Monday, September 3, 2012

A Race

I ran a cross country race last week: only the third cross country race of my life. The second one was on the same course last year. This was the first race for me in months, and I really just wanted to relax and enjoy it.  I did not put any pressure on myself and, in fact, had a pretty gnarly week leading up to it because I was completing my annual military tour.  I train with the military out at Travis Air Force Base, and, although what I do is not grueling work (mostly desk work), the days are really long: 11-12 hours including commuting time.   Both training and sleep suffered, and it definitely caught up with me.  I felt horrible all week long and especially horrible when I pushed my body in workouts.

Despite how my body felt, I was determined to do the cross country race.  For one thing, I wanted to score for my team, the Impalas. I also wanted to enjoy a race despite not being ready to race. I have been dealing with lots of performance pressure over the last couple of years and it finally got to the point where I wasn't having any fun running. As a result, my training had become really hit or miss.

To overcome this, I'm trying to put myself in high pressure situations and work through the anxiety, find a way to cope, and face the fear head on. It's not hard to pinpoint fear of failure as a huge issue.  I have an ego. I care about slow race times. But, I have a choice to either use these perceived failures to motivate me to train hard or let them defeat me.

Another problem lately has been that my reliably strong body has been uncharacteristically weak. I haven't been able to push myself and am disappointed most days when I go out to do a workout.

These thoughts run through my mind:
"How can this pace feel so hard?"
"I'm putting in the work but not getting any faster."
"Am I just washed up?"
"Do I enjoy running enough to keep at this?"

This last question is one that I assume not a lot of runners ask themselves. I imagine most of you started running and continue because you love it.  For me, I never loved running. I started running because it was a challenge and then because I was good at it.  It has been one of the best examples in my life where putting in hard work led to fairly quick, tangible and impressive results. I have found many other aspects of the sport to love, and believe I have cleared the hump in my love/hate relationship over towards the love side. In the back of my mind, I have always wondered what I would do, how I would feel, when the improvement curve took a nose dive.  Would I still want to train hard? This is the weighty space that my brain has occupied lately.

This cross country race marked a turning point for me. I made it to the starting line.  I kept my fears in check and truly enjoyed the race. I pushed myself hard and kept the negative self talk to a minimum. The experience wasn't all puppies and kittens, though. I struggled with the fact that I was more than a minute slower than last year, and last year I wasn't in particularly great shape. But, that's where I am right now.  I can only build from here.

The thing about having dreams is that they require belief beyond reason sometimes. That's a tough thing for me with my logical mind. I am a scientist after all. I love data, and my data is not indicating fast running any time soon. But, I am also a dreamer and I know that if I don't try, I will never get faster. My daily challenge will be to find the joy that comes from the trying rather than just from the achieving.    

Week at a glance:

Total Miles: 48
Monday: 7 easy
Tuesday: 8 moderate with strides
Wednesday: 10 moderate with 6 x 400m @ goal 5k pace (~88 sec)/1 min. jog rest;  finish with 3 x 200m cut downs; all in the midday heat.  Yuck!
Thursday: 7 miles with push ups, crunches and 1.5 mile fitness test (@ marathon pace; 9:37) followed by 45 minutes of strength training.
Friday: No running.  12 hour work day.
Saturday: 10 total with 5k cross country race in 19:28
Sunday: 6 miles easy


  1. Good post. Glad you ran the race and enjoyed the experience. I'm going to remember that this coming track season -- last year there were quite a few times I was a DNS for races just because I was tired or had had a tough work day.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the x-c race! X-c is a whole different animal from track or road racing, as I am always surprised and shocked to discover in EVERY SINGLE X-C RACE (even in high school and college, when we had 1 or 2 races a week in the season...every time, for 8 years, I was like wtf is this.)

    Not all goals can be tracked as a set of data points on a graph: minimizing/eliminating negative self talk, for instance! That's huge. And it might actually have a really big effect on your longer-term performance, even if your training for your short-term goal isn't going so well. You've been through a lot lately, what with the whole virus rash debacle and all the working. hope you can get a bit of a break soon!