This is the race recap that I didn’t really want to write, but needs to be written. Races are consulate teachers. There’s a lot to be learned when you toe the line and test the limits of your physical ability. Some days the hours of hard work and training come together and you perform at your maximum potential (or even beyond) and other days you underperform, falling far short of your goals.
My Citizen’s Bank Shamrock Half Marathon falls in to the later category. Last Saturday, I struggled through tough conditions and failed to hurdle the mental blockade I’d created for myself: a deadly combination of self-doubt and high expectations.
I’ve always struggled to do well at “A” races, those goal races that you structure your training around. There’s only one time where my goals, expectations and performance have aligned during an “A race” and that was four years ago. In some ways I think that putting my focus completely onto the Shamrock Half Marathon was what allowed me to do so well at the Snowshoe National Championships: all my expectations, nervous energy and self-doubt was being diverted to a different race, allowing me to race to my full potential.
Instead of hashing out the race mile by mile (which at this point doesn’t really seem all that important) I want to lay out all my expectations prior to the race, my thoughts going in and the mental game I played during the race in an effort to extract the most value from a disappointing situation.
My Goals and Expectations
I trained to run a sub 1:30 half. I never really put that out there, but if you looked at my long runs and my track workouts the numbers were there to support that goal. I thought that I was solidly in the 1:29 range and on a good day I could run 1:28.
Then I had a great performance at the Snowshoe National Championships. I finished 2 minutes behind second place, a girl who had just run a sub-3 hour marathon at CIM and 2 minutes in front of my friend, Amber who had just run a 18:51 5K. Indications that perhaps, I was in slightly better shape than I thought. Maybe I’m capable of more? And finish times of 1:27, 1:26 started to dance around in my head.
My old half marathon PR from May 2016 is 1:34:33 and I was prepared to blow that out of the water.
Pre-Race Mental Struggle
You’d think that my performance at the Snowshoe National Championships would fill me with confidence, however I was filled with doubt. What if it was a mistake? What if I can’t ever repeat that result?
I think this speaks more to my personality overall. I’ve always had a hard time accepting really good things or believing that good things will last. Picture our family on vacation at Disney World having an incredible time and all I can think about is tragedy is about to strike: my child will be fatally inured on Thunder Mountain or there’s going to be a mass shooting right now while we stand in line in Ariel’s Grotto. Or like when we moved into our new house, for a while I had this thought that on any given day it was going to burn to the ground because it was just “too nice” for us.
It is revealing of my struggle with anxiety and depression, and for the most part those thoughts are few and far between. But every once and a while my internal dialogue gets really negative. All that negativity used to be directed towards my appearance and weight (the root cause of my eating disorder), but now it comes out in different ways.
So for two weeks I wrestled with these really negative thoughts about a breakthrough performance and that resulted in a lot of internal and unnecessary pressure. One of the things I do with doubt is instead of dismiss it I try to be curious about it: why do I feel this way? What is this really about?
Because of all the self-doubt I felt that I was scrambling for some sort of affirmation that the times that I believed I could run really were possible. I checked pace calculators and over-analyzed the course, strategizing my pace to the point where I got sick of it and wrote this to myself:
“You’re looking for reassurance and a guarantee, a formula that can tell you what to expect, but the truth is that you can do extraordinary things with belief-things that defy the formula and reach beyond the predictors. The only reassurance you need is the one you’ll find on race day as you take each step towards the goal you believe you can accomplish.”
By the time I toed the line last Saturday, I really felt as if I had processed through the doubt, realized its source and decided that Saturday was about “unbridled belief.” So in the days leading up to the race I kept repeating that mantra: “unbridled belief.”
In the warm up and the moments before the race, my mind was really relaxed and my body was as ready as it could be. I’ve heard ultra runner, Camille Heron talk about her mantra: “Let the magic come out.” And I kind of latched onto that and a phrase I often repeat to myself prior to tough workouts: “Everything I need is inside me.”
The first mile was all about trying to hold back and I felt relaxed and ready. When we turned the corner into mile two the headwind hit us. It was at about mile 2.5 that I had this thought, “I’m working to hard for this pace.” I was running well below my goal pace and on target for what I had planned to run in the first three miles, but the effort felt faster than goal pace. At that point I should have adjusted to racing by effort, but I stuck to my watch and continued to give a hard effort up the hill and into the wind.
