In an ideal world all of the training and hard work we do day to day, week to week, and month to month results in a stellar race day performance.
Part of the beauty of running is that oftentimes we get out of it what we put in. But, what happens when race day performance falls short of our expectations?
I found myself in such a position when I had a lackluster performance at the Kaiser Half Marathon in 2006. I had done some very high quality training and felt primed for an excellent race. I was well hydrated, well rested, and felt sharp as I toed the line.
My pacing was spot on for the first few miles, but it became apparent quickly that things were awry for reasons I can't quite comprehend. About four miles in I started to feel a bit fatigued. This was definitely not a good sign and I was disconcerted, but I chose to try to ignore it and soldier on.
My pace dropped a bit for miles 5 and 6. I fought to get back on pace the next few miles. I eventually found myself on the Great Highway at mile 8 and had somehow managed to maintain my target pacing, but my legs just felt shot. Heavy, lethargic, and spent, my pacing dropped precipitously and I realized I was perilously close to the wall....a feeling I had not experienced in any distance shorter than 26.2 miles.
Frustrated, I contemplated packing it in entirely as I knew the stars simply weren't aligning. I finally settled on just gutting out the remainder of the race and treating it as a glorified training run.
While I take some solace in the fact that I exhibited enough mental toughness to finish, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely disappointed with the way things went.
I found myself struggling with the results of this half marathon. I worked so hard...only to come up short. Was my training flawed? Was there something wrong with my diet? Did I do something to piss off the running gods?
Being of an overly analytical bent, numerous questions, doubts, and anxieties swirled about. I found myself in the weeks following this race struggling to motivate for my workouts. 'What was the point of this hard work, if the results aren't there?' I couldn't believe I was thinking this!
I have always been passionate about the sport and I have three pins above my desk from my surgery several years ago that serve as a constant reminder that it is a gift we can run at all!
It was time to do something different. I went down to the Great Highway on a sunny day and just simply ran. I tried to keep my gaze and thoughts fixated on the water, the view, the air, and just being in the moment.
Rather than focusing on maintaining a certain pace, focusing on my stride, thinking of my breathing, I tried to remind myself of exactly WHY I was doing this. I do it for those moments you can barely explain to a non-runner.
I do it for those moments when I feel like a child, when I feel like I'm flying, and when I feel liberated from the stresses and anxieties of daily life.
After this run, it occurred to me that I had been talking about doing yoga for well over six months. Why hadn't I acted on this urge?
I finally signed up and had my first session. I struggled to maintain most of the poses. But, I finished the session, albeit humbled and drenched in sweat.
The next morning I felt some soreness and muscle fatigue from the demands of the previous day's session. But, there was a concurrent strength I felt that wasn't there previously and with it the realization that the path to achieving our goals/dreams isn't always clear and the bumps in the road may act as catalysts for us to pursue things we might not otherwise pursue.
While it's important to get the miles and the workouts in that you need, I think it's equally important to not lose sight of the joy and pleasure running can provide. Losing this would be worse than any lackluster race day performance.
Sometimes making a simple change can make a big difference. Taking an extra day off, introducing (or removing) tempo work, doing some hillwork are all great ways to change things up and get you out of a training related funk.