written by a fellow Rogue
As I sit on my couch at home, I feel a little bit like Humpty Dumpty—broken and trying to put the pieces back together again. Yesterday I toed the line at the Dallas Marathon and yielded a less than favorable result. “Less than favorable” is a really nice way of saying it and for the safety of all of those reading at work, I’ll refrain from utilizing phrases that might more accurately describe what occurred on that fateful day.
“What’s with all the wordy melodrama?” you might ask. Well, on the heels of the RAC’s success at the Cross National Championships, I wanted to share the other side of racing—the bitterness of defeat. But wait, don’t leave just yet. I promise to outline the silver linings within defeat.
The Dallas Marathon was my fourth marathon and I arrived in Dallas having completed a wildly successful and difficult training season with John Schrup and Team Rogue. I was confident a PR was in hand. I was going to punch this marathon right where it hurt most. Sure, it’ll punch back but my training made me strong enough to endure it. I really wanted to impress my teammates, coach and girlfriend. I wanted that, “wow, he did what?!” kind of reaction. I definitely got that reaction; just not the exact tone I wanted. Going into the race I had heard the weather might be a bit dicey this year, but I consulted with a good friend and nutritionist about developing a race fuel plan that might mitigate the impact of warmer, more humid conditions. The weather was not going to dissuade me from my attempt at a PR (or so I thought Saturday night). I took all the necessary precautions; I didn’t change anything from my 6-months of training—same pre-long run dinner, same breakfast, same ridiculously short shorts.
Race morning felt more like a nice summer morning in Austin—near 70 degrees and damn near 100% humidity. Surrounding runners in the corral began to discuss how poor the weather was. Was I going to relax my goal now? Nope. I decided to go the first 3 – 6 miles at MGP and see how I felt; if the effort was too much, I’d back off for a few miles then make another push. After the mile 1 my effort was more like HMP and my singlet looked like I was auditioning for a role in Magic Mike (here’s looking at you Marc B and Anuj). Nevertheless I continued with my plan. I had foolishly hoped the effort might begin to feel easier as I warmed up, but sadly it didn’t. At mile 6 I came to the hororring realization that any hope of my PR was gone. In fact, just finishing was going to require a monumental effort mentally. Once your goal vanishes as quickly as mine did, it takes a lot of mental effort to re-engage in the race. The doubts and negativity sink their talons into the psyche:
“I spent 6-months busting my ass and this is how it ends?”
“Why even bother continuing?”
“I’ll just make this a training run”
“These next 20 miles are going to SUCK!!”
I had spent the entire week thinking this race would be the zenith of the training. Now, I was acutely aware that it might be the nadir. I knew, unequivocally, that the next 20 miles would be the hardest 20 miles I had ever done. Ever. Instead of each mile marker being an accomplishment, it was a cruel reminder of how far I had to go to complete this poor excuse of a race effort. Harsh? Perhaps, but that’s what I thought. Strangely enough, Friday and Saturday the little sleep I did get resulted in nightmares of me quitting the race. Each night I awoke in sheer terror and embarrassment. And each night I woke up relieved that it wasn’t reality. I wasn’t quitting on this race. It’s still a marathon and finishing is finishing. (Kinda sounds like, “fair is fair” from The Legend of Billy Jean doesn’t it? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClVGVsXyY-c ).
The next 20 miles were indeed the hardest. I tried to push and compete but the pace kept getting slower and slower. You try ignoring the Garmin, but who are we kidding right? Runners were dropping out left and right. An elite runner sat on the side of the road near mile 10 with a “wtf was that” look on his face. Each time a runner quits in front of you, it affords that negative demon more ammunition and it makes continuing that much more challenging. But, you have to keep battling. Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “often times the difference between winning and losing is quitting”. I may not have gotten a PR, but I’m not losing on this day (especially not with my girlfriend on the bike next to me). I mean, how embarrassing for her.
“Ok, you had a bad race. Shit happens. Where’s the silver lining stuff you clamored about?”
Well, it’s like my friend Chris McClung blogged about after his marathon in Philly a few years back. Marathon training isn’t defined by the marathon result, but rather the relationships you develop during that time. It’s those relationships that you recall when stuff doesn’t go your way. It’s those relationships you garner strength from. And with each race, there’s always something you can learn from it. (anyone else thinking of this Top Gun scene? Start at around 0:45 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1nS19OOD-U)
While Dallas sucked for me, there were several things I learned:
- My girlfriend is absolutely amazing (thanks for everything Jen!) ok, I didn’t learn this one, so it’s more of a reminder
- Have multiple goals so you’re prepared to re-engage mentally if PR’ing or your top time goal isn’t there that day
- Finishing a marathon is ALWAYS the #1 goal; gotta earn the shirt and medal
- They can’t always be good days, but you can always learn something from every race you do (still thinking about the Top Gun scene aren’t you)
- The bad marathons, like bad long-runs or workouts, just make the good ones that much better; after all, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour (thank you Jon Alter for reminding me of that a few years ago);
- Your fitness isn’t defined by your marathon time, but rather what you did during your training
The last point is something I’ll try to remind myself repeatedly of. The confidence gets rattled a bit and the doubts that were once gentle whispers in the ear are amplified into a howl. But, you cannot acquiesce to the doubt. You have to keep battling and get back to work. I’ll spend the next few days overindulging in beer, beer and maybe a little more beer and then I’ll return to Team Rogue to prepare for another go at a PR (probably after a quick stop at the local detox center). I’ll bury the negativity of this race in Dallas where it belongs, alongside all the other tatter runners.
So with that I’ll leave you to your holiday cheers (wait, did you say cheers? Who’s buying?). Enjoy your training. Enjoy the fitness you gain and the relationships you develop and foster during your marathon training. Remember, finishing the marathon is always the #1 goal.
Next stop: Friday’s Red Dress Run.