The race was comprised of three loops with three major up hill sections. The map had indicated around 350 feet in elevation gain, but when I finished my watch showed a total of 915 feet in elevation gain.
Between mile 4 and 5 I felt spent. I just wanted to run off those course and be done. I knew that my goal was out of reach at this point and the thought of quitting seemed so appealing. I though of my daughter who was there with just my husband watching. I didn’t want her to witness me quitting a race. So I rounded the corner at mile 5, saw them gave her a high-five and kept on going. For those miles my internal dialogue was pretty negative as my mantra became “you can’t quit.”
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She is the only reason I didn’t walk of the course today at mile five and quit. I wanted so badly to have my daughter see me have a breakthrough race (so bad it brings me to tears). She came to every track workout, ran every cool down with me, she saw this training cycle unfold. I wanted to cross that finish line and accomplish something special. . I had big goals for this race and in mile two I knew I was working too hard for paces that were so far off my goal. Maybe my goals were out of reach? Maybe I started too fast? Maybe it was the headwind on every hill or maybe it’s the fact that it’s hard to have two breakthrough performances in two weeks? . At least I can be proud of the fact that I didn’t quit and found the mental strength to keep pushing despite the fact that I knew I was falling so far short of my goal. Either way this training cycle has been solid and is a great base to build on! #shamrockhalfmarathon #milleniumrunning #run #halfmarathon #motherrunner #dissapointment #runfar #running
Another uphill section and then on the turn, I felt some speed come back and a second wind. I began to repeat “you always have more to give” and focused intently on my experience at the Seacoast Half Marathon in November. I ran that race completely untrained and managed to start around a 7:45 pace and run the last two miles 40 seconds faster per mile. And during that race I felt like I was dying at mile 7, but somehow bounced back. You can do the same here, I told myself. You have more to give. Everything you need is inside you. Find the joy.
At mile 9 I felt like I could pick-up the pace, things were turning a corner. Then we literally turned a corner and there was the wind again. Fuck. I tried to find the positives: You ran a workout in these conditions, I know you can run 6:46 pace into a headwind because you did it in training.
There was no one to draft off of, I was completely alone. I was NOT running 6:46 pace. At this point I’d stopped looking at mile splits. It didn’t really matter. I just needed to finish. I knew if I got to the top of the hill I’d have a nice two mile downhill to the finish with a tailwind. Just give yourself the chance to experience the tailwind.
As I approached the final hill a guy ran up on my shoulder.
“This wind is brutal,” I said.
“Draft off me,” he said.
“Thank you!” I sputtered.
And I tucked in right behind him. Footprints, I said to myself trying to channel my mantra from the Snowshoe Championships. I looked right down at his heels and locked in my focus. My feet and churned out each stride, the pavement became a blur, the shoes swishes of color. Dizzy with effort and focus I looked up, almost to the top and put my head right back down and kept churning. We rounded the corner, the road flattened and I slowed, I’d just given pretty much everything I had. I did my best to charge down the hill, if there was a tailwind I didn’t feel it.
I ran past my daughter and husband with the finish line in sight and charged it in as best I could to finish 7th woman overall in 1:34:52.
I grabbed my medal and a water and plopped down on a curb, disappointed and completely spent.
Yes, it was a disappointing result: you always want an outcome that reflects the work you’ve put in, but I know that the fitness is there. It hard to have a standout race that first race “out of hibernation,” especially in New England where spring races are almost always cold and windy. When I think of the takeaways from this race I hone in on a few things:
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, if you’re not having fun what’s the point?
- Always trust the effort, never trust the watch.
- Don’t run races in Manchester, NH- it’s not exactly scenic. JK! But, seriously. There’s a reason why I’ve swapped road for trails and a big part of it is that I gain a lot of joy DURING a race from being in beautiful surroundings. Hard on the top of a mountain doesn’t seem as hard on a city street. I felt similar way in Boston, I wasn’t able to draw energy from the crowds like people talk about. But I draw all kinds of energy from being on the top of a mountain or careening through the woods on switchback trails.
- This result does not define me anymore than the 4:11 marathon I ran seven years ago defines me. This is a stepping stone in a journey towards finding out who I am and what I’m made of when pushed to my limits physically and mentally.
What did you learn from your last race?
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