Planning Reality, or, Planning vs. Reality

As I write this, I look to the last few years and see my running goals laid out behind me in a nice, steady progression.  My goals for the 2012 “Olympic year” were to compete in the US women’s marathon and track & field Olympic Trials.  I had spent the last four years planning this, and I felt stable, confident, in the perfect training location and with the best support structure I needed to be able to perform my best.  As many distance runners or endurance athletes are wont, I held these two race goals tightly; I mused, worried, obsessed, planned and rode waves of excitement, fatigue, anticipation and disappointment along the emotional ride that is a long-term training plan.

I had worked my goals and a shadowy 2-3 year progression for the 2011-2012 year out with my coach, I reached Step 1: Qualify for Marathon Trials at the Eugene Marathon in May 2011, a race in which I felt I floated through 23 miles (and gritted 3.2 miles) to reach a qualifying standard that was easily within my reach.  I had planned on a fall racing season of road races, but that fell through as I found myself busy with the other side of my life: classwork, my PhD comprehensive exams and geologic field work.

The expectations I had for myself regarding the marathon and track Olympic trials got me up on dark mornings when all I wanted was to stay in bed, cheered me as I progressed toward them, and provided constant inspiration and excitement; but they also were harsh company as I struggled with the span of my willpower, mental fortitude, occasional failures to meet steps I had envisioned. In order to spare my husband (and rest of the world) the self-imposed rollercoaster of agony and elation that a training program can sometimes elicit, and to be able to function in the academic world I also love, I try to keep my “running self” separate from my “regular self”!  The benefit of this quasi-split personality is that if I have a bad workout, I still have to go to work, engage my brain, bring up my enthusiasm, and, more often than not, the overall outcome of the day is salvaged.

Rarely do we have a straight road ahead! Photo:

When I finally shook my head clear of the emotional fog (and physical fog of morning sickness!) I realized that this pregnancy was not the End Of All Running Goals, and that having a surprise baby was another way of adding excitement and balance to my life.  As  my mental self tried to make the sharp turn from the bearing of ‘Olympic Trials’ toward ‘Family,’ I realized that while this reorganization of goals in time and space was hard – harder than any long run or workout or high-mileage training week I had ever done – the readjustment was far more valuable and informative to my person, and my personality, than any running workout could be. Through weeks following the Trials, I was able to move from seeing this pregnancy as a lost opportunity to the Grand Opportunity.  I’ll admit to being filled with giddy anticipation and total, giggling excitement of what this year would bring.

In general, I find that having a more free-form training approach (than most professional runners) allows me to be more content with the mesh that is my running and personal life, and allows me to be a better, more consistent, and happier runner, wife, student and person.  I am taking the approach right now that adding a baby to the mix will add even more balance and reality to my life, not to mention, I’ll have another fan to cheer me on at races.  I have learned that no matter how much planning and preparation, goal-setting and careful meting out of energies I partake in, life will always ‘thicken the plot’ in ways that test me in deeply personal ways, and all I can do is to have the best, most positive response ready!

3 thoughts on “Planning Reality, or, Planning vs. Reality

  1. I was pretty bitter when I got pregnant with my third child- and not because I was any Olympic hopeful. I just didn’t want to go through it all again. And I didn’t want to stop running.
    I believe God rewards us for accepting His will for us and finding Joy in trusting Him. I am certain you will see a reward in all of this- that you are seeing one even now. Many wishes for a fantastic motherhood adventure and return to VERY competitive racing.

  2. magdalenadonahue

    Yes, disappointment is a very real emotion – even when surrounded by the truly joyful event of having a child. I know that the positives are just barely coming to bud and already I feel I’m learning so much about how my body works and the amazing mystery that is being pregnant, the community of mothers around me – and around the world, and I’m savoring the kind of ‘blind’ adventure that my husband and I have embarked on: the best version of the unplanned, map-free road trip possible! thanks for your honesty and thoughts 🙂

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