and what I did do. I've done what I can in a short amount of time, I'm as fit as I could hope to be, and ready to journey and to fight. Whether that means I finish first or last, fast or slow, perfect day or shit hit the fan sideways day, I am ready. To me, who I am truly is the person that stands on the start line, knowing that all I need is within me, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.