Fear of Failure

On New Year's Day, I did what I generally do the first day of the year: I toed the line at the Atlanta Track Club’s Resolution Run.

Powered by smugness that I’d gone to bed by 11 p.m. the night before and had had “only” two cocktails the previous night (oh, and a glass of champagne), I laced up my racing flats, pinned on my bib, raced my heart out--and finished six seconds SLOWER than last year. When I had four hours of sleep and partied to my heart’s content.

This disappointing result led immediately to this internal dialogue: Well, fuck it. I should have just let myself go and had fun last night, since it doesn’t matter anyway. I clearly run better when I don’t care and don’t really stress out or prepare.

Which has generally been true the majority of my running career. I’ve PRed countless races on less than six hours of sleep, fueled primarily by wine and whatever crappy food I’ve had the night before--tacos, pizza, tortilla chips.

And it’s easy to enough excuse the behavior--well, I just ran 10 miles, so I “deserve” a bowl of queso, or a double cheeseburger, or a grandma pie from O4W pizza. Kind of the life, right? I went from a 5:11 marathon debut and back-of-the-pack runner to a Boston Marathon qualifier that regularly finishes on the podium for my age group. I was blessed with exponential returns on running and fitness for five or six years in a row with very few lifestyle changes, save my training.

But the gains are harder to find now. And qualifying for Boston wasn’t a one day endeavor. I pretty much stopped going out for three months. I eliminated histamine triggering food from my diet for six months, including my beloved cheese dip. I got plenty of sleep not just one night, but practically every night.

This isn’t about balance--it’s about being competitive. I take nothing I’ve earned for granted, and I know many are envious at what I have achieved (as I am envious of others who consistently race a minute or more per mile faster than I do, but am slow to adapt their discipline and habits), but I know I am not performing to my potential. I’ve been in such a personal and fitness valley since the BQ last March that honestly, I haven’t cared. Nothing has been motivating enough to change my habits long-term, so it’s no surprise that one night of good sleep and only semi-moderate drinking didn’t produce my desired race result.

And other than executing 90% of my workouts the past two months, I’ve done nothing else to move myself forward with running. I’ve overachieved during training and underachieved during races. I’ve wined and dined my way through Atlanta under the guise of “work,” but honestly, because I could, and I didn’t have the discipline to meal plan, stay at home, and say 'no." And mostly, because I’m afraid. Afraid of what will happen if I truly commit. If I do all the right things and this is it. That I’ve peaked at 40.

That fear has been holding me back. That’s why I’ll stay out late the night before a race and eat crap and drink too much. Because at least then I’ll have something concrete and easy to blame for my failure. And if have a great day, then I feel all the better about myself for toughing it out.

No more. The limbo and the self-doubt and the self-sabotage are exhausting.

Either I need to confront this next phase of training head on--which means more kale than cheese, more water than wine, more 9 p.m. and less 2 a.m., more cross training and less napping--and no more excuses--or I need to stop pretending that I deserve success I haven’t earned.