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Correct and redirect

Starting out without starting over.

You never know when some tidbit of wisdom is going to drop into your life. Often the most salient advice comes when you least expect it. Like when getting a haircut.

I've always had issues with my hair. As a kid, when I went to the barber it was a matter of sitting in a chair while this giant man with clippers ground away at my head. It ranked second only to going to the dentist as a frightening, helpless experience.

Of course, there are no barbers anymore. At least none that I can find. So, I've started going to hairstylists, even though most feel compelled to do unspeakable things to my hair in the name of fashion. Enter Jeffrey. The first time I sat in his chair, I explained that I really didn't want a fancy hairstyle. I just wanted something that I could shampoo and leave alone. "No problem," he said. "But first we'll have to correct and redirect."

Correct and redirect? How brilliant! How often in my running life could I have used Jeffrey's advice and spared myself pain - both physical and mental? My mind was going a hundred miles an hour. I almost forgot what he was doing to my hair.

I can't even count the number of times I've gotten deep into a marathon training program, only to have life intervene. I'd have to skip a long run. Then I'd miss a speed workout. Finally, I'd need to take a few more days off for one reason or another.

In the old days, I'd push through - just carry on with the program no matter what. And as often as not, I'd end up injured and discouraged. Now, I correct and redirect. I don't just ignore the missed days. I openly acknowledge the fact that my running doesn't always control my life. Sometimes, my life controls my running.

Last May, for example, I started training for the Chicago Marathon. At the time, it sounded like a good idea to try to run it in five hours, just as I had in 1999. Then, while training in August, I took one wrong step and sprained my back.

Sure, my immediate reaction was to forge ahead with my plan. In fact, my first question to the doctor - before he had even pulled the needle from my back - was when could I get back to training. His puzzled expression said it all: My five-hour marathon plan needed to be adjusted. By race day I had decided on a walking/running tour of the city with my friend from New Zealand. We finished in a little over six hours. Perfect.

Correct and redirect. Make the adjustment. How easy is that? I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to learn this simple lesson, or why I was ever convinced that a training plan that makes sense today will still make sense six months from now.

There is a balance, to be sure. Running requires a certain degree of dedication and discipline to achieve your goals. You need the persistence to work through the discouragement and setbacks you'll inevitably encounter.

But you also have to be honest with yourself. You have to be able to admit when things aren't working and that no amount of willpower or tenacity will change the outcome. And you have to be able to acknowledge that sometimes - through no fault of your own - even the best plan is the wrong plan.

Waddle on, friends.

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