By, Sara Hall
“If you’re going to be a big dreamer, be ready to experience a lot of disappointment”. This is the line that stood out to me most during the documentary on Ryan recently released online by Flotrack. Often times I feel I spend half of my career rebounding from disappointment and setback and I have come to believe a huge key to success is resiliency. My last blog I wrote about my devastating disappointment at the LA marathon, but since then I was able to rebound and place 20th at the World Cross Country Championships 13 days later, my highest World Cross finish.
I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to compete, as I could still hardly hobble around the day after the race. I had envisioned a much different finish at the marathon, one that would leave me tired but not trashed, much like the majority of Ryan’s marathons. But after praying about it and discussing it with my support team and our US women’s team coach I decided that since my struggles had mainly been muscular, that I was going to do everything I could to get my muscles working again and be able to use the fitness I had worked so hard to build.
I asked my coach Steve to send me a protocol for my new state of “super recovery-mode”. It felt like cramming for a test, and the task was just what my mind needed to rebound emotionally. I’ve found often the best thing to do after a race disappointment is to start looking ahead and get a vision for the future. Of course, you want to assess what went wrong with your team and not just sweep it all under the rug and move on, but you can’t stay there forever. And maybe racing again right away doesn’t make sense, but at least get a vision of where you are headed and what tangible things you can work on to get you there- even if that is taking a vacation! Having vision helps you to not feel so disoriented when this goal you had been so focused on is suddenly gone and without closure.
My recovery cramming included getting in the pool, at first just moving my legs around and doing walking drills, and eventually doing Aqua jogging (land running was out of the question). I iced my legs in the Sacramento River ( perfect 50 degrees), took
Epsom salt baths, wore compression tights and used the Normatec compression boots. I did self massage with all my tools. I took in lots of Muscle Milk and Monster Amino and ate lots of protein, including a large amount right before bed.
One thing on Steve’s list I found interesting was “minimize stress- it has a similarly catabolic effect on your body”. Of course it makes sense, but the reminder made me more motivated to make peace with LA. I am normally very disciplined in staying away from running websites in general and specifically commentary on myself as that is rarely beneficial, but I made an intentional effort to take a break from social media as well, as often you can see more than you want to there without looking for it. Fortunately I have friends and family that love me unconditionally, and I made sure to spend time with them and spend time listening to what God says about me. I believe that when you give your life to God, He redeems everything in your life, and believing this makes me realize that all the hard work leading up to the marathon was not in vain. He will redeem it, even if I haven’t seen how yet. This takes off a huge load of stress and regret.
Eventually my extremely slow and painful runs became less tender, and I was able to do a
short fartlek on grass before flying out for Guiyang, China. I had seen how far I had come in a week, and felt confident I could represent the U.S. well given another week
of recovery. How well was definitely in question, and I won’t say I wasn’t nervous going into the race without knowing what my legs would give me. Because of that, considering the race was at altitude,and after seeing the tough course, I opted to go out more conservative than usual. But I was able to work my way up through the packs well and was excited to feel my leg strength was there when I asked of it. I crossed the line in 20th, elated, and watched anxiously for my teammates to see how we’d fare (we ended up 5th). It is probably the most memorable world championship I have run thus far and I feel incredibly thankful!
No sooner had I enjoyed the post-race afterglow and finally having my legs back under me, ready to get back to work towards track season, that I got hit with another “opportunity” to rebound once again. As soon as I got on the 12 hour flight leaving China, in a completely full economy cabin, I got extremely sick and vomited most of the way. It was some kind of Chinese superbug, as it didn’t pass In the few days that the usual Ethiopian variety I’ve gotten recently, but lasted 10 days until I finally killed it with meds. It was frustrating knowing I was missing precious track preparation time, but I put my head down and grinded on, trying not to compare myself constantly to my pre-sickness self or be rattled by slow times, but focus on doing what I could to get my energy back. Four weeks later, I was rewarded by getting my legs back going in time to finish 2nd at the US 25k championships. Since then I’ve run my second fastest half marathon at RnR
San Diego and my first track 10k at Portland Track Classic, qualifying for the US Championships.
The shiny race performances will eventually fade, but what remains is the character built on the journey of overcoming disappointments and choosing hope again. I hope you will be inspired to not let discouragement keep you knocked down- you never know what opportunities are on the other side if you do what you can to rebound and keep believing!