My summer goal race at Beach to Beacon was a flop, with my sub-40:00 goal out of reach before I hit the 3-mile marker. Official time was 42:04, a minute-plus personal record, but a significant disappointment no matter much may try to salvage some "good" from the whole ordeal. I'll note up front that on balance, it turned out to be a good day, but all of the "good" happened after the race. I'll explain down below.
As with every missed goal in running (and - ideally - in life), I've been mulling over what happened. There are a number of possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive. Did I overestimate my fitness level? Did I fail to peak at the right time? Did my training miss key elements necessary for performing well at the 10K distance? Was my strategy ill-advised? Did I execute poorly? Were there circumstances beyond my control which adversely affected my performance?
So, like a parade of miniature show ponies, let me trot out the reasons (at least as I see them, though you may feel free to call them excuses) for what I consider to be one of my worst races to date:
- Fatigue/Exhaustion (cumulative and acute) - In the 3 nights before the race, I slept 5, 5 and 4+ hours; I'd also run 51 days in a row, and apparently one day off and couple of days of reduced mileage was not enough to refresh my legs for this race
- Poor Race-Day Planning - Because of a family visit, I awoke at about 4:40 on Saturday morning to drive to Cape Elizabeth, instead of heading up the night before; I'd made arrangements with a virtual running friend (thanks YankeeRunner!) to pick up my bib & race chip; I left my house at 5:15 for what should have been a 1:45 drive; I got to the Casco Bay Bridge (about 7 miles from the start) at about 7:00 am, for an 8:05 race start; traffic was nearly a complete standstill, inching forward ever-so-slowly; I managed to change my shirt, apply Body Glide and put on my racing shoes in the car; I eventually started to believe that I would not make it to the start; I ended up taking a different route to the starting area, parking my car on the side of the road and running the mile or so to the start; I miraculously found my bib & chip (stashing my race t-shirt under a rock behind a bush), which YankeeRunner smartly left with some volunteers; stood in a bathroom line and headed for the start with less than 10 minutes to spare, exhaling when I heard the announcer say that the race start would be delayed by a few minutes due to traffic issues; as a result of sitting in the car for that long, I was not physically or mentally warmed up enough; I ran the first mile on pace, but it did not feel smooth; my hips felt and stayed tight and I struggled mightily up even the slightest uphills (not usually a problem for me); next year, I will again stay with out friends in Portland (if they'll have me) and make sure that my pre-race routine is much more relaxed
- Heat - While I expected high humidity, I did not expect temps to be in the high-70's/low-80's, with almost no wind; after the awful summer we've had weather-wise, Saturday turned out to be one of the most summery days of the year; it was a gorgeous day for just about anything, except for running one's best 10K
- A Stupid Non-Running Injury - On Friday night, I bent over to pick up my daughter's blanket, but failed to realize that I was bending down over one of the iron posts on her bed; I bruised one of my ribs right under my right pectoralis muscle; objectively, it was not a big deal, but it hurt just enough to nag me when other things starting going wrong
- GI Distress - Because I had to leave so early, I ended up deviating from my usual race-day breakfast; for the sake of convenience, I brought a peanut butter sandwich with me to eat about 2 hours before the race; It did not sit well, and I felt it for much of the race (and afterwards)
The Ugly Tale of the Splits
So, I lined up a little ways behind the 6:00/mile pace sign. I made sure my watch was working properly and crossed the line about 6 or so seconds after the gun went off. Here's the slow-by-blow, mile-by-mile.
Mile 1 - 6:23 Things started out OK, if not great. I changed the display on my watch so that I could see my "instant pace", trying to avoid repeating recent early pacing errors which might prove fatal in a 10K; I wanted to run as close to a 6:20/mile pace as I could, and to do so as evenly as possible; I was satisfied with the split at Mile 1
Mile 2 - 6:42 By the end of this mile, I was struggling, because my hips felt tight and I knew I was working too hard to sustain the pace for the rest of the race; I tried butt kicks and altering my stride to loosen things up, but it was not working; the feeling of working hard so early coupled with the realization that I'd fallen off pace already sent my mind reeling; rather than HTFU and take control of the situation, I went straight to a place of inconsolable resignation; this race had been all about sub-40:00, and around 13 minutes into it, I knew sub-40:00 was not happening; it is a running moment of which I am not at all proud
Mile 3 - 6:34 Frankly, I'm surprised this mile was as fast as this, since though I was working hard, I was actually thinking about dropping out; just after the half-way point at Mile 3.1, I stopped for a moment to "stretch" my hips, but was really just thinking about the practical implications and logistics of quitting then and there; I decided that quitting was absurd, and that if I just kept running, maybe, somehow, miraculously, things would turn around and I may hit my stride; I also couldn't think of how I'd face my family and friends if I dropped for no good reason
Mile 4 - 6:59 - It's clear to me that things are not improving, so I start doing the PR math and decide that if I can stay under 7:00 pace, I can salvage something from the day; the uphills are killing me, and I just don't feel smooth, from my shoulders, to my slightly aching bruised rib to my tight hips and sore calves; I was the sole guest at my own personal pity party, and I just wanted to be "done"
Mile 5 - 6:52 Just slogging through at this point; somewhat satisfied to see that I'm on sub-7:00 pace, but still bummed and befuddled at how hard it all feels; sensing every little discomfort as if viewing it through a magnifying glass; my eyes started darting around looking for a port-a-potty to quell the stomach distress that was bubbling up; I wondered why the water stations were suddenly so far apart
Mile 6 - 7:09 The race's toughest mile, I had nothing for the uphills; it was hot; it felt like my legs had lead weights surgically attached to my thighs, and that all my hips muscles and ligaments had been shortened so that they required extra effort to propel my legs forward; mentally, I was telling myself to speed up; my legs just didn't respond
Mile 6.2 - 1:13 (5:34/mile) One turns into Fort Williams with maybe 03.-04 mile to go, and the crowd is loud and boisterous; as I crested the last climb, I just let it rip; I thought I heard someone call out my last name (first names are printed on the race bibs); I couldn't believe the feeling as I accelerated, blowing past maybe a couple dozen people in the last stretch; I now thought sub-42:00 was possible, but there was just enough traffic in the finishing area that I couldn't find a clear line to run through; I watched the clock pass 42:00, not knowing how many seconds back I'd started; I pushed it, hoped, wondered and then screwed up hitting the button on my watch, adding about 20-30 seconds to my actual time; I pulled off to the side, got shooed along by a volunteer and tried to find YankeeRunner; I never did, but another virtual running friend, joewmaine, did find me
POST-RACE - THE DAY'S REDEMPTION
After the race, Joe and I ran about a mile together, but I needed to peel off to find a bathroom. After I left him, I fell into a brisk cool-down pace with a woman wearing the singlet of a prestigious Massachusetts-based running club. Turns out she's one of New Hampshire's top female runners, and we chatted about our race, marathons and running in general. After about a half-mile she found her boyfriend/husband and I searched for a bathroom. I milled about in the food area, and a volunteer directed me all the way back the hill towards the bathrooms at the finish (I later saw a bathroom about 100 yards from where I was standing). I ran into my friend Jim, who'd run a nice PR, and we discussed the race. Then, I started asking around about the shortest way to get back to where I parked. I had heard that there was a direct route that would come out to about 4 miles, but was unable to nail it down. I decided I could figure it out, and - being in the mood to punish myself for having performed so poorly against my expectations - I started off in search of my car.
A couple of people gave me some directions. I stopped and asked a 275+-lb. police officer how to go. It may have been unnecessary to approach him by saying, "Hi, you look like a fellow runner . . . ", but his colleagues were hooting and hollering, and I told him that I had very little oxygen reaching my brain, so I could not be responsible for what I was saying. He smiled, but barely. Whether sincere or not, he said he knew no other way to get back towards the start other than retracing the course. If he was yanking my chain, then I probably deserved it.
At this point, there were still people (runners & walkers) on the course, and I tried to say something encouraging to everyone who appeared to still be running. This included the 80-something year-old man, several very large people and a single-leg amputee running with her daughter. For her, I stopped and just clapped as she went by. Amazing!
It was getting warmer and warmer as the sun moved up in the sky. I had not worn a hat, had not applied sunscreen and had not brought anything to drink. I was carrying a banana (which must have looked a little weird), and was looking for the magical shortcut to my car. I asked another police officer (more politely this time) how to get there, and he said to retrace the course. I passed a gas station, then turned around to use the bathroom (again). A couple of cars yelled things at me, possibly congratulations, though one car full of teenaged boys yelled out: "Why you still running, loser?" How did they know my time was so bad? ;-)
Well, before I knew it, I was not finding any shortcuts, but was instead running back along the course down Route 77. It looked very different without all the runners and in reverse, but the miles started ticking off. In another moment of positivity, I passed a shopping center parking lot where a couple of attractive young women were handing out free samples some new sports-drink/Vitamin Water knock-off. I rubbed my eyes and asked if they were a mirage. They gave me a cold bottle of red stuff, and it was exactly what I needed.
Trudging along, I saw a woman in the distance up ahead, running on the other side of the road. I slowly gained on her, and caught up when she stopped to talk to a car which had pulled over to ask her something. I asked her how far the start was, and she said maybe 1.5-2 miles. Her name was Jennifer, she had also raced B2B and was getting in extra mileage by running back to her car, too. I asked her if she wanted to run in together, and she said she was afraid she'd be too slow. I told her that her pace was fine, and we talked about running, kids, fundraising and life. Turns out she's also a converted soccer player, has 3 kids (her oldest has Down's Syndrome) and she leads a Team in Training group. She said it was her first B2B in a while where she wasn't pregnant. I replied that that's one excuse I've never been able to make work for me. Well, having someone with whom to run made that last hot, hilly stretch pass more quickly. We thanked each other for the company and I went to get the shirt which I'd stashed. It was gone. Yet another blemish on this already cruddy day.
I then stood at an intersection, trying to remember where the heck I'd left my car. I could not remember which way I'd come in, but I guessed - correctly, it turned out - and I made my way the final mile or so to my car. again, things did not look familiar, but then I reached a place that looked like where I'd parked. My car was not there, though, so I had visions of it having been towed or stolen . . . the cherry on top of the day's crap sundae. Well, it was about a 1/4-mile further down, for a total of 9-post-race miles. Hard to call that a "cool-down", especially as temps went into the high 80's. With the warm-up mile, that made a total of 16 on the day, the most I've run since my last marathon.
At the car, I toweled off, change behind some bushes and cranked up the AC. I called home to explain why I was so behind schedule.
I got some Gatorade and cold water in Portland, and ate the banana I'd been carrying along with a Clif Bar I'd brought along. I found I-295 and headed home to see my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew. Along the way, I heard Adele's great song, "Chasing Pavements", but the refrain really got inside my head:
Should I give up / Or should I just keep chasing pavements? / Even if it leads nowhere / Or would it be a waste? / Even If I knew my place should I leave it there? / Should I give up / Or should I just keep chasing pavements? / Even if it leads nowhere
Of course, the song is not about running, but those lyrics penetrated my weakened defenses and ended up making me justify to myself why I love the sport so much, and how I intend to keep trying to push and test myself. Of course, about 10 songs later, I heard Beck's "Loser" (I'm a loser babyyyyyy, so why don't you kill me . . . .). Was the DJ trying to tell me something? ;-)
Okay, okay, this was just one race. A 10K, which I could run again this weekend or the week after that. It's not the end of the world, and it's pretty lame and self-centered to feel like this is an epic failure which should result in questioning myself, my running fitness and my suitability for the sport. With some time to reflect, I have realized that running up to one's potential requires everything to line up (like it did for me at Sugarloaf). If one or more key things is not working in one's favor, it's very hard to achieve that aspirational benchmark.
So, I'll relish my new 10K PR, and that I moved up about 900 spots in the B2B standings from 2008, when I ran it hurt. I'll also keep my eyes open for another 10K, smaller, cooler, flatter, where I can see if I'm closer to sub-40:00 than this past Saturday indicates. And, perhaps most importantly, I'll try to develop and nourish in myself a new racing mindset that allows for "B" goals, even if that goal is simply to do the best I could possibly do on that day, regardless of whether the "A" goal is or is not meant to be. The sad reality about Saturday for me is that I did not do that, and while maybe sub-40:00 was simply not happening, I certainly could have run a better time than I did.
Now it's time to firm up the late-summer and fall running schedule, and focus on the type of training that's most likely to yield positive results at various distances, from the next 5K where I hope to break 19 minutes, to another 10K, to the NYC qualifying half-marathon which I hope to run, and - finally - with pacing the 3:50 group on November 1st before adding the extra miles for a 38-mile fundraising run.
The pity party is over. Hopefully, there will not be another one, and none of you is invited.
Thanks for reading. -ESG