Ever had one of those days where you stop to examine your life and realized you’re not who you want to be or doing what you want to do?
That day came for me on 10-11-12, my 35th birthday.
I’d been looking forward to this birthday for years. It landed on such a cool date and was a milestone year that marked the midway point of my fourth decade of life. My younger self figured that by 35, I would be married with a houseful of kids, making a wealthy living as a famous author and be an Ironman-level athlete who was fit enough to swim, bike and run long distances with ease.
But when the time came for me to look in the mirror and evaluate my reality, I realized what a vastly different life I was living than the one I imagined for myself.
In reality, I’m single, have never been married and thus have no kids.
In reality, I eek out a living working at Starbucks, and the only novel I’ve published didn’t exactly break any sales records.
In reality, I can’t even complete the marathon portion of an Ironman race without mentally and physically falling apart in the latter half of the run.
In reality, my Big Dream score was 0 for 3.
Unacceptable. Unacceptable because I’m capable of so much more than I’ve settled for.
The good news is I haven’t settled when it comes to love and relationships. I’m not looking for a perfect man, just one who’s perfect for me. And I’ll keep looking until I find a man who believes in God, shares my core values and can challenge me to be a better me.
The bad news is that I have settled when it comes to my career and athletic goals. My failures to accomplish my dreams as an Author and Athlete have left me fearful, doubtful and ashamed of myself for missing my goals.
As an Author, I did write and published a novel.
But with my inconsistent and doubt-ridden writing habits, it took me nine years to complete a publishable draft of the book. Then, due to both my inexperience and lack of confidence, I had no effective marketing and sales system in place to promote it, so the book flopped upon its debut in 2008.
It’s still available for sale in online bookstores, but that’s just a constant reminder of my epic failure to live my dreams as a bestselling author and profitable publisher.
As a result, I have been ashamed to tell people about my book and learned to associate me and novel writing with colossal failure.
Believing I was a failure at writing novels left me with little motivation to write. The dream was still alive and burning within me, though, so I kept at it and spent the next four years sporadically fiddling with the sequel to my first book.
I managed to complete a draft but didn’t see the point in continuing with a story that was doomed to fail like its predecessor.
In the meantime, I attempted various forms of writing and even made some money as a freelancer writing sales letters, articles and non-fiction books.
But writing for other people wasn’t my dream.
My dream was to tell and sell stories. I needed to find a way to live that dream.
To give myself practice with storytelling and publishing, I embarked on a mission in January 2012 to write 1000 short stories over the course of the next 20 years and publish the stories on a blog, 1000ShortStories.com.
I discovered I thoroughly enjoyed writing short stories and loved being able to crank out story after story week after week. I wasn’t getting paid a dime for these stories, but for the first time in my life, I began to feel like a real writer and believe my writing dreams were possible.
Yet the dream of publishing a novel and launching that novel to bestseller status still eluded me. So in May 2012, I took a break from short stories to work on my second novel once again.
Only I still associated writing novels with disappointment and failure. I lived with an unspeakable fear of that novel, afraid to follow through with it only to see it flop and me fail again. So after struggling with that story for three months, I finally put it aside.
I was eager to get back to short stories and came up with an idea for a series of longer short stories in a completely different genre than I was used to writing. Instead of being 10-12 pages, these stories would be around 50 pages and would take me three weeks to write instead of one.
That was a brilliant plan, but three weeks has now turned into three months. And at 75 pages, the story is only a quarter of the way finished. This slow progress has frustrated me and left me wondering if I’m ever going to finish.
I would have more confidence in my ability to finish if I could trust me to follow a diligent, disciplined writing system. Only I can’t seem to rely on me to write as much as I plan.
How can I call myself an Author when I don’t write for a set amount of time day after day and finish the stories I start?
And even if I do develop a system that allows me to finish the stories I start, how can I call myself an Author when I fear the marketing and sales process?
My birthday evaluation was starting to depress me.
So I turned my attention to my identity as an Athlete. Here, at least, I have experienced some success in the world of running.
In most of the half-marathon or shorter distance races that I have run, I’ve hit or exceeded my goals. I’ve even taken home a handful of age-group winning trophies.
It’s the mighty marathon that has beaten me in all four of my attempts at those 26.2 miles.
