Isn’t it ironic that I wrote this post on “How To Be Race Ready” only to run one of my worst races the following week? But sometimes the gods of running just aren’t on your side, and regardless of how well you prepare some races just aren’t meant to be. That was my story at the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon where I was hoping to get a personal record (PR).
My problems began on Saturday evening for this Sunday race when my stomach began to rumble. On my third visit to the restroom on race-day morning, my husband suggested this might be a case of nervousness and that once I started running I would forget about it.
That was true to a certain point but as I left the corral with 26,000 other runners my legs weren’t moving as fast as they should have for the effort I was putting in. I am by no means speedy, but I would push to go faster only to look at my watch and see that I was actually going slower.
So what do you do? Pout, curse or push along? Here are some strategies to turn your less than perfect race into your perfectly okay one.
Analyze. I do a mental body scan. Do my feet hurt? No. Do my knees hurt? No. If I get to my head and nothing really hurts I conclude the cause of my struggle is mental and then I talk myself out of a funk. Some positive reinforcement, a mantra, or something else that motivates me gets me through this. If something does hurt, as my stomach did during this race, then its time to evaluate.
Make a Choice. If my knee hurt, I could choose to go a bit slower. If my head hurt, I could drink water, if my stomach hurt I could go to the port-a-potty. I have to make a choice, do I want to enjoy this race or do I want to kill it? I’ve seen people pass out in a race or really injure themselves but then proudly say: “I didn’t quit, I gave it my all.” I am not that type of person but even so, at mile four my discomfort was still not bad enough to cause me to give up the PR goal. Stopping at a port-a-potty was not an option yet.
StrugglingTalk Yourself Out of The Funk. If you choose to keep going, then you have to get out of that dark mental space where everything is a struggle. I run without music. I know it would be more enjoyable and I would probably run faster with it; however I am training for an IronMan and no music is allowed so I might as well get used to talking to myself. I have tons of mind games I play on long runs. As silly as these sound, they get me through to the next mile. I count: 2+2=4+4=8+8=16 etc…; I make beats – breath, step, step, breath; I make up songs or if I am really lucky I get totally engrossed in a train of thought that carries me on for miles.
I did these for a couple of more miles but then things got a bit worse.
Acceptance. At some point, you have to let go of a goal that will not happen. I’ve heard these wise words over and over again: “Acceptance is the answer to all our problems.” I may not want to be feeling sick, I may still have the desire to get a PR from this race, but at some point I have to accept the fact that I won’t.
My acceptance came at about mile six. I wasn’t doing terribly, but at that pace I wouldn’t beat last year’s time. I had been holding off using the port-a-potty thinking I could still pull this through. Once I accepted that fact I would need to run faster than I was until then to make my goal time, I stopped to use the restroom putting a final end to my quest for a personal record.
Readjust Goals. With a PR out of the question, I needed something else to think about so that the next 7 miles didn’t spin me into a black hole of self pity. I decided then and there I was going to take in the race and enjoy the moment.
Execute Plan B. I began looking at everyone around me. I began to cheer the soldier in uniform who was carrying a flag and a backpack, take some pictures, high five spectators, and thank volunteers. I took in the vibe and the scenery. I smiled.
And before I knew it, the race was over. The last seven miles flew by as I reveled in the details of what was going on around me. I can’t lie, and I was indeed disappointed at the finish line. I thought maybe I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve pushed a little harder.
In then end, I was less than a minute behind my PR so the port-a-potty decision is what did me in. When I decided to enjoy the race, my speed actually increased a bit but I wasn’t even looking anymore and didn’t notice. Then I thought about how lucky I am to be racing in the first place; how I did well in spite of some troubles, and how I experienced the race instead of suffered through it. Some might disagree, some might say push until you drop. Not so for me. I used these tools to help me have a great race experience even if it wasn’t my very best. Good enough to lead me to sign up again for next year and once again try to race a personal best.