On Sunday I ran the Santa Cruz half marathon and even though this was my 11th half, YET AGAIN things didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I plan to write a recap for that race, of course, but I just wanted to vent a bit before that as it occured to me that I haven’t had a really great half marathon race experience since NWM in October 2012 , and before that, Kaiser in February 2012 .
Is it me or is it the half marathon?? I’m thinking a lot from column A, and a little bit from Column B. The half itself, I cannot control- 13.1 is what it is, the course and weather I am, unfortunatley, completely powerless over. Strength of mind, on the other hand, is what has earned me at least those 2 successful halfs and with yet another half in 3 weeks, I must find a way to keep running happy despite what Mother Nature and/or the race organizers throw my way.
So, what IS in my control? Foremost, training. I take my training very seriously and I am committed to doing all the work it takes in order to achieve the best outcome on race day- I run 3-4 times a week, one long run, one hilly and one speedy, and sometimes one slow recovery run, cross and strength train, as well as stretch and roll several times a week.
I’ve been duped by this so many times. If I do the math on my long runs, I can start to guesstimate the time I will finish the race. Then I start focusing on THAT TIME, completely forgetting that every day and every run is different. Training alone on the same course over and over and then racing with thousands in a place you’ve never run before is not at all the same environments so it stands to reason- great training runs do not completely and totally guarantee a great race outcome.
On the other hand, I know that there are ways I can improve my training habits and while that may STILL not give me the outcome I am hoping for, it will give me a slight edge. I know I was a better runner when I incorporated spin class and track. Spin really helps with leg turnover and endurance whereas track increases stamina and speed. I haven’t been to spin in months and the TNT track practice I was able to attend was canceled- as a result, I haven’t been running as easily.
Then there’s the sickness/injury/GI issue trifecta. At Oakland, I ran with a head/chest cold, at Santa Cruz I ran on a twisted ankle, at Big Sur I ran with 3 pinched nerves in my neck, at Divas I was a hungover/puking mess, and at Oakland last year I spent over 10 minutes in the porta potty dealing with runner’s trots (TMI but all TRUTH!). And of course, each race result was adversely effected by each affliction.
When I twisted my ankle on a trail run last weekend, everyone I told was amazed that I was going to run Santa Cruz anyway. When I walked around sneezing and coughing and spitting up mucus, friends were baffled that I planned to run Oakland anyway. When I woke up the morning of the Divas half, still completely drunk from the night before, my teammates questioned my sanity when I said, “Of course I’m still gonna run, duh!”
Why oh why then, do I think I can still have a great race while running in pain? What is up with that??
I really and truly take the cliche “Mind Over Matter” to heart. Running itself, in the best conditions and in perfect health, is hard. Adding in an injury or illness only makes it harder. However, I always try my very best despite how I may feel and I challenge myself to run past the pain. The feeling of dissapointment when I don’t achieve my race goals, though, upsets me for days thereafter because I never excuse myself, “Oh you were injured, it’s okay, you did the best you could.” Rather, “Wow you really screwed that one up!” I admit, I am my own worst critic.
When I PRed at Kaiser , I was happily suprised as a PR wasn’t the goal. When I ran the Nike Women’s half in SF last October, I left my watch at home and ran purely for the joy of it (and the Tiffany’s necklace!) and had The Best Time Ever. Of the 11 halfs I have completed, these 2 have one thing in common- I let go of my expectations, forgot about times and spilts, ignored the mile markers and just ran.
It is obvious to me that I am not really racing the half marathon right now while I can race the 10K and the 5K. I don’t do as many 10Ks/5Ks anymore because I love the challenge of a half, 13 miles is always an adventure whereas 3 & 6 miles are over way too quickly. If I didn’t take the half marathon as seriously, I’m not convinced I would do as well- of my 11 halfs, 10 were under 2:30 and, to me, that is a HUGE accomplishment in the face of adversity! Nevertheless, I still feel like I can do better, try harder, and push even further… running means just that much to me.
I’m trying my best not to let these last 2 halfs get me down. I see every race as an opportunity to rise above and do my best- that will never change. When I don’t do as well as I had hoped and allow my lofty expectations to get in the way of reality, then, I think, I’ve failed. While finishing is winning, finshing well is still my challenge.
When I run my 12th half marathon at the end of this month, I am going to try my hardest to reign in the ego and complete the course in a way that- even if it’s not the fastest- makes me the happiest.
And if I accomplish that, I will have won MY race.
How about you- how do you adjust your mental state when faced with race difficulties (internal and/or external) and you know your time will suffer as a result? Do you have any advice for me on how to let go of my ego and just run for joy? How do you deal with race disappointments?