Well, you can probably guess that if I were more excited about my race on Sat, I’d have written about it by now. Let me start with the facts:
Time: 44:44 (5:59 avg)
Place: 6th overall, 1st in age group
I know, it sounds like I should be happy with my placing. I’m okay with it, even though I let two master’s runners outclass me. What I’m not ecstatic about was my pacing. But I’ll get to that in a sec…first off, I’ll just say that it seemed like nothing went right the morning of the race. Out the door late, had to turn around because I forgot something at home, and then arrived at what Google Maps said was the Orangeburg Fine Arts Center but turned out to be the SCSU Fine Arts Center (and not anywhere near the race start). I finally got vectored into the vicinity of the start, only to be told by a runner that the start was “just around the corner.” Sure. 3/4 of a mile later I was practically running race pace looking around frantically for the start when I finally found it. Needless to say, less than 10 min to spare, so I didn’t have time to warm up.
As we lined up at the start, my plan was to try and stay with the local favorite and see how things went. I’d conveniently forgot my two previous 100mile weeks as well as the word “challenging” used in the race terrain description. Yikes…We went through the first mile around 5:20 and not soon after realized I’d left my legs at home with the wife.
To say the rest of the race was a battle was an understatement. It was a severe lesson on mental tenacity and suffering. If I’ve had one consistent struggle throughout my time as an athlete, I have to say it has been my mental game. I tend to have such a negative outlook that when things start going poorly, the negative thoughts really cascade…you should have run a 5k instead..what were you thinking, racing in the middle of 100 mile weeks…these hills are too much…it seemed never-ending.
But, I’m proud to say I resisted the urge to pull over at the water stations and hand out H2O to the other racers…but it was war, man. Every thought was a conscious effort to stay positive. One of my favorites goes like this: If it’s hurting me, it must be killing them. “Them” refers to your competition and it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together, suffering through the same environmental and terrain challenges. Yes, it was a very hilly course. Yes, the humidity was higher than it had been this year. Yes, the pace was grueling. But we were all there struggling with the same things, albeit in our separate ways.
In the end, my splits went 5:22, 5:51, 5:52, 5:45, 6:07, 6:18, 6:30, 2:56. As you can see, I was able to damage control the first four miles, but the last three I was just holding back the tide. After I finished the race, I went for an additional ten miles to make my mileage quota for the day, and chewed things over in the drenching humidity. There were a couple of big lessons, and it’s taken me a few days to figure all of them out. One: you don’t always race expecting to PR on fresh legs. There’s a lot of training value in racing on dead legs, but you must prepare mentally and approach the race appropriately. I was not prepped for this reality. Two: More often than not, races do not go perfectly. The great days, the one where the effort flows and you don’t feel like you’re fighting yourself; those are few and far between. The rest of the days, you’d better prepare your mind to deal with the challenges of suffering. Develop some mental cues, use them in training and when you do so, remind yourself that this is how you might end up coping on race day as well. Trust me – I am well versed in the art of suffering. I’ve had days, weeks even depending on the circumstances, where it was me getting just crushed! And I’ve always come out the other side. I’ve never quit. But my tendency is to then put those experiences behind me instead of filing them away for future use. This applies in life in general as well – you make it through a tough workout, a brutal day in the office, and you just want to put it behind you and move on. It’s normal, I suppose, and you don’t want to make life about constantly reliving all your negative crap. But you then miss out a key opportunity to learn and remember how you adapted and came out stronger for it.
I’ll avoid the “running is a lot like life” fortune cookie cliché. Duh. It’s a part of life, just like a job, running errands, or whatever else. But I will say that this particular run taught me some very valuable lessons I won’t forget as I approach Grandma’s and other challenges in the future.