The Beast

by Josh Benge

This past weekend, I traveled up to Sioux Falls with a few of my fabulous TRPM teammates to take on the Sioux Falls Half Marathon while they were taking a swing at BQs and PRs in the full edition. After a day of mild shenanigans with the team to take our mind off the race (See the blogs of one Mandy Deen), I headed to the hotel and rested up for the night.   I had what I would consider an ambitious goal, and long story short, it didn’t pan out for me the next day.  That’s not the point of this though.  On the plane home from Sioux Falls post-race, I was re-reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and something struck me (if you know this book, kudos… if you don’t, buy the damn thing or I’ll loan it to you).  In Chapter 19, a reference is made to ultrarunner Lisa Smith-Batchen, one of the most accomplished distance runners of all time.  She speaks of the exhaustion and fatigue of the later parts of races as “The Beast”.  The text from Born to Run is as follows:

Lisa Smith-Batchen, the amazingly sunny and pixie-tailed ultrarunner from Idaho who trained through blizzards to win a six-day race in the Sahara, talks about exhaustion as if it’s a playful pet.  “I love the Beast,” she says.  “I actually look forward to the Beast showing up, because every time he does, I handle him better.  I get him more under control.”  Once the Beast arrives, Lisa knows what she has to deal with and can get down to work.  And isn’t that the reason she’s running through the desert in the first place – to put her training to work?  To have a friendly little tussle with the Beast and show it who’s boss?  You can’t hate the Beast and expect to beat it; the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.
 
I am by no means an ultrarunner or anywhere near the caliber of Lisa, but there is something to be said about the Beast.  If you have raced, you know what the Beast is, and it isn’t necessarily the fatigue or exhaustion.  I think we all have our own Beast(s).  You don’t know your Beast?  It could be the thing that you wrestle with in miles 20 through 26.2 of a Marathon.  Or in every damn bit of a 5K.  Maybe you have several Beasts working on you at once (mind, body, weather, combination)?  Maybe your Beast is a chameleon that can change colors and bite you in the butt when you least expect it.  Don’t know your Beast(s)?  I applaud you, or I challenge you to dig a little deeper to find it. For now, I’ll tell you about the Beasts I met in Sioux Falls.  My mind and my anger.
This wasn’t intended to be much of a progressive race.  That is, unless I was ready and willing to take my pace much lower than intended race pace as I was starting right around my goal pace.  But what could go wrong?  Weather was perfect, course was perfect (mistake number 1: respect the course, don’t assume), and I was confident.  Mile 1 through 5, perfect.  It couldn’t have been better and I was clicking off miles at race pace or slightly under.  I tucked in with a group of Collegiate XC runners from Gillette College in Wyoming and a few locals that were a part of the 605 Running Crew out of Sioux Falls.   I let them lead the way to block the wind and keep the pace as they were right around where I wanted to be (one of the smarter things I did all day).
Then, things went a bit south on me.  Enter mile 6 and enter the Beast called Josh’s mind.  Too much thinking can be a bad thing kids, especially if you aren’t thinking straight. My mind was about to get as crooked as it could.  I wasn’t intending to do a progressive run and the crew I had been latching onto was going to start cranking down significantly.  I had been listening to them discuss this plan and started playing with the idea myself, giving myself a few scenarios.  GREEDY!  Instead of listening to my heart and my race plan, my mind got greedy and way too involved…  here’s a 5 second snapshot what my thought process looked like before things went south….
“You’ve banked a good 40 seconds and are feeling good, so why not go with these guys (Mistake 2: Never bank time, bank energy… Allison Macsas, I could hear you preaching to me) …. you’re past the hard part of the course, why not? (Mistake 3: see mistake number 1 again, always respect the course)… you recovered on those early slow climbs really well… you’ve raced and trained on harder courses (Mistake 4: once again, see 1 and 3, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS respect the damn course)… If you have a bad mile 6, you can always back off the pace above your race goal and recover to make time up later (Mistake 5: now I am thinking way too much and I’ve given myself Plan B if I fuck up mile 6.  There should be no Plan B or out unless I know I am injured)….

Licking my Chops and Being Greedy
So with all of these thoughts looping in my mind throughout mile 6, I started seeing the group pulling away from me.  I then realized that I was on the Sioux Falls equivalent of Austin, Texas’ very own Duval St.  You know? That slow, deceiving climb over about 3 miles? To add to the slow mind misery, I start seeing my time bank fading, my energy going down, legs feeling lead like and worst of all the looping thought process is getting perpetually worse.  This leads to round two of thoughts over a much longer period of time (miles 7 through 8 in the last two miles of my climb)….
“Well so much for a sub-1:30, might as well back the pace off and just PR (Mistake 6: I have COMPLETELY abandoned Plan A and started relying on my watch when I should have said “screw the watch” at this point and stuck with #JFR)…  my legs are feeling tired.  Was it my nutrition?  Was it my hydration?  Did I go out too fast? Why do my legs feel like lead?  How could I be so stupid to put myself in this position?  This is so embarrassing! (Mistake 7: Why are you thinking about the inconsequential at this point, what’s done is done, #JFR)
Those 3 short miles (6 through 8), were nothing more than me over focusing on why my race was going wrong rather than finding a way to embrace the Beast that was my mind. I was convinced I was wasting an opportunity on a race I had flown a 1000 miles for. I was letting the Beast punch me right in the face and I knew it.  I didn’t have to love the Beast at this point, I just needed to find a way to control and tame it.  Racing isn’t fun at times.  In fact it is never really fun, but I had just made it more of a grind than it needed to be.  I’m not going to bore you with the details.  Miles 9 and 10 were no different.  More mind minutia and convincing myself that I had fucked up.
Then, something happened coming down the bike path when mile 10 turned to 11.  I was still convincing myself what a crappy race I was having and how much time I had given up when I got passed by a smiling racer who chirped, “Good Job, only 5K left”.  At the moment, I thought that was the last thing I needed to hear.  It pissed me off beyond belief.  You’re going to pass me and tell me what a good job I am doing?  How dare you?  Retrospectively, however, I wish I could have found her and thanked her after the race, because she had brought out another Beast of mine that I am much more experienced with controlling… anger. Unlike the mind Beast that overtook me mid-race, I embraced my anger Beast and channeled it like it was an old friend.  There was only one thought in my mind that entire last 5K.  Catch her if you can, and anyone else along the way.  Simple thoughts, simple goals, good results in those last 3 miles because I knew my Beast, and used it to my advantage.  My last last 5K just was just over my original intended race pace.  There was no pain, no extra thought, just an end goal.  Did I break 1:30?  Nah.  Did I PR?  Nope.  But I channeled and embraced one of my Beasts.  I’ll call that a win.

Mile 11 Water Stop … From What I Can Remember… I have dropped the mind Beast and Channeled the anger Beast
I still have a lot of work to do to locate my race Beasts and find out what my relationships are with them.  In fact, I don’t have to love them like Lisa Smith-Batchen does. To each their own! I just have to try to understand them, nurture them when I can, and respect them every chance I get.  Love may or may not come in time.  There is no clear answer for any of us trying to take control of the one or many things that haunt us during the race. I think we just need to know that no matter what we do, Beasts are always going to be there.  We just need to find a way to fine tune our relationship with them.
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