With my unhealthy eating habits and weak mental game, I struggled with the last half of each race and never once finished in the time I set for myself.
The last marathon I completed at Myrtle Beach in 2009 marked my worst performance despite being the easiest course. I realized around mile 16 that I wasn’t going to hit my goal. That realization shattered my spirit and destroyed my willpower to fight through the fatigue and finish strong.
I thus learned to associate marathon running with disappointment and failure. I even promised myself in those last miles that I would never put myself through the 26.2-mile torture again.
Unless I had someone else to train with. Because running with someone else might just create that sense of competition and camaraderie that I needed to drive me forward toward the finish line.
Since I had no running friends at the time I made that personal pledge, I’ve had no reason to face my fear of the marathon.
That changed on Sunday, October 14, days after my disappointing review of myself on my birthday.
Some friends of mine, a married couple whom I’ve been running with over the course of the past year, have been tinkering with the idea of tackling their first marathon. I told them I would run with them if they decided to go through with it.
I didn’t like the idea of training for and running another marathon one little bit and hoped they would never hold me accountable for that promise.
My hopes were dashed when I had a text message waiting for me after work that Sunday night: my friends had signed up for the Myrtle Beach marathon and offered to register me as well before the registration fee increased the next day.
It was too late to reply and get signed up before the midnight deadline. This made me happy. I could use the heftier registration fee as an excuse not to register. It was a perfectly valid excuse since I’m not exactly flush with cash.
But when we chatted the next day, she offered to get me registered and just have me pay her back when I could. I didn’t want to borrow the money, but I also didn’t want to back out of doing something I said I would do. So I told her to go for it.
When she texted later confirming I was registered, my heart sank and a wave of dread washed over me. All I could think was: what have I done?
Not only was I registered for a marathon, I was registered for the Myrtle Beach marathon, the scene of my last and greatest running disaster.
It took me several days to accept my fate. I knew that in order to get through those 26.2 miles on February 16, 2013, I was going to have to spend the next four months in training.
That’ll all I wanted to do—just get through it. I decided I wouldn’t set a time goal for myself and perhaps pace with my friend, who runs a little slower than me. That would give me a reason to not challenge myself. That would protect me from failing to achieve my marathon goal again.
I wanted to help my friends give their best performance, though, so I began researching training plans on Wednesday, October 17.
From my previous marathon efforts, I knew what to expect: running three to five days a week with progressively longer long runs every other week leading up to several 20-milers before race day.
But I didn’t find what I expected. What I found as I surfed through the Runner’s World website excited me, sparked my competitive spirit and made me want to train for this marathon.
It was the “Way of the Renegades” headline that grabbed my attention. I don’t like the idea of conforming, being normal and following the crowd, so if there was a plan out there that would allow me to be different and train in a renegade-type way, that was the plan I wanted to follow.
And the more I read about the renegade plan of the “Hanson brothers,” the more I wanted to adopt it as my training regimen.
Under this plan, I would be running six days a week, including Sundays. That I didn’t much like since I have always taken Sundays off as my day of rest. But since I wanted different results, I was willing to change the way I train and take Tuesdays off instead.
What I did like about the plan was the philosophy of its founders: “Running a marathon is about pace. Our program teaches your body and mind how to run your goal pace, no matter how tired you are.”
Interesting. Before, I just saw the marathon as a distance to be conquered. Now, I was starting to see it as a challenge to teach my body and mind how to run at the pace I wanted it to run over whatever distance I chose.
To do that, I was willing to buy into their “cumulative fatigue” concept and run the high weekly mileage the program demands. I was also willing to put in the effort required to complete the speed workouts, the marathon-pace tempo runs and the long runs.
The consistent, balanced approach between these different types of runs resonated with me, as did the longest long run topping out at a mere 16 miles. Since I hated running those 20-milers in previous training experiences, I loved reading these lines: “There’s nothing magical about a long run of a certain distance. The most important factor is quality total mileage, week in and week out. It’s a formula that holds true for beginners, elites, and everyone in between.”
Now that I had a training plan I could get excited about, I needed a realistic finish time to shoot for. Four hours and twentyeight minutes was my fastest marathon finish time, so I didn’t think I was physically capable of finishing in four hours, my dream goal.
Nevertheless, I plugged that four hour goal into the running calculator on the Runner’s World site just for fun to see what kind of splits I would need to run to achieve that goal.
The numbers the calculator spit back at me caused my heart to skip a beat or two. Because the 5k, 10k and half-marathon split times it showed were almost identical to my 5k, 10k and half-marathon finish times I’ve posted over the last few years.
I was capable of finishing in four hours; my own experience was my proof. To aim for any goal beyond four hours would actually hurt me because I would know I wasn’t pushing myself to be my best.
So at that moment, I decided to invest heart, mind, body and soul into not only completing a marathon but completing it in four hours.
I was suddenly glad my friends had chosen the Myrtle Beach marathon. I needed to face my fears, return to that course and replace my miserable memories of that run with positive ones.
But there was something more important at stake than my identity as a marathon-running Athlete: my identity as a novel-writing Author.
It was easy to see myself running and putting in the disciplined miles necessary to reach my goal because I’ve been a disciplined Athlete for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved practicing just as much as the game-day competition no matter the sport, and this marathon training plan was simply tapping into that passion of mine and helping me rise to a whole new level as an Athlete.
What I found difficult as I sat in my room that Wednesday night was seeing myself putting in the writing hours necessary to achieve my writing goals because I haven’t been a disciplined Author. I’ve had no training plan to follow and no definite goals that I believed in to shoot for.
What I’ve believed is that I am a failure as a novelist. But that’s not true. I just haven’t yet found a way to write and publish a great story, then market it effectively.
And whether I want to admit it or not, my current writing project is a novel. So despite my fears and insecurities surrounding my novel-writing and publishing abilities, I must pursue my goal to write, publish and sell a novel once again.
It just so happens that February 12 (the Tuesday before the marathon) marks the 14 year anniversary of the day I realized my writing dreams were possible; I have thus chosen that day to launch the book I am currently working on.
Excellent! I now had two challenging goals to pursue, and the deadlines for both goals occurred in the same week:
- Author Goal for February 12, 2013: Find a way to write, publish and sell a book.
- Athlete Goal for February 16, 2012: Find a way to finish a marathon in 4:00:00.
Pursuing these goals in two differing life roles simultaneously would help me maintain a balanced lifestyle. Because I know me. If I was just pursuing my bestselling book goal, I am likely to shorten or skip my workouts, indulge in way too much junk food eating and thus experience a steady decline in my overall health and fitness.
If I was just pursuing my four hour marathon goal, I am likely to ignore my writing, run obsessively and thus experience a steady decline in my overall confidence as a writer while remaining stuck in my current enjoyable but less than ideal career role as a barista at Starbucks.
And what better way to keep track of my progress and ensure I maintain that balance than by
creating an Author vs. Athlete Challenge?
I could earn points each day for hitting the respective goals for each role. Because I’ll want the race to achieve my goals to remain competitive and dead even, I won’t want one role to score more points than the other and will have to hit both my Author and Athlete goals each day.
The points would also help me keep track of how well I’m doing in the process of achieving my overall goals and indicate whether or not I’m taking the small, daily actions necessary to accomplish my dreams. I could even blog my progress at BonnieJeanSchaefer.com every day to help keep me accountable.
As eager as I was to start the newly developed contest, I didn’t want to start on a Thursday. So I decided to begin the 17-week Author vs. Athlete Challenge on Monday, October 22, 2012.
To clarify who I was at the starting line, who I wanted to be at the finish line and what I would need to do in order to reach the finish line, I summarized the Challenge in the following way:
Find a way to write, publish and sell a book.
Publication Deadline: February 12, 2013
Starting Line on October 22, 2012
Leap of Faith
I can write, publish and launch a book to bestseller status.
Finish Line Objectives for February 12, 2013
Find a way to finish a marathon in 4:00:00.
Marathon Race Day: February 16, 2013
Starting Line on October 22, 2012
Leap of Faith
I can maintain a strong, steady pace throughout a marathon and finish in four hours.
Finish Line Objectives for February 16, 2013
I’m not sure what the journey to the finish lines hold, but I look forward to becoming a better, stronger, more disciplined me along the way.
Let the battle begin.