There and Back Again

It has been a long time since I’ve been here on my blog - an entire racing season has gone by and I haven't posted anything. Normally the challenges of a racing season bring me back writing, and last season I actually did start quite a few essays, but didn’t complete any of them. None reached a conclusion. Each one led to confusion. 

When I decided to continue my running career after the Rio Olympics, it was because I finally understood how to appreciate the little victories along the way. There was a newfound joy and contentment in running that had been missing in the past, and I wanted to spend some time truly enjoying being a professional athlete. Furthermore, for many years my prayer has been that God would direct my life and guide me, which gave me the confidence that in continuing to run, there was something good ahead for me in it.

I approached this past indoor season with that confident hope - not expecting anything in particular, but expecting it to be good. My first race was better than expected with a win and a lifetime best in the mile. Someone said to me "Nicole - is this your year??” and I replied “I hope so” with a dream in my heart.

From there my entire season fell apart. I was training hard and struggling in workouts. Sometimes I was the strongest one in the group and sometimes I would drop out. With the prestigious Millrose Mile coming up on my schedule I went into emergency rest mode and tried to regroup in time. On national TV I placed last in a race I had aimed to win, and stepped off the track in complete confusion.

Warming up before the Millrose Games. I had a terrible race.

Warming up before the Millrose Games. I had a terrible race.

In the next few weeks I tried to pull things together but my training was still up and down. During those weeks I also received a few bits of bad news, and suddenly I was at it again: the dreaded emotional spiraling. It was supposed to be a thing of my past, but I recognized it instantly. Want to know who else recognized it? Tony. He’s the only one I allow to see this ugly side of me - the part I feel so ashamed of because I hate my weakness.

Between the bad news and my recent failures on the track, the worst was my own failing to HANDLE IT. I could see, hear, and feel myself spiraling down into a pit of confusion and doubt. When I decided to continue in this career I had not signed up to STRUGGLE. My plan had been to enjoy more years of competition from my new mature grateful and joyful perspective! And yet at the first sign of problems it was as if I were beginning from the beginning. Unable to emotionally handle this wave of difficulty, I felt a total lack of any strength of character. 

Why did I continue running, full of dreams and goals if I had been prepared to retire? Why was the sport still able to hurt me deeply? Why would God lead me further down this path only to humble me with failures - not only on the track but also of character? I felt so small, so uncertain, so sad.

For weeks I had no sense of peace. I was upset and hated being upset. I drifted away from my daily disciplines of scripture reading and memorization and prayer. But the Lord was still close to me. I wasn’t seeking his comfort but he was still answering my lifelong prayer for guidance. He reminded me of this passage, written by a man tormented by some unknown ailment, a “thorn in his flesh:”

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, “my strength is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10

Of course, those words didn’t turn life into rainbows and lollipops. But finally, after weeks of floating along in uncertainty, this was my foothold. It’s weird to say, but I almost felt as if my weakness was worth it just to have God’s power. It was a trade I wanted to make. Although there were no answers, I decided to move forward. By remembering God's faithfulness throughout my life I was able to trust his promise to give me his strength. And by drawing from lessons from my past, I committed to a few weeks of absolutely no self-criticism - there had been enough failures for a while. And I set some goals for the outdoor season. 

One of those goals was a 5000m race, and to prepare for it to the best of my ability. Although my indoor season took a disastrous turn despite my best efforts, I committed to proceed with the expectation that my 5000m would be great. Through seeking advice and with thoughtful, prayerful consideration, my training has been adjusted since the indoor season. But my approach hasn’t changed: I’ve prepared as best as I know how. With the race now just a few days away, I will go to the line with a cherished sense of peace, and a fresh understanding that whatever the result, Christ’s strength will be sufficient for me.

I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
— Psalm 40: 1-2
Nicole SifuentesComment