So, I went out-of-town this weekend and ran a half marathon I never ran before.
On Friday, I packed a suitcase, rented a hotel room, and drove an hour-and-a-half with two guys I run relatively the same pace with, and one guy, an ultra-marathoner, who runs faster than any of us.
Before I left town, my dad asked a question that I both laughed at and found a bit haunting. He asked, “So, when are you actually going to win one of those things?”
He wasn’t joking when he asked that question. My mom hushed him almost immediately. Growing up my dad never appeared to be all that competitive or athletic, outside of trying to build the fastest Boy Scout Pinewood derby car in my name. He does get a kick needling me about my insecurities. Though I never directly asked, I’m pretty sure he has the mentality, why try something if you can’t win, or do it extremely well?
The race he wondered if I would “win” was the Run the Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky. Race organizers describe it as one of the most challenging half-marathons in America. I’ll leave someone else to debate that claim, but the course is in beautiful horse country with landscape defined by continuing rolling hills. There were sprawling fields, white washed fence lined roads, and a start and finish at Keenland, a historic not-for-profit race track.
The course elevation was about 1200 feet overall. It freaked the bejesus out of me as a friend and I drove it on Friday afternoon. I train in a relatively hilly area on a relatively challenging spring marathon course, the Flying Pig. The course should not have scared me that bad. But it did. Initially, I thought I would shoot for a personal record. Ultimately, I set a goal of 2 hours, ten minutes slower than my slowest half-time. I finished the course at 1:52:48.
Yeah, I beat my fear goal, but only with the help of one of my friend’s coaxing me in (he set a 1:45 PR two weeks before in another half we ran together). I was breathing heavy toward the end of the Bluegrass, hating myself because I knew my friend had it in him to go faster. But being a good friend he held back to push me, even as I tried to waive him on.
Why train and run so hard if you can’t win?
More than anything I think Run the Bluegrass was indicative of the frustrations and doubts that have plagued me this training season. I am not improving my time this year. No matter how hard I try, as I watch others set new PRs around me, I seem to be slowing down. It is disheartening, and it is pissing me off and making me act weird, competitive, awkward, whiny, and jealous. I’m starting to ask questions like: Why am I doing this? If this is as good as it gets can I continue? What can I do to be better?
My half marathon times improved last year over the year before. My full marathon times have progressively gotten slower after the first. I’ve put on weight, I fear the return of stress fractures I received after that first marathon, and I’ve grown increasingly negative in my head. Isn’t this supposed to be a little fun?
I have no delusions of ever winning a serious race, or qualifying for Boston at this point. I just want to improve. The pats-on-the-back from non-runners for doing something they won’t no longer works for motivation. Right now I would settle to be one of those sad-luck cases who catches a break and lands a fantastic PR. I’m seeking a reason to not just say screw it, I’m out, or worse . . . convincing myself that I’m on hiatus, the cowardly way of saying I give up, without actually giving up.
Still, I keep running. I push myself out the door every Friday for long runs by myself since I can’t join my running group on Saturday. So far I ran 18 miles that way and am looking at 20-plus this coming Friday. So, the signs are there that I have not completely given up yet, but I’m starting to wonder which way this scale is going to tip.
Brush myself off, give it one more push, or decide enough is enough and go back to half-hearted work out routines at the gym and watching my diet to keep the weight off? Cause if you can’t win, or repeatedly fail to meet your own goals, what motivation is there?