You may have heard the saying that running is 80% mental and 20% physical. I have seen many a runner be defeated in their heads before their bodies give out. Letting their thoughts, pain or unexpected challenge end their run or race before it should. I rarely consider dropping in a race, but for a moment I seriously did at the 25k Rosaryville Trail Race.
It was supposed to only be a training run as I prepare for the JFK 50 held in November. Low key and no pressure. Just for fun. I am pretty much a roadie, mostly the result of ease and location than preference. This race provided a great way to substitute my planned long run with the Annapolis Striders and get some needed trail experience.
I hadn’t planned on warming up, since I never do for long runs, and was going to take the first 5 miles very easy and then pick it up depending on how I felt. But, the excitement of the start took hold. My intended slow pace was replaced with lively conversation and a quickening of my feet. As we entered the single track, I knew I should slow. But on a narrow trail, in a long line of runners, slowing down messes up everyone’s momentum. In hindsight I should have just pulled off into the trees and let that wave go by. But, I didn’t. I hung on.
The trail was awesome. A beautiful twisty, rooty, roller coaster ride of a trail. A couple hops over some streams and a couple bigger hills, but in general a lot of ups and downs, lefts and rights on runable, hard packed surface. And thank goodness for the shade. It was hot and the canopy of trees overhead took the bite out of the heat.
After 4 miles, yes a mere 4 miles, I felt like poop. I had gone out too fast and, considering I still had 11 ½ miles to go, I needed to figure something out if I was going to make it to the finish. I slowed a lot, drank from my handheld and relaxed for the next mile. At the 5 mile aid station I was hurting. What the heck? Took in some Heed and seriously considered taking a right to the 10k finish line.
But, off I went thinking if things got worse, I could opt for the 10 mile distance a few more miles down the trail. Every uphill became an unexplainable torture. It was as if my body was rejecting what I was telling it to do. My legs felt weak, like Jell-O, and stung deep within. All the muscle fibers ached in pain as I lifted my knees. With things obviously getting worse, I opted (which is a nice way to say I had no choice) to add in walk breaks. I felt like such a loser. Defeated. Was I actually considering DNFing (did not finish) in a 25k? I had never DNFed. Ever. I resolved that would not be an option and I would finish walking if I had too.
I restructured my thinking at about mile 8. In ultras, there are always times when you feel like giving up and you may have 10, 20 or 30 miles yet to go. I would use this race as a way to keep myself going despite feeling bad less than 40 minutes into the darn thing. With that approach in mind, I added in walk segments as I would in an ultra with the idea of just getting it done. The 10 mile runners took off to the right, and I focused on the trail ahead.
My legs continued their lament at my decision to go forward. Getting a good breath in became an issue (I have a lung thingy). It was hard to lift my knees to clear the roots and rocks and I tumbled a couple times, but did not fall. A few other runners did fall and almost caused a chain reaction early in the race. Like a pile up on the highway. I hate the idea of falling, but when I do, the scars are worn proudly.
This race became a battle of my mind over my body. I always tell my runners you can do more than you think you can. And you almost always can. Though my pace slowed and the walks became more frequent, I was going to finish.
I sometimes get jealous of the people who always seem to be able to pull out an amazing performance despite some adversity, like being sick, lack of training or whatever. The ones who complain before the start that they haven’t slept in three days or have a nagging sprained ankle, yet somehow manage a PR (personal record). I’m not one of those runners. I have races that fall along all points of the continuum from amazing to downright horrible. Upon reflection though, I think I may be the lucky one. The struggle is a huge part of the attraction for me. If it were easy and the outcome always predictable, I probably wouldn’t do it.
Yes, I would have preferred a faster run over the roots and hills, but this day came down to just finishing. And that was good enough.