Tuesday, October 30

The challenge of perceived failure

I've been lucky with running so far. I've had good races, finishing in the middle of my age group, the middle of my gender, the middle of the pack of runners. It was nice to feel average especially since I only started running a year ago. Average felt like a real accomplishment. I've never kidded myself into thinking that I could win any of these races--I'm not an elite runner, like these awesome people who have wheels for legs and have been running since they were potty trained. My goal with every race is, as I've said before, to finish.

Well, it seems that just finishing races was enough for me until I started falling towards the back of the pack. Last Saturday's trail race put me in the last 5% of runners. I was happy to finish, but I was feeling bad about my performance. I bucked up and told myself that I was going to run that course two more times and that now I had a time to beat. Yeah. And I am going to beat it... But this Saturday I think I mentally put myself behind the eight ball before I got to the start line and I held myself there throughout the race.

I felt like the race could've been better organized. I'm not usually one to complain about venues or parking for races, but this was a little inconvenient. My boyfriend and I arrived at the park, parked the car where we were told to, and started walking towards the ice rink. When I realized it was about 15 minutes until the race started, I started jogging. I caught up with a few other runners who were having the same problem. We realized as we got closer to the ice rink that we had just jogged about two miles from where we parked.

Here I am as Fitness Barbie.
I got inside, picked up my bib and packet, and hurriedly prepped for the race--pin the bib, tie on the chip, secure the iPod, tie the shoes comfortably. My boyfriend handed me my water bottle, snapped a picture of me in my costume, and I rushed to the start line. I was already tired and feeling a little defeated. I kept wondering what I had missed in the race information about parking and the race start. I felt like it was my fault, even though there were others with the same problem.

The gun went off and we began to climb the first hill. The tagline for this race is "The first hill's a killer." They aren't kidding. I've never run up such a steep incline. Chalk it up to inexperience. I trotted up as long as I could handle and then walked. And walked. The hill just kept going. It felt like it should've been half of the race, for as much effort as it took to scale. I joked with one of the other runners that I had forgotten my rappelling gear.

After that hill, a brief reprieve, then another. And another. Even though these subsequent hills were smaller, they felt gratuitous and cruel. By this point, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and I knew I was in the back 10% without a question. I felt even more defeated.

I trudged along. When I saw the mile markers, they felt like lies. Surely I had run farther than that. I thought about quitting. I was having trouble breathing, my asthma inhaler felt completely useless, and it seemed like my chest couldn't expand enough to take in the air that I craved.

I'm pretty easy to spot in all that pink... I also appear to
dwarf everyone else in the photo.
I wasn't having fun anymore. I was plodding along for the sake of keeping up with other people, trying not to be last, feeling bad for myself because I felt so unqualified to run this race. I was embarrassed when, in the last mile and a half, the police officer at the barricade told me I could to it and I asked where the finish line was. He pointed and I swore aloud. I stopped running and walked till the finish line was a straight shot and pushed myself to jog across the finish line. My boyfriend was there and took a few pictures. I look angry.

Now that it's been a few days since that race, I've had some time to reflect. I'm not going to get all Pollyanna and say that I've learned so much from this experience, blah, blah, blah, but I have learned a few things.
  1. Plan the pre-race stuff better. Parking, bib pickup, and start line location should not be something I'm figuring out on race day. I *thought* I had this figured out for this race, but I should've confirmed this with a map or a phone call to the race organizers. Getting to the start line should not be a gauntlet in itself.
  2. If possible, run the course before the race. This probably wouldn't have been possible for this race, but the second best option would've been to talk to others who have run it and find out what it's like from them so I am a little better prepared for its challenges.
  3. Get out of my head. This is something I'm getting better at elsewhere in my life, but until this point I had felt like coaching myself through a run was helpful... not this time. My inner coach took on a menacing tone and basically berated me for most of the race. That is not helpful. Instead, I need to be mindful of my surroundings, my body, and my goal.
  4. Finish. Just finish. I keep telling myself that my goal is always to just finish, but that wasn't true on Saturday. I did finish, but that wasn't enough. IT IS enough. I did it. I am becoming okay with that. It wasn't my best race (in fact, it was my worst to date), but I still finished. I did NOT give up and quit, even though I felt like quitting several times throughout the race.
That is one ticked off Barbie. 1:15 was only 7 minutes on to
my first 10K time (1:08), but I was really upset.
I also need to work on my asthma maintenance, nutrition, performance apparel selection, and hydration (since I was praying for water stops that simply weren't there). But those will take more time and research. The list above is stuff I can and should do immediately.

The mental run is just as challenging, if not more so, than the physical run. To this point, I have been training my body. Now, I've found, it's time to begin training my mind to match.

Any suggestions? How do you stay focused or positive during a race? How do you avoid feeling defeated?

1 comment:

  1. Hey Karissa,

    Good job with the race and for not giving up and for finishing. I heard from somewhere that running is one of the few sports out there where age doesn't determine one's speed. One could be as fast or faster when one is 35 or 18. Running can become a mental challenge as well as a physical one (thus sometimes it's easy to psyche one's self up). I had a similar race where there were a few hills and every bend/twist of the road, I hoped to see the finish line so I could sprint to the end. I was so glad when it did end. I didn't beat the previous record I had (from the prior race), but then again the prior race didn't have as much hills so I knew my time would be different... those are all good plans especially trying to run the course prior to the race (so you now how to approach/prep yourself for the hill and use the momentum from the hill etc. and aslo to pace yourself)... sometimes the way I stay focused and positive during a race is by thinking of a delicious food I'll reward myself for finishing, for me, I'll start daydreaming about dessert... also maybe about new running apparel, like under armour brand (it's pricey but a good investment- I've been using the same running top and pants for a year now and they still feel and fit like they're brand new. Your running stories are reminding me about the fun in running a challenging race or for training. Good luck with your running! :)


Talk to me! Leave a comment and let's chat.