I finished my first ten mile run, through the toughest part of the marathon course I ran in May, today with a time and pace that were admirable and I would have been happy with . . . if only I didn’t know a dirty little secret only I could know.
I bonked at the end.
The little group I run with agreed to this loop from the gym through the flat start of the course and then the hilliest section and a quick cut back down, across a bridge and back to the gym.
It was a little over 10 miles, probably about 10.3 or .4 to be exact.
The other two runners did just that, with one showing phenomenal improvement in pace and fitness that is just awesome.
On one hand, he passed me just after mile 8, increased pace, and had fuel in the tank by the time I got back to the start.
I on the other hand put forth incredible effort just to make it to ten, the distance I started negotiating with my legs before I would give up and just start walking. That discussion started around mile 9.
When my friend had passed me around mile 8 I was impressed and I thought I would just settle in on finishing my run – a marker of fitness and return to double-digit runs.
Around 9 though I knew I was in trouble as I started to climb the arch of the pedestrian bridge. My legs, already a bit sore and tense, started talking to me.
If you are a runner who has ever had a bad run, you know the conversation.
“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Can we quit? Pleeaasssse, let’s just quit. Maybe just slow down a bit?”
My mind said no. I cranked up my tunes, but my friend who pulled in front was steadily increasing the distance between us and my legs literally put my feet down.
Ugh, I relented. I couldn’t do anything else.
“But we’re not stopping!”
I was now negotiating withe cramping muscles. My lungs were fine. I was taking deep breaths. All that swimming did amount to something there.
I looked at my Garmen though and I knew, the gig was up. If I could make the ten I’d at least not feel complete defeat. My pacing plummeted. My legs felt leaden. I negotiated with myself more than my legs at the end.
I can do this, I grit my teeth and told myself as I watched the one hundredths and tenths of miles inch closer to 10 full miles.
The strongest runner of the group met me just as I staggered into a walk for the last three-tenths back. I still felt a bit defeated and pissed at myself.
He was encouraging and put a positive spin on it.
“Dude, we just did ten miles. How far off is the marathon? Plenty of time. It’s awesome we’re this fit already.”
I started to mumble reasons for my fade. Then I stopped myself.
“No excuses,” I said out loud, but more to myself.
I bonked. I won’t say so what, because bonking is no fun. Having to stop and walk just stinks, but bonking isn’t so bad, not this early on anyway.
I now know where I stand fitness-wise. My lung capacity is fine. My leg strength and conditioning needs improving. I may do okay on the flats, but those large hills (of which there were two or three) beat the crud out of my upper legs where they are engaged most and obviously showed at further distances.
I also feel pre-bonk I showed that deadly tendency to start very fast and finish not-so-fast. That’s the inverse of everything I’ve ever been told about running a race. The ideal is negative splits – faster in the last half than the first. Of course this last point is completely hypothetical because, well, I bonked.
So, this “bad” situation gave me a road map, made me look ahead, and plan. In the weirdest terms possible my brain just sort of went into this visual mode best illustrated in the 2001 A Beautiful Mind:
To be clear, I am in no way comparing myself to the genius level mathematician John Nash. Why I thought of it, and what it illustrates for me – the take away lesson from the bonk– is that my mind automatically entered solution solving mode, instead of simply dwelling-on-the-defeat mode.
This, for someone who is by nature overly critical, often negative, and plagued by quitting so many things growing up because he just wasn’t good enough, is a phenomenal lesson from distance running to realize and one I am grateful for from the sport. (And one I wasn’t even aware I learned until today either.)
I realize I will never be the fastest, or best, at running, but there is always room to be better, always room to tweak and grow – an oft time invoked spiritual philosophy as well, and one I know, that’s translated into other, real world applications.
This is also not to mention that along the route, long before the bonk today, I came over a crest, legs sore from all the uphill running to see this beautifully framed view of the city skyline below as I began the first decent back towards my fateful bonk.
It was there I thought, “The pain of running up the hill is often worth the view on the way down.”
I guess I am also realize that sometimes the pain of the bonk, or defeat, is often worth the price of insight into where improvement is needed as well.