How to Conquer Something You're Totally Unprepared For

This past Sunday I ran the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. It was super challenging, in part because of the unexpected heat, but mostly because I had barely trained. 

I signed up for the race this fall because I wanted to have a goal to work toward and something to look forward to. I have a long history with running--distance running in particular. I've run two full marathons and countless half marathons. So I knew that despite my sporadic, half-assed training, I'd be able to get the job done. Muscle memory, years of exercising my willpower, and the quiet confidence that comes from knowing I've done it many times before would all pull me along.

In December I started running again after a months-long hiatus. It felt good to be back at it. I felt empowered, excited, and humbled all at once. I was diligent about running for one solid month. Then sometime after Christmas and the new year, I slacked off big time. Other activities and responsibilities began taking up my time and I stopped making running a priority, until one day I was so far from my goal fitness level and so close to the race that I just stopped caring. 

I knew I wasn't going to back out of the race, but I also knew it was too late to cram three months worth of training into two weeks. In the interest of saving myself a ton of guilt and stress, I let it go. I embraced the fact that I was wholly unprepared and I went for it anyway. The last five miles of the race were grueling, but I kept a good attitude and persevered. A couple days later, I'm still so glad I did it, despite it not turning out like I initially imagined. 

Cliché though it may be, I find running to be a perfect metaphor for the struggles and joys of life. Here’s what this race taught me about how to jump headfirst into something you’re not prepared for. 

Focus on what you can control. 

There was only so much I could control going in to the race. I couldn't control the fact that I hadn't developed the speed or endurance I hoped to have, nor could I control the particular elements of the race day and how my body would respond to the course. 

So I focused my energy on controlling what I could. I tried to eat nourishing, protein-rich foods the couple days before my race, I drank enough water to require a trip to the bathroom every twenty-five minutes, I got plenty of sleep, I meditated, and I channeled my nervousness into excitement. I let myself focus on the little things—picking out the perfect race day outfit, laying out my socks and shoes, setting aside the jar of almond butter for breakfast in the morning, reading inspirational quotes about running to psyche myself up. Everything else, I did my best to let go of. 

Forget the what ifs. 

I'm a big "what if" kind of girl, but for this particular occasion, I had to crush the urge to speculate about things I had no idea about. It would have been easy to go down the rabbit hole of unfounded fear, asking myself questions like, "What if my legs give out at mile six and turn to jelly like they do in my dreams?" Or "What if I go so slow and look so pathetic that I get the dreaded pity clap?" There was no point in worrying about these things happening because even if they did happen, I still wouldn't have been prepared to deal with them. I'd figure it out in the moment. That's all you can ever do. 

Forgive yourself for what you did or didn't do. 

A dangerous cousin to the what ifs, the "woulda shoulda couldas" are just as deadly and perhaps even more annoying because they're usually spoken aloud to a friend or family member, rather than kept running on a silent loop in your mind. 

I wish I would have trained more. I should have run five times a week like I promised myself I would. If I just stuck to it, I could have run so much faster and probably even PRed.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, all of that would have been lovely, but it didn't happen. It's not reality. I have to remind myself of this all the time. If only... but no. It is what it is. I could have piled on the guilt for not doing what I originally wanted to, or surrendered to my sadness, or believed I was a loser. 

Instead I chose to offer myself grace. I forgave myself for not following the plan I laid out in my head, then I moved on. 

Embrace the moment. 

Do what you can with what you have. And then learn something from it. The night before the race, I started to think of those 13.1 miles as an opportunity to test my willpower and grit. It was an occasion to push myself just because I felt like it. It was a chance to do what I love and to remember why I love it (because it makes me feel alive). It was an opportunity to feel proud of myself. And once I really thought about it, I realized all those things were more than enough. 

Let go and go for it. 

Let go of the fear and the doubt and the guilt and the stress and the self-imposed pressure and the opinions of others. Let everything go. Then go for it with your whole heart and don’t look back. 

The only (somewhat decent) photo of the day. 

Anyone else have stories of diving headfirst into situations you're not prepared for? Job interviews, parenthood, work assignments, relationships, etc.? Would love to hear. 

(Top photo of my gorgeous friend Charlotte at Montaña de Oro State Park)

P.S. An open letter to my high school cross-country coach.