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Pilk’s Points: Facing A Runner’s Identity Crisis

Caitlyn Pilkington writes about three changes she made in her running life that gave her a new perspective.

Caitlyn Pilkington writes about three changes she made in her running life that gave her a new perspective.

One might say I’ve been going through an identity crisis—the kind that competitors suffer from when they start training and racing for something other than themselves.

At one point in the last months, I woke up in the morning, stared at the clock, rolled back over and fell back asleep. Sounds amazing, right? Extra hours of sleep are few and far between lately, mostly because I got myself on this unnecessary schedule of rising at 5 a.m. to do some form of endurance activity. But on that particular morning, there wasn’t a muscle in my body or will in my brain that wanted to run.

What the hell is wrong with me? I always want to run. I go to bed because I get to rise the next morning and run that 6-miler.

I started to mentally retrace my steps. I’d been running and swimming solid for two months prior, injury-free and totally focused on sweating and going harder the next time. My diet had fallen into a routine pattern, and my pants fit like I was in high school again. The two-pack had some new neighbors, and beer seemed less and less appealing every day (maybe that was the problem!).

Between my weakening desire to scarf down In-n-Out burgers on a weekly basis and my increased intake of veggies in every color, I couldn’t see where this sudden lack of motivation was coming from. Everything seemed to be going the way it should go—but was it going the way I wanted it to go? And as I headed out the door later that morning—now feeling the antsy after-effects of not running—I made three surprising decisions that totally changed my perspective on running, why I do it and what it means, to me, to be both a runner and a human being.

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1. I quit my half Ironman.

Before you raise your eyebrows and express your shock (or disappointement) about me actually quitting something, let’s get one thing straight: I have the utmost respect for my 20+ friends who are tackling their first 70.3s in October. That group is so solid in their training, and every single one of them is going to cross that line with a fist in the air.

That said, I absolutely hate taking time away from running. I partly signed up out of peer pressure, partly to prove something to … well, really no one important. I succumbed to the self-imposed pressure due to the nature of my job and who I surround myself with—you have to be bigger, better, faster. And after battling a score of injuries over the last umpteenth years, I’m finally reaching a strong, confident stride that’s just barely scratching the surface of my real potential as I enter my late 20s.

While the decision to throw in the towel on something I committed to long ago was far from easy and emotionless, I run with a smile on my face and a huge weight removed from my shoulders.

2. I forfeited the Triple Crown.

Yes, after PRing at Carlsbad and suffering through the La Jolla Half Marathon just to check one more box toward the coveted San Diego Triple Crown medal, I forfeited the third race that completes the trifecta. (Note: This third race stands as my favorite half marathon, having completed it three years ago on a whim and totally flirting with my PR in a big way.)

Why? Because there’s something more important happening in my life; it just took a few days to really realize its importance over that race.

When I set my sights on a particular race with a specific goal (1:35), it’s hard to pull me out of that tunnel vision. But if running has taught me anything during the last few months, it’s that it will always be there. The race will always be there. The PR pursuit will never die, and my drive to knock a few more minutes off that 13.1-mile time certainly isn’t diminishing anytime soon. If someone shows me there’s a life worth exploring outside of my race schedule, I’m going to get on a plane, fly across the country, and meet his crazy family.

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3. I decided to run a marathon.

Let me start by calling out my colleagues Mario Fraioli and Brian Metzler and publicly thank them for the “friendly” encouragement they bestowed upon me following Meb Keflezighi’s tremendous win in Boston. I personally think it’s not a coincidence that Meb now writes a monthly column for Competitor magazine and has an office 20 steps away from me. I think the whole thing was an underground operation to get me to Beantown (haha)—and I totally took the bait.

But seriously, I’ve slowed the runs to get my competitive mind used to the idea of training longer and slower to build up mileage. It’s always a question mark—the dusty emotions that might arise during those grueling long runs, but the time has to come to dig them up and have them chase me—I hope they can keep up with the 3:30 BQ time I plan on running in 2015.

Some of my non-running friends were far from understanding how these seemingly simple decisions were able to rock my world in the last few months. I guess a runner is a rare breed of human; too often we let running be our own defining quality. I am a runner, true, but I’m also a writer, girlfriend, daughter, oldest sister, colitis patient, Charles Schulz fan girl, In-n-Out consumer and a total weirdo. And those are all just as awesome.

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