For the past 10 weeks, I’ve had one goal in mind – to set a personal best time in a half marathon. I’ve raced the distance in triathlon events a couple times before, but this would be the first without swimming or biking. I think it goes without saying that the goal of running faster in a pure running event should be fairly attainable, by at least 15 to 20 minutes. After some discussions with my coach, we settled on the goal of 1 hour 45 minutes. At the time, and to be completely honest, right up until the week before the race, it felt daunting. To run a 1:45 would mean I would be running at a pace that earlier this year was on par with my 5K pace. But, I trusted my coach, which in turn made me believe this was possible.
On the Friday morning before race day I was getting ready to hit the road when I started to feel a bit “off.” At the time I brushed it off as nerves, and for the next 12 hours that was all it seemed to be, until about midway through Saturday when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My stomach was in knots and nothing I ate stayed in for very long. I was curled up in a ball under the bed sheets, and that’s when the tears started. I was disappointed and frustrated for all those hours of hard work just to get to race day in less than optimal form. By around 6:00 that night, I found the energy to join friends for a pasta dinner, but by later that evening my stomach was doing somersaults.
On race morning, I felt like I had lost five pounds and my fuel tank was on zero. At that point, I could have opted out, or simply half jogged, half walked the race, but I have this relentless stubbornness, and going in half way wasn’t an option, even if my body disagreed. That mind versus body battle is an interesting one. I’ve had it a million times and each time I can never predict which one will be victorious.
At the risk of sharing too much information, I popped almost half a pack of Immodium and headed towards the start line. Within the first kilometre, I felt depleted and lethargic, but still believed there was a chance. By 5k, I was still optimistic and was only about one minute off my goal pace. By about 9 kilometres, I knew I was struggling because I started to look at my watch more than usual, and I could feel a wobble in my legs. At 35 minutes, as planned, I took my first gel, and realized my initial nutrition plan on a day like today would not be enough. My stomach felt like it was eating itself.
It was by about the 13 kilometre marker when I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal; now it was about finishing. As I rounded a downhill corner, I looked up to see a familiar face in the crowd, Keri. She was cheering loudly and I tried so hard to give her a smile, but feared that it came off more like a grimace. On a good day, my smile comes naturally, yet not so much on this day. About 500 metres up the road, I slowed to a brief walk, allowing my body a slight rest to see if it would help – not really – so instead I yelled at myself to get going; one foot in front of the other.
When I finally saw the finish chute, I gave it everything I had. The faster I ran, the faster it would be over. I did not have the energy to celebrate; I could hardly stand. I barreled my way through the crowds of other runners, found a tree, and sat under it on the cold, wet ground. I was done. My mind and body could finally agree on one thing, it was time to rest.
My race time was disappointing – I did not hit my goal. I got a PB, but not the one I wanted, and it’s a difficult thing to find success in failure. It’s difficult to look at what went right instead of finding everything that went wrong. I have a bad habit of dwelling. I’m constantly having to remind myself that bad races happen. Sometimes we make tactical errors and fail in our execution, and sometimes our failure is simply out of our control. Not every day is perfect, and neither is my body; it goes through ups and downs. I recognize that dwelling on “down” moments does not do me any favours, and that it’s best to leave those moments behind and move on.
Tiger Woods once said, “Winning is not always the barometer of getting better.” I may have missed my goal on this day, but that does not define my accomplishments. That permanently etched time on the Internet does not always represent the work, the other successes, or me. This is something I am constantly working on – realizing what did go right and celebrating that. And, realizing there will be plenty more races and plenty more opportunities for failure and success. In the end though, it’s all a part of the learning experience and becoming a stronger and faster competitor.