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Caitlin Comfort Talks About World Half Marathon Championships

Mar 22, 2014

Racing

After all of my years of running along the streets of Illinois, racing through the quiet woods of Wisconsin, and competing on different tracks around the country, I am convinced that I have experienced virtually every emotion across the "emotional spectrum."  I believe that my sport has allowed me to feel everything there is to feel-- happiness, frustration, pain, panic, denial, awe, gratitude, anger, disappointment, concern, relief, excitement, and more. But never, in one week's time, have I so strongly felt every single one of these emotions to a heightened degree. 

After stepping onto the USATF road circuit in September, proudly sporting my Oiselle kit, I quickly found there was no better place for me as a professional distance runner.  The following five months were characterized by hard workouts, consistent mileage, constant improvements, and some great races.  After a third place finish at the USA Half Marathon Championships in January, I was invited to represent Team USA at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 29th. It had always been a dream of mine to proudly display the letters "USA" across my chest while competing in the sport for which I have such passion.  As a result, the phone call I reluctantly made to Jim Estes at USATF on March 16th was both difficult and disheartening.  As much as I tried to fight through it, I had to confront the fact that I had achilles tendonitis at the most inopportune time of my running career. 

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The ten days leading up to that phone call, as I mentioned earlier, felt something like an emotional roller coaster--and I hate roller coasters.  The twice-a-day cross training sessions coupled with the painful physical therapy visits were not only exhausting, but time consuming.  I felt like I was doing everything right, and yet my achilles refused to heal in the small window of time I desperately wanted and needed it to.  One day, I would wake up thrilled to feel no pain at all--optimistic that my injury was getting better.  The next day would be an entirely different story--and negative thoughts began to occupy my mind.  The ups and downs were taking an emotional toll, and my coach, Jim Stintzi, addressed the issue in a text which read, "Get rid of the mental anguish. You can't control it."  He was right. 

Life is filled with highs and lows and twists and turns. There are things that we, as human beings, can control and there are things that we simply have to let run their course.  Every motivated athlete, regardless of their skill level or their end goal, will deal with or has dealt with, a set-back at some point during his or her athletic career.  It is the reaction to the setback that determines the strength and character of that individual.  Some people choose to give up and dwell on what could have been, while other individuals use the emotions they felt during their personal challenges to propel them forward to sweet success.

I have heard others say that it is the struggle which makes those subsequent moments of victory the most gratifying.  After surviving cancer, for example, Serena Burla came back to win the USA Half Marathon Championships--kicking my butt by nearly a minute and a half.  I don't have cancer. I have a squeaky "cheesecurd" sensation in my achilles, and I was throwing a pity party for myself.  It wasn't long ago that I wrote about the importance of "perspective" in athletics and how your sport should never define who you are as a person.  Unfortunately, I lost sight of my own great advice during that emotional and frustrating week. It was only several days ago that I had a runner's epiphany and realized what a tremendous learning experience this has been for me. 

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Although I recognized it before, I am now keenly aware of just how fortunate I am to be part of such an incredible company, surrounded by people who genuinely care about their athletes' physical AND emotional well-being.  The very same day I expressed concern for my injury, Sarah Lesko (Oiselle's team Doc and head of Corporate Development) sent me a physical therapy guide to 100% achilles health.  She continued to check in with me on a regular basis and made sure that I was doing "the little things" that runners so often forget to include in their training.  I quickly realized that if I had done these "little things" from day one, my achilles likely would not have flared up in the first place.  It is better to have learned from my mistakes now, however, than to face a more significant injury further down the road. 

Kristin Metcalf, my team manager, reminded me on several occasions that everyone at HQ was supportive of whatever decision I made with regard to racing at Worlds.  Irrespective of what happened, they were proud of me, and it was reassuring to know that they trusted my instincts and had my back.  As a professional athlete, I understood that it was a big deal for a company to have one of their runners appearing on the World Stage, but I never felt pressure from anyone in Seattle to push through my injury and hobble onto the plane bound for Copenhagen. Based on my discussions with a number of elite runners, both male and female, it appears that this unwavering commitment to, and concern for, the "whole" athlete can be difficult to find among running sponsors.  Kristin Metcalf, Bob and Sarah Lesko, Sally Bergesen--I know that we are separated by nearly 2000 miles, but the support and encouragement I have received from you has been humbling and overwhelming. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the Oiselle family. 

Epilogue: Today was the first day of spring and the sun was shining.  I ran four miles pain free.  Life is good, and I am excited for what the future has in store for me. 